Daily UX Crash Course — User Psychology: 23 of 31

Usability is a big area of the UX world, and it is a critical element in most — if not all — projects. There is one cognitive bias that forms the backbone of usability, and effects the way we predict the future and ourselves:

Hyperbolic Discounting: The Backbone of Usability


(Just starting the User Psych Crash Course? Start here.)


“Hyperbolic Discounting” might seem like a complicated phrase, but the idea is fairly simple:

Whatever is happening to you now (or soon) is more important than what will happen to you later (or in the future).

It applies to your perception of value, and how you judge your own emotions, and how you make important decisions. 

It’s why most people don’t save money well, and why plans almost always take longer than expected.

People get fat because eating unhealthy food is easier and more fun “now” than working out to be healthy “later”.

It’s also why you might be excited to do a quiz that tells you which Mad Men character you are (which is useless), but probably not excited to spend four years learning advanced mathematics (which would change your life).


Motivations vs. time.

We discussed how time affects emotions (lesson 7), but not how it affects motivations.

Imagine I offer you $100 now, or $200 next year. In real life, you would probably take $100 now, even though $200 is clearly more money.

Now imagine you want something that costs $100 now, or $50 next year, or $10 per month over the next 12 months.

In real life, most people will pay $10 per month — like you did with your smart phone — because it is the best option “now”. Even though that is the most expensive option later.


Usability is a two-way street.

In UX we talk about usability a lot. Most of the time we want things to be easier, faster, simpler. Those are things the user wants now.

Everything in your design should be based on getting users to the most valuable actions as quickly and easily as possible.

But your design should also make destructive actions as time-consuming and unemotional as possible.

Like Facebook does.

When you try to deactivate your Facebook account, they use Hyperbolic Discounting to change your mind.

The form is long and boring, so your emotions have time to decrease. Near the end they show you pictures of friends you will lose now, which replaces the impulsive motivation to destroy Facebook (and everything associated with it) later.

Most people quit before deactivating, even though, technically, nothing is stopping them.


Tomorrow we will look more at the psychology of usability, and why you cannot judge UX design by the way it looks: What is Usability, Really?