Have you ever thought about your users’ behaviors and why they do the things they do when interacting with your product? What leads them to complete positive actions like signing up, give you’re their email addresses, or make a purchase? Is it the simple user flow, your button placement, your choice of fonts and colors, or the way your word your content?

What about when users aren’t engaging with your product? Is there something wrong with is? Are you employing an ineffective marketing strategy? What changes do you need to make?

The science of motivation

Brian Jeffrey Fogg, commonly known as B. J. Fogg, is a behavior scientist and computer science professor who created the Fogg Behavior Model. It describes the importance of three things which need to occur at the same time in order to encourage behavior:

  1. Motivation – how motivated are users to partake in the behavior?
  2. Ability – how easily can users partake in the behavior?
  3. Trigger – how are users prompted to partake in the behavior?

When a behavior doesn’t occur, then one or more of these core elements are missing. The level at which each of these elements is present can vary and still result in a behavior, however. Motivation and ability in particular have a compensatory relationship, meaning that they can vary in intensity and be traded off:

  • High motivation > low ability
  • Low motivation < high ability

For example, users who are highly motivated are more willing to take on more difficult tasks if given the right trigger. Similarly, users who aren’t that motivated may still take on a task if it is very simple with the right trigger.

The triggers that your users will respond to will of course differ according to each one’s preferences, so a trigger that works on one group might not work on another. As such, conducting market research to better understand your users is crucial.

Influencing and changing user behavior

There are numerous ways to influence user behavior, some more popular than others. These days it is literally impossible for you to not have experienced this yourself without even knowing.

Let’s look at five popular methods which you can apply to your UX design to influence your users and change their behavior.

  1. Focus on consistency

A consistent design is essential to influencing users’ interactions with your product. A consistent design can help users use your product intuitively, without second-guessing themselves. It helps build trust with your users and makes your product more familiar.

To ensure your design is consistent, focus on standardizing various elements of your product. For example, users should be able to predict how something will behave by simply looking at it. As such, buttons that look the same should also behave exactly the same.

Users value consistency because they want to feel in control. Users want to be able to predict things work without having to read a manual. They want to make connections and draw their own conclusions in an easy and straightforward manner. This gives them a sense of empowerment, trust, and security.

Making it easy for users to engage with your product and accomplish their tasks is a key factor in prompting behavior: ability. You can also use design elements as triggers to get users to do what you want, such as:

  • Register
  • Enter their email address
  • Sign up for your newsletter
  • Write a review
  • Add items to the cart
  • Checkout

Consistent design is crucial for influencing and changing users’ behavior, so make sure you pay attention to it.

  1. Play with scarcity

We tend to place a higher value on the things which seem to become unavailable soon and lower value on things which seem easy to acquire.

You can influence your users’ behavior by playing with their perception of scarcity and urgency. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Promote time-sensitive deals
  • Use countdown clocks or stock meters
  • Offer users exclusive benefits

Using limited-time phrasings, displaying countdowns, or offering users exclusive benefits are great ways to convey scarcity and urgency. This method feeds on the principle of supply and demand; demand increases as availability decreases.

Not only does a sense of scarcity and urgency act as a trigger, but it also builds users’ motivations to act. For example, telling users that an offer will end in 24 hours will motivate them to act before that time runs out. They may not be so eager to act if the offer was permanent and they could take advantage of it whenever they wanted. In these situations, users are encouraged to behave a certain way, often without realizing it.

  1. Use the Goldilocks effect

The Goldilocks effect is a cognitive effect that people have when faced with similar choices. We have been observed to prefer the more moderate option, which is why the effect’s name derives from the children’s story where Goldilocks prefers the bowl of porridge that is neither too hot nor too cold, but “just right.”

For example, if your company sells software, you can offer three plans; let’s call them “Basic,” “Plus,” and “Professional.” The first package should be the cheapest and also the most limited in features, while the last one should be the most expensive and feature-packed option of the bunch. The middle option, however, should offer something in-between the two extremes in a way that is enticing to users and also advantageous to your company, knowing that most users will prefer the middle option.

It’s important to keep in mind how people’s minds process information when they are presented with multiple choices. When trying out something new, people tend to avoid extremes; this can mean high prices, lengthy contracts, or an excessive feature list. Instead, people tend to pick more moderate options because they see them as more typical.

Additionally, you can go an extra step and actually highlight the middle option as being the preferred or typical one. You can give it some social proof by labeling it as the “most popular” option and even giving it a few visual differentiators to ensure it stands out from the others. This way you can subtly influence users into choosing a specific option.

Remember, however, that the key to successfully using the Goldilocks effect to your advantage is offering similar options. When used correctly, it is a great method for influencing and changing users’ behavior.

  1. Use social proof

We often rely on the opinions of others when making a decision, whether we realize it or not. This is especially true when making purchase decisions; consider how often you buy products that you are unfamiliar with without reading any reviews whatsoever. Likely never, right?

