UX Designers are using Psychology To “Manipulate” Users

We all know that in today’s world, technology is king. With the increased use of the internet, the UX designer has become one of the most important jobs.UX designers often operate behind the scenes, using clever tactics to engage visitors on their websites.

Many don’t realize that an important aspect of being a UX designer is understanding basic psychology. This allows the designer to create an appealing website that is sure to engage users.

So how does psychology play a role in the job of a UX designer?

UX Designers Understand Patterns and Use Them

Evolution dominates our world a lot more than we think. Everything from our thoughts to our behavior is influenced by evolution processes from thousands of years ago. A lot of these patterns have ensured the survival of our species throughout time.

We’ve come a long way as a species, but our minds still hold traces of the past. One of the most important evolutionary skills we have is pattern recognition. Pattern recognition allows our minds to operate efficiently and makes life easier. Patterns are the reason people enjoy familiar daily routines.

Routine and repetitive activities allow our brains to operate on autopilot. In modern life that means we can do things like fill out forms and run errands without much thought. This is all due to pattern recognition.

However, autopilot also makes us susceptible to manipulation. This is something UX designers take advantage of by making sites as simple and easy to use as possible. These simple designs also make it easier to manipulate people into doing certain things. By not having to think, users are more inclined to do things that they normally wouldn’t do under different circumstances.

An example of this can be seen on the websites of budget airline companies. These companies make it easy to book a flight, and customers often don’t think about extra fees for things like baggage, which is where these companies make their profits. This is just one example of a UX designer manipulating visitors to increase revenue.

This can be seen in other industries as well. Developers often manipulate our minds into doing things we don’t want to do. In this example, there appears to be a hair on the screen of a phone. That tells our subconscious to swipe and remove it, inadvertently opening the ad.

Variable Rewards and Conditioning

Another example of evolutionary instincts is variable rewards and conditioning. We, humans, expect certain actions to produce specific results. For example, we know that if you turn a key in the car ignition, it will likely start. Similarly, pressing a specific button on a vending machine causes the desired product to be dispensed.

Good UX designers know this can also be applied to websites. People pressing certain buttons on a site expect to be given some form of “reward,” and UX designers exploit this tactic often.

The Reward of the Hunt

UX designers know that humans have an inherent desire to hunt for things. In the past, these things were typically food, water, and other important resources. This

was a crucial motivator for our ancestor’s survival. That impulse is still with us, but now the hunt takes a different form. Today, we seek rewards through a hunt for information.

Reddit has mastered this notion through the design of its app and website.

Users endlessly scroll through the site, and in the process moderation and self-control become de-prioritized. Apps like Reddit have also removed page numbers, making it more difficult for users to realize the amount of time spent on the app.

Another example of this is Wikipedia. The typical Wikipedia article is filled with links. We have all been through the experience of spending endless hours clicking these links, taking us to new content. Although Wikipedia isn’t motivating you to buy a product, it is still hacking your behavior to keep you on its page.

Any website can use this tactic, and by strategically placing links, users can be entranced to continue spending time on the site.

The Rewards of the Tribe

UX designers also exploit what’s known as the “reward of the tribe.” Humans are hardwired by evolution to seek approval from others. In ancient cultures, approval usually meant higher status within the tribe. So, how do UX designers exploit this?

By giving customers the ability to share purchases on a website to their social media, companies give customers a way to earn affirmation in their social circles, while also providing free advertising to the business.

Many people take significant time cultivating their online personas. Whether this is a true reflection of their real lives, nearly everyone is guilty of creating posts they believe will increase their popularity. So by making it simple to share your activities and purchases with your friends, the company entices you to return for more and more.

Unsurprisingly, an increase in social media has correlations with an increase in anxiety, depression, and suicide, especially among younger audiences. People are increasingly putting more value on their online connections, causing a vicious social media cycle.

Is the Goal to Help, Influence, or Manipulate?

Ultimately, UX designers have a lot of power through exploiting these basic human instincts. Through understanding psychology, we can improve people’s website visits. But this knowledge is also often used to deceive and manipulate users.

So while it is impossible to avoid the psychological aspect of web design, every UX designer needs to account for the well-being of their customers as much as possible when designing websites.