UX Designers Use Psychology To “Manipulate” Their Users

As technology has continued to improve, new roles have evolved in the digital world. One of the most important roles today is that of the UX designer. If you are a UX designer, there is a good chance that people look at you with a quizzical look when you tell them what you do. Sometimes, people might even think that it is your job to manipulate them. 

Of course, you are not a psychologist; however, it is the job of a UX designer to understand how people think. That way, they will be able to design products and services that visitors are going to enjoy using. Of course, the principles that influence visitors can be used to manipulate their behavior in some way. 

With all of this in mind, how does psychology play a role in the job of a UX designer? Are they really manipulating people?

UX Designers Understand Patterns and Use Them

Because of evolution, people have been trained to think in a certain way. Much of the way in which people think and behave today stems from cognitive processes that have evolved over thousands of years. These processes are important because they not only keep us alive but ensure the success of our species. 

Even though the world today may not be entirely focused on survival, as it was thousands of years ago, we are still trained to think in that way. The most important tool that we have in our toolkit when it comes to survival is pattern recognition. It is pattern recognition that allows us to go through our lives on autopilot. The less we have to actually think about what we are doing, the better our lives are going to be.

Of course, we see patterns everywhere. For example, this is one of the biggest reasons why we like the familiarity of our routine. Once we complete things dozens of times, such as signing up to create an account, we go through these processes on autopilot. This reduces the stress and anxiety that we feel during the course of the day. Now, thanks to improvements in these processes, we can complete banking transactions, purchase goods from companies, and even fill out documents online with a minimal amount of effort. This autopilot has been developed because of pattern recognition.

At the same time, when we go through things on autopilot, we do not think about them as much, by default. This is one area in which UX designers seek to capitalize. Yes, it is the goal of the UX team to create processes that are easy to understand. The goal is to make it easy for potential customers and clients to complete tasks in a short amount of time. On the other hand, by making this process easier, it is also easier to manipulate people into doing certain things. When people do not have to think about what they are doing, they are more likely to actually do that thing. 

For example, a lot of companies have been looking for a way to make it easier to sign up for flights. That is exactly what budget airlines have been doing. Then, when people sign up and book a flight, they may not think about all the extra costs they have to pay in the process. As an example, do you actually read the fine print on every single page? This is just one way in which a UX designer has tried to manipulate visitors on that website to increase the frequency with which they book flights. Of course, this is a practice that can be found in other industries as well. 

For years, web and app developers have been exploiting our pattern-recognition brains into manipulating us into doing things we don’t want to do. Below is an example of what looks like single hair on the screen of a cell phone that is intended to tell our subconscious mind we need to swipe up to remove it and therefore open the ad.

Variable Rewards and Conditioning

One of the most basic human instincts is that of variable rewards and conditioner. As humans, we are trained to expect certain results if we take certain actions. For example, we have probably learned that if we turn the key in the car, we expect the car to turn on. Or, if we hit a button on a vending machine, we expect food or drink to drop from the machine. 

This is another practice that a UX designer seeks to take advantage of. People know that if they click on a certain area on a website, they are likely to be rewarded. A UX designer will use this to try to convince people to take certain actions.

The Reward of the Hunt

Another common practice that a UX designer will seek to use is called the reward of the hunt. As humans, we have an impulse to acquire physical things, food, and information that we need to survive. Without all of these resources, we would not be where we are today. Today, we no longer have to hunt for basic resources. We simply have to go to the store. At the same time, the basic impulse remains. Today, the most obvious reward of the hunt is that of information. 

Reddit, the third most popular website in the US and a platform for variable rewards of information, keeps users on their platform endlessly scrolling to see what they might find, never fully satisfied. In the trance-like state of scrolling, moderation and self-control become de-prioritised. These apps have removed pagination (the page numbers at the bottom of the screen) that pulls the user out of the trance for a second and replaced it with the infinite scroll feature so users can just continue hunting.

Think about the way Wikipedia is laid out. There is always another link on Wikipedia that you would like to click. You probably think that if you click on that link, you are going to be rewarded with interesting information. Even though this is not necessarily manipulating you into making a purchase, it is a way of keeping you interested. 

This is a practice that other websites might be able to use to convince their users to make purchases. By creating some layer of mystery behind the link, websites might be able to convince their visitors to click on it and make a purchase. 

The Rewards of the Tribe

Another basic Instinct that a UX designer will seek to use is called the rewards of the try. We constantly seek the approval of others. This has been true since the dawn of time. In ancient cultures, people would seek the approval of other members of the tribe believing this will elevate them to a greater level within the tribe. So, how is this used by a UX designer?

Have you ever noticed that a lot of websites allow you to share your purchase on social media platforms? Yes, this is a way for the company to market itself for free through your social media platforms. On the other hand, this also makes it easier for you to access the social affirmation you require after making a purchase.

The more impressive, beautiful, or funny we appear on the internet, the greater the level of social approval. This is going to increase our status among our friend groups, colleagues, and family members. There is a lot of effort that people put in when it comes to their online personas, whether or not it is accurate. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that this is a common tool of UX designers everywhere. By making it easier for you to share your actions with others, the website keeps you coming back for more.

If you never feel like you are satisfied with your social media appearance, you are not alone. It should come as no surprise that social media has been connected with anxiety, depression, and suicide. This is particularly true among the younger generation. Many people value their online connections more than their real-life ones. Despite this, we keep coming back to social media. 

Is the Goal to Help, Influence, or Manipulate?

Ultimately, psychology is being applied to the design of advanced technology. By understanding how people behave, we can improve people’s experiences when they visit websites. This same knowledge can be used to deceive, mislead, or manipulate users. Ultimately, it is impossible to avoid these psychological principles. At the same time, it is important for every UX designer to keep the best interests of his or her users at heart.