Chroma Experience

Nudge me if you can!

Guiding users in a certain direction, as we wish as UX designers, is not always that easy. Users may only just be getting to know our new application, have to process a lot of information at the same time and often rely on familiar patterns of action. Certain content can be overlooked, ignored or processed incorrectly. However, design offers us a wide range of opportunities to help users make the best decision for them. Because sometimes all that's missing is a little "nudge"...

What are nudges? And why are they important?

Nudges are small pushes that influence users in their decisions in a certain direction. The way in which information is presented in its structure and environment is called decision architecture. Nudges occur in the real world as well as in the digital environment and deliberately cause changes to the decision architecture.

In the digital context, nudges are described as "[...] use of user-interface design elements to guide people's behavior in digital choice environments." (Weinmann et al., 2016, p. 433). As in the real world, users are presented with the choice of making decisions in the user interface (UI). It is almost impossible to present users with neutral choices, as every display option has an influence on their decisions. Even the smallest changes to the digital environment, such as default settings, have an impact on user behavior. For example, if no option is selected in a standard selection, the status quo is usually retained, as users tend to accept this setting more often than change the status quo. Although no pre-selection was made for the user, this decision architecture of non-selection guides the subsequent action of the user. This effect is also known as status quo bias.

Various of these psychological effects have an influence on the user's decision-making process. Understanding the effects that the decision architecture and, accordingly, the use of nudges has on users is particularly important for UX and UI designers. Knowledge of the behavioral effects of nudges helps designers not only to achieve certain goals, such as increasing sales, but also to avoid arbitrary and unintended effects through nudges. Knowledge of the users also plays a major role here, as their characteristics and properties can greatly influence the effectiveness of the nudges. In addition, the users themselves are inevitably influenced by framework conditions (e.g. social influences), on the basis of which they make good or bad decisions. They are therefore dependent on decision architectures that help them in their choices and give them a gentle nudge.

Rules of thumb help with decision-making

Nudges are used for the reason that users do not always behave rationally due to their framework conditions and cognitive limitations. Judgment heuristics, also known as rules of thumb or principles, help users to simplify information and make decisions. These principles can have both negative and positive influences on decisions. Users are therefore particularly receptive to nudges, as they do not question every decision but fall back on rules of thumb that have already been tried and tested. Various nudge principles can help to support users in their decisions. Digital nudge principles include, among others: Incentives, Understanding mapping, Standard defaults, Giving feedback, Allowing for errors, Structuring complex decisions.

Incentives, such as visual (color etc.) highlighting in the design context, can increase the effectiveness of design elements. Meanwhile, mapping promotes the processing of difficult information using known evaluation schemes. One example of this is the slider, which can be compared to a tap. Depending on which way the tap is turned, cold or hot water will flow out. The slider works in a very similar way, moving it in one direction or the other can have a change such as a price, radius or brightness adjustment.

Here, users can actively decide how many years the CO2 emissions of the booked flight should be offset and whether the donation contribution should go more towards sustainable aviation fuel or a climate project portfolio.

Another nudge is the principle of structuring complex decisions by listing the characteristics of all alternatives so that users can assign information, such as different product options, more quickly.

Here, users can choose between four different CO2 compensation options.

The use of notifications as feedback to users or default settings for checkboxes is also one of the above-mentioned nudge principles in the UX and UI context. Designing a design element in a non-neutral way, such as changing the default option of a checkbox from "not selected" to "selected", i.e. to the active state, can already guide user behavior and decide on the status quo. Nudges are not intended to actively force an action, but rather to draw the user's attention and thus trigger an action that is based on an independent decision by the user.

But isn't all this manipulation?

According to Thaler and Sunstein (2009), nudges are based on the principle of libertarian paternalism. This principle states that decision architects design certain guidelines for users that steer them in a direction that is better for them, while at the same time guaranteeing their freedom of choice. The nudges and their respective purpose should be recognizable to users and easy to circumvent. However, if users are not aware that, for example, the default nudge is a type of recommendation or in some cases even an attempt at manipulation and they have another choice, then their freedom of choice is impaired. Forcing users to make decisions that are against their best interests is considered unethical. Therefore, when designing nudges or the decision architecture, care should be taken to define goals that include ethical implications. Stephen Wendel (2020) proposes an ethics checklist that designers can use as a guide when applying behavior change techniques. This includes not encouraging addictive behavior, only implementing techniques that users can make use of, showing transparency, providing options and asking oneself as a designer whether the product itself would be used Despite the discussions about manipulation, interference in decision-making autonomy and ethical objections that criticize libertarian paternalism, it remains clear that behavior change is the main goal of using nudges. Therefore, it is important to understand cognitive and non-cognitive decision-making processes in order to better assess questions about the individual's freedom of choice.Designers should build the decision architecture for users in a way that gives them a sense of autonomy and self-determination.

Good nudging, bad nudging

Despite all the guidelines, ethics checklists and moral design standards, there are of course still designs that are deliberately user-unfriendly and make the decision-making architecture particularly complicated, deceptive or non-transparent for users. So-called dark patterns can exploit users' attention in such a way that their freedom of choice is negatively influenced and behavior is triggered which is not in the interest of the user. Our article Dark Pattern describes various manipulation tricks in more detail.

But not only "dark design" uses nudge principles as a tool to influence user behavior. Green nudges describe the "green" variant of nudging, the aim of which is to encourage more sustainable, environmentally conscious behavior. Green nudges can be the presentation of information about users' individual CO2 emissions or changes to the (digital) environment and adjustments to default options that encourage sustainable travel habits, for example. Decision architects can, for example, design information on CO2 emissions in such a way that it is more accessible to users and the consequences of their decisions can be assigned more easily.


As UX and UI designers, we should always keep in mind the need to give users a little nudge in the right direction using digital nudges and ask ourselves how we can make the decision-making architecture as transparent and user-friendly as possible. Various nudge principles help us to find ways to do this and to find out which nudges work best for them in the respective case by means of user tests, for example. Ultimately, this can increase user motivation and promote positive use of the respective application or system.


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