Our decisions as consumers, whether we are buying products, choosing a dentist, or deciding on eating at a new restaurant, largely depend on the behavior of those around us, even more so on the opinions of those close to us. We often choose to follow the crowd to justify our choices so if the majority of people say that something is good or bad, the rest will tend to take their collective word for it.

As we’ve briefly touched upon this earlier, you can use social proof to influence your users’ behavior. Always try to get your existing users to write public reviews, add verifiable testimonials to your website, and share case studies if possible.

  1. Follow the peak-end rule

Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist who developed a psychological heuristic called the peak-end rule. According to him, every person has two selves:

  • the experiencing self – a quick, intuitive, and unconscious way of thinking and experiencing which is focused on moments currently unfolding. This experiencing self typically doesn’t convert experiences into memories.
  • the remembering self – a slow, rational, and conscious way of thinking which turns intense moments into memories. These memories influence our decision-making process.

Simply put, the peak-end rule is a psychological heuristic which looks at how we remember experiences. It suggests that we tend to remember the peaks of an experience and its end instead of the experience as a whole.

People remember past experiences as a series of snapshots instead of complete catalogues of events. To form an overall opinion about the past, our minds average the moments that stood out the most. The biggest influencers of how we remember experiences are their most emotionally intense points and the ends of those experiences.

The peak-end rule is a cognitive bias which affects how we remember events from our past. The “peaks,” which are intense positive or negative moments as well as the final moments of our experiences greatly affect how we recall past events.

Understanding how our minds store information and how we perceive past events ensures we are able to design memorable experiences for our users and improve their subjective opinions about our user interfaces.

Using the peak-end rule in UX design

In both psychological studies and UX design, small changes can significantly impact people’s recollections. When designing products or services, pay special attention to the typical user journey’s most intense points and their final moments.

Designing positive peaks

Conversations about user experience tend to focus on negative aspects of digital designs, but there are many ways in which our lives can be made easier by well-designed experiences. Elements which highlight moments of comfort, convenience, and even delight can turn a pleasant experience into a genuinely memorable one.

A well-designed icon, a bright color, or a creative illustration when finishing an interaction can ensure a good experience in users’ memories. Duolingo, for example, is a language-learning app which gamifies the process of learning a language and uses fun and conversational elements in its user interface which encourage people throughout the interactive lessons, enhancing their experiences.

Learning a language is already rewarding on its own, but Duolingo reinforces the pleasure of acquiring knowledge by enhancing users’ feelings of accomplishment.

Consider which are the most rewarding parts of your users’ typical journey within your system. Are there emotional payoffs already present? Do you answer difficult questions for your users? Does your system save users time? Do you offer a product or service which is more affordable than your competitors’ offerings? Identify which moments are the most valuable, entertaining, or helpful to your users and focus your efforts on improving those moments even further.

Negative peaks and their impact

It’s a well-known fact that people tend to remember negative experiences more vividly and accurately than positive ones. Negative moments are also peaks in the peak-end rule as they are emotionally charged and can significantly influence the way users will recall those moments.

In a usability test conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group, researchers observed how participants interacted with a household-appliance company’s website. It har a primary-navigation interface which was found particularly difficult by one of the participants. She clicked through a menu with three levels of categories, but when moving the cursor away from a specific area, the menu would close, or a different section would open. She quickly became frustrated with the situation and remarked that every time she moved the cursor the previous dropdown would close and that menus disappear too quickly.

They continued interacting with the website, but that earlier negative experience had a strong impact on how she recalled the overall experience. Remember that your online users in particular have many options available. Difficult to navigate menus, illegible text, intrusive ads, and so on make your users’ goals hard to accomplish, which in turn will create a lasting negative emotional impression.

Last impressions

Keep in mind that last impressions are lasting impressions, which is why you should ensure that your users’ journeys end on a high note.

An example of how powerful last impressions can be in UI design are progress indicators which speed up toward the end. Human-computer interface (HCI) literature shows that progress indicators which speed up toward the end positively affect the whole experience, making users perceive it as faster than if the time to completion was the same but the indicator speed was constant.

However, it’s not just microinteractions which can benefit from great last impressions. When users complete a rather daunting and complex task, a simple congratulatory screen with a nice animation at the end of the process can enhance users’ sense of relief and accomplishment and leave them feeling better about the experience as a whole.

When storing information, our minds are efficient and economical. We remember past events as snapshots which focus on specific points of intensity as well as the last moments of an event. To ensure a lasting and positive impression, we need to pay close attention to important moments in our users’ journeys, particularly to the last steps they make toward the end.

To influence users, you need to stir strong emotions so that their experience becomes a memory. You can use story mapping to design an emotional peak in their experience and a satisfying end to it.

Final thoughts

To ensure your design stands out and speaks to your users, you need to implement psychology and scientific data into your decision making. Keep in mind that your design should always be inviting, easy to use and intuitive, and relevant to your target audience.