UX, psychology & the 'dark arts'

Last week I presented at UX Bristol. The talk was titled, UX, psychology and the 'dark arts'. There was a certain amount of debate on the day about how psychology and the 'dark arts' are being used.

I've been lucky enough to work with The Trainline, which sells train tickets online. Their website also sells add-ons, like travel insurance.

One of the first things I noticed was that the travel-insurance option was pre-ticked.

Trainline with insurance included
How it was with insurance included

Defaults have a big impact on people's behaviour

In countries like Denmark, Germany and Netherlands where people have to ‘opt-in’ to organ donation few people donate organs (between 4-28%). In countries like France, Belgium and Austria, where people have to ‘opt-out’, donation rates are close to 100%. People tend to go along with the default.

The original designers felt insurance was a cheap, useful addition which they recommended. So making it a ‘default’ could win sales and help them protect their customers, right?

But in The Trainline's case, the ‘opt-out’ default aggravated and annoyed customers.

My recommendation was to get rid of the opt-out.

Much better now with insurance not included and with a better message
As it is now.

Of course, we had a duty to our client to help them sell their products.

So we changed the box to explain the benefits of the insurance and make people feel comfortable about buying.

Why does it seem morally acceptable to require opt-outs for organ donation (at least in some countries) and not travel insurance?

I guess it's because one is an act of charity, where the other is most definitely a sale.

In commercial situations, my experience is clear: make the customer feel comfortable about their choices.

With great power comes great responsibility

Last week I was lucky enough to present at UX Bristol. The talk was titled, UX, psychology and the 'dark arts'.

We looked at how people try to influence choice in the real world (for instance in the layout of restaurant menus) and discussed ethics & usage.

Here's the code I work to which I talked about on the day:

  1. Don’t trick
  2. Don’t cheat
  3. Don’t lie
  4. Provide positive benefit

Our understanding of psychology gives us powerful weapons.

As I said on the day: with great power comes great responsibility.

Here's the presentation:

I'd love to know what you think, add your comments below.

Joe is an esteemed former member of the cxpartners team. His articles are still here to enrich us.