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5 major bits of psychological wisdom for your products

Lately, I've had the privilege to hear Nathalie Nahai speaking about 5 psychological  principals of persuasive product design.

Nathalie is a brilliant speaker. Her talks are usually full of practical, useful information, completed with examples and use cases.

Here what I found the most interesting in Nathalie's talk.

Endowed Progress 

Imagine that your local car wash is sending you a loyalty card. You know, one where you need to collect stamps. It's an empty card and you need to collect 8 stamps to get one car wash for free. The usual. Now, imagine similar situation but this time you receive a card where you're asked to collect 10 stamps. And two stamps are already filled, collected for you. Which card are you most likely to complete?
300 hundred cards have been sent to customers that participated in the experiment to find out exactly that.
Results ?
10 stamp card had almost double completion rate than 8 stamp card.
Takeaway: customers are more likely to complete the task than to start it.
But why?
"People provided with artificial advancement toward a goal exhibit greater persistence toward reaching that goal"
And the closer the goal the more likely we gonna try to complete it.

Sunk-cost fallacy 

"Losses loom larger than gains"
Remember last time your mate encouraged you to try this new game out? It is a similar one to the one you're playing now. But in your current game, you already have a level, skills and playing friends. Would you switch easily?

Remember those times of a Farming whatever ? Thousands of people tried it at least once. Later, lot's of similar games appeared. Much better games. Still, most people stayed playing the original. Why? Cause they are already invested their time and effort into it.  Remember "The Hook" ? Investment is what makes us more likely to stay with a product.
Takeaway: customers that "invested" in your product are more likely to continue using it

Appointment Dynamic

Coming back to farms... Do you remember that as a player you was asked to come back and "harvest" your farm at a pre-defined time? For some, it created a habit. Got up, shower, coffee, harvest virtual farm.
Takeaway: use all three principles to increase engagement of your customers.

  • Endowed progress: Customer is helped to begin
  • Consistency: Initial intention fuels desire to complete
  • Sunk-cost fallacy: Encourages further investment
  • Appointment dynamic: Habitual use is reinforced

Opportunity cost

It's a well-known principle in economics. But it's highly relevant for virtual worlds too. How does it work? Opportunity cost is what you're giving up by making a particular choice. 
If you decide to watch channel 4, you're giving up whatever is on other channels. If you have only 100$ to spend and choose to make a party for friends, you're not gonna buy cloth or save this money for later. 

There are lots of costs in our life, but at least three the most precious: 


Attention is a currency of today's Internet. Those who not pay with their money - pay with their attention. Attention is more and more fragmented. Nowadays users are multitasking just because they've been bombarded by the services which cry out for attention. 
Tip for keeping customer attention: trigger an emotional response. Create a fast moving and compelling cycle of variable rewards.


Time is scarce. Time is distributed. Time is dedicated. When is your product being used? 
Tip for time? Minimize time costs. How? 

  • Learn how your users spend time
  • Learn their usage patterns, regularities, routines
  • Learn how to target specific time pockets


There is a difference between real cost and perceived cost of paying. Especially when there is intermediate currency used by a product. Adding intermediate currencies between a customer and real money reduces our ability to assess the value of the transaction
Best example? "Freemium" business model in games. 
What do they do? 

  • They create "fun pain" for a player. For example waiting.
  • They use intermediate currencies.
  • They allow people to earn in-game currency, but much slower than buying it.

Hedonic adaptation

Adaptation is a basic principle of human behavior. We're getting used to everything. Offline but also online. How does it affect our relationships with products? 
The research: group A been given an 180-second massage. Group B has been given 80-second massage, then they took a 20-second break, then had another 80-second massage. Which group reported bigger satisfaction of the experience? ... Group B. One with shorter time of massage but a break between the sessions.  
Why ? 
"Short break stymied their adaptation to the pleasurable event and ‘reset’ their appreciation for it"
The Same principle applies to unpleasant experiences. Making breaks while doing something not pleasant just increases the pain.

What products could do about hedonic adaptation? 
Tweak and change experience slightly so they would appear as new and therefore will "reset" customer appreciation of it. 

  • App developers do it by regular update cycles. 
  • Web sites are doing it by changing layouts and structures here and there. 

Key takeaways

Understand your customers. Not only what they do. But what psychological triggers, biases, and motivations drive them.

  • Endowed Progress
  • Sunk-cost fallacy
  • Appointment Dynamic
  • Opportunity cost
  • Hedonic adaptation


There is a thin line between persuasion and manipulation. How to navigate between those two? Intention.
Remember about good old "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you". 
Hate paywalls? Don't use them yourself. 
Can't stand moving pop-ups? Forget about the number of clicks they generate.

Be honest with your users and shall they repay you with their attention, time and money.

Learn more

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