Choice Architecture, as coined by Thaler and Sunstein in their 2008 book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, is the practice of understanding cognitive bias and designing environments, messages, products, ads, websites — anything that is designed — to help nudge the decision making process. I won’t get into the philosophical debate about what the authors call “libertarian paternalism”, but I will say that if you are in the position of helping people make decisions, you should learn how to be a Choice Architect.
Here are 5 key ways you can become a Choice Architect:
- The human brain was designed to take shortcuts. As complex as the brain is, rational thinking about every decision all day long for the entirety of life is not efficient. So the brain creates all kinds of shortcuts in decision making. Make sure your design, your copy, your instructions — everything you present makes decision making easy. Keep it simple and clear.
- Framing. Framing is how you say it or present it. It’s the difference between, “85% of people experience significant improvement” versus, “Only 15% of people fail to realize significant improvement”. Seems simple, right? You’d be surprised how often you miss framing opportunities in what you say and what you write. Go back and check. Are you framing things in the best possible way? Just to be clear, framing is NOT about misrepresentation. The truth is the truth, but it does matter HOW you say it. Plant the white seeds, not the black seeds.
- The brain likes rewards now and consequences later. The reverse is also true. The brain hates consequences now for delayed rewards. Think how hard it is to floss regularly (work now, rewards delayed), or how popular (and out of control) credit is (reward now, consequences later). Don’t manipulate your audience into doing things that are harmful for them, but DO help them by offering reward now, particularly if your product is inherently “consequence now, reward later” oriented. For example, if you own a gym, free sign-ups are a great incentive but might not get people to the gym regularly. Offer a free sign-up, AND a series of fun gifts people get based on how often they show up!
- Limit Choices. It’s counter-intuitive. If you offer more choices, you’ll reach more people. Not always so. More choices makes people think more, and raises the risk that NO choice will be selected. Make your calls to action clear and limited. If people really want something different, they’ll ask, and then you can offer.
- Social Proof. Except for the hardcore, contrarian rebels of the world, it’s a powerful truth that we like and trust what others like and trust. It’s hard-wired into us, probably from the time in our ancestry where the risk-takers ate that new fruit while the rest of us watched and waited to see if they would drop dead or give the, “this is safe AND delicious!” thumbs up. In the modern jungle we look to things like number of followers, the like button, online reviews and testimonials. Make sure you’re using them!
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