Daily UX Crash Course — User Psychology: 8 of 31

This lesson is about the most overlooked and the most powerful psychological element in UX. It’s nice to what users are already looking for, but even better to know what they will always want. Today we learn:

What Are Motivations?


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


Yesterday’s lesson explained that emotions are reactions based on whether someone gains or loses their goals. 

So what are their goals? Motivations. That’s what.

Motivations are built-in psychological needs. Shit we want. Some are physical — we need them to survive — and some exist only in your mind, but all are important. Motivations can fall anywhere between conscious experience and subsconscious experience: You could be completely aware or complete unaware that you are motivated.

You can gain or lose each motivation, and you are motivated to do both. That will become very useful in UX, when we learn about conditioning.

Motivations are relative. That means it’s not about how much you get, it’s about how much more you get compared to what you have or what other people have.


So what are these motivations?
Below is a brief description of the 14 different ways a person can be motivated in general.

Avoid Death — Obviously, dying is bad. Evolution figured that out too. We are motivated to live as long as possible (gain), and avoid anything life threatening (loss) like heights or fire or snakes. Sometimes people commit suicide, but only when one of the other motivations is stronger than the will to live.

Avoid Pain — Similar to death, but not necessarily life-threatening. This is ouchy pain like breaking your leg, not heart-ache pain like when ‘N Sync broke up and left me with nothing. Nothing!

Air / Water / Food — Your body needs fuel to operate, and if it is running low, your motivations will make you fix that. The more urgent the need, the more desperate you get.

Homeostasis — This is your body’s “balance”. Remember last time you drank, came home, went to sleep, and woke up an hour later to pray to the porcelain god? That was your motivation for homeostasis. The same motivation gave you the shits the next day. Try saying no to this motivation. I dare you.

Sleep — Recent studies have shown that sleeping might be your brain’s cleaning and maintenance time. If you go long enough without sleep, your body and mind will take over and make sure you get some.

Sex — Sometimes called “seduction” — not to be confused with “romance”, which is Love — this one is tricky, because it is counter-intuitive. We’ll cover it in tomorrow’s lesson.

Love — Also in tomorrow’s lesson, Love comes in three different flavours, which give you a bad case of the feels for your family, your kids, and the person who lets you touch their fuzzy bits.

Protection of Children — We won’t spend much time on this one, but it’s good to know that it exists. Think of anything that involves adults, and then imagine the same thing being being done to a kid. Sometimes, like with sex, it seems completely wrong and immoral. But sometimes, like with advertising, it seems like we just need extra rules and limitations. Why? Because in terms of evolution, people who haven’t reproduced yet are more valuable than those who have, so we gotta protect 'em.

Affiliation — This is the motivation to belong to a group, and we will cover it two lessons from now.

Status — This is the motivation to drive your own bus and be better than others, and we will also cover it two lessons from now.

Justice — This is the motivation to balance the scales so everybody gets what they deserve, and we’ll cover it two lessons from now.

Understanding (Curiosity) — The motivation to understand things is particularly interesting, and not as easy to use in UX as many people think. It will be our final lesson on motivations, and it will affect how you think about usability, onboarding, advertising, and how users handle change.


This is a very brief introduction to motivations, but hopefully it gives you a sense of how behaviour could be shaped in UX. When users become loyal or have a deep appreciation for your product, it’s because of motivations, not emotions.

The next three lessons will breakdown 6 of the 14 motivations in more detail, so you can use them in your designs.


Tomorrow we’ll need some Barry White music, because the lesson will be all about: Motivations — Sex & Love.