Daily UX Crash Course — User Psychology: 27 of 31

We are always trying to help our users, but that doesn’t always mean agreeing with them. And it would be naive not to realize that we have the power to deceive users with UX techniques. So today we will discuss:



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


There is a difference between a bad UX design, and a UX design that works against the user. The difference is psychology.

Anti-UX prevents mistakes and bad decisions by using good UX principles, in the opposite direction.


The Good, The Bad & The Anti

Let’s say you run a members-only website for clown car mechanics. It’s a lot of great content in one tiny site.

Members pay a subscription each month, until they cancel it. The price might look small, but you get so much out of it!

You don't want people to cancel, but it is necessary to allow it. Otherwise they all might re-paint their faces with a tear and a frowny mouth.

Let’s say we’re designing the cancellation process.

Good UX: 

The form should be clear and easy. The “cancel my subscription” button should be somewhere logical (like account settings). You should get an email to confirm the cancellation. Everything should be easy to read, relevant, and so on.

Bad UX: 

If you are a dirty designer — which I hate — then you could make the form difficult and confusing. You could hide the “cancel” button somewhere weird, or make it tiny and hard to see. And it could “fail” when the user makes a tiny mistake, so they have to start from the beginning.

The Problem: 

In real life, Bad UX will create less cancellations than Good UX, which is better for the company and worse for the user.

Uh oh. That’s not a good incentive.

However, there is a solution… 



Everything from the “Good UX” example remains the same. Clear and easy. But we’re also going to throw in some psychology to fix “the problem”.

If your marketing department wants to know why the user is cancelling, put it in the form. Two pages of boring questions is a great way to reduce conversion.

Break the form into many pages so it takes longer. Include links to FAQ pages. And avoid using defaults; it maximizes the number of conscious choices for the user.

Ask them to explain their reasons for cancelling, and require at least 100 letters of text††. Explaining is hard when your reasons are emotional.

Show the user an article they loved, like “10 Ways to Stuff More Clowns into a Selfie”, or pictures of their best clown friends, or offer exclusive access to the Big Red Shoes Club (you know what they say about people with big red shoes!).

i.e. — remind the user what they will lose.

Nothing should be difficult or deceptive. We’re not trying to stop the user. We’re trying to remove the emotional appeal, so they choose not to cancel.

††Note: I crossed out that detail due to some feedback. Requiring 100 characters might be a little too annoying in many cases, and will certainly get you low-quality responses to that form. If you care about getting feedback — and usually you should — don’t do that. When I wrote this I was thinking of a certain scenario, but that is probably not the best advice in general. See below…


Dirty UX Tricks hurt us all.

RyanAir is a cheap European airline that used to have one of the most deceptive websites I have ever seen.

The new site is better, but still includes a default to pay for extra insurance you don’t need. To unselect it, you scroll half way down a list of countries and pick “don’t insure me” from the list. It doesn’t make sense and it costs you money.

That’s how you kill trust.

“Don’t do that shit. Ever.” 
— R. McDonald, Senior VP of Scary Clowns


Tomorrow we will get into the measurement of psychological design, by asking a deep question: Can you measure a soul?