Choice Architects, Behavioral Nudges, and.....UX?

One of the joys of reading is when you’re able to make an unexpected connection between what’s on the page and what’s going on around you.

I’ve been reading the book “Nudge” by the economist Richard Thaler, and am finding a wealth of parallels between his human-centered approach to behavioral economics and user-centered design. Thaler posits that rather than think of humans as predictable actors governed by logic, they are rather “subject to their own frailties” - meaning that they often act illogically, influenced by emotion, impulse, internal and external pressures. This echoes the preference user-centered design has for observation over interviews and Simon Sinek’s inside-out approach to branding.

Many of us, either through our work or family relationships, are what Thaler calls “choice architects”. These are people that are responsible for presenting options for which others must choose (think parents, merchandisers, or financial advisers). Knowing that humans are thus subject to our own shortcomings, an ethical choice architect has a responsibility to help “nudge” a decision-maker to a desired outcome. For example, picking a healthy meal option or saving for retirement. A nudge refers to subtle manipulations of how (and when) the choices are presented to increase the likelihood that a customer will make the choice that does them the most good.

It is quite a short mental leap to classify designers as choice architects, whether you state our role in marketing, branding, or user-experience. While reading “Nudge”, I’ve been working on a UIUX project and I found myself thinking about nudging users via button placement, color selection, menu types, etc. “How can I help them get it right?” By minimizing a user’s opportunity to err, I could better ensure they reach the end of the flow and achieve an objective. In addition to digital applications, I can see this bring hugely important in service design and business ops.

Beyond just adding a few new terms to my vocabulary, Thaler’s concepts have provided a fascinating take on understanding, guiding, and designing for users in all of their complexities.