Lessons from neuroscience: How to design for urgency

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We live in the age of distractions.

Computers have become ubiquitous in our households—and our attention spans have shrunk in kind. In fact, a study conducted by Microsoft has found that, on average, people lose their focus after eight seconds. Even goldfish can hold out for longer than that!

What that means for you is that you have a small window of time to catch the attention of your users and nudge them towards taking action before they leave you behind for the next shiny thing.

Related: Picking Nir Eyal’s brain about habit-forming products

Here are three ways in which you can use neuroscience to get the results you want.

Eliminate distractions

In 2000, psychologist Sheena Iyengar from the Columbia University and psychologist Mark Lepper from the Stanford University conducted their famous jam study.

They went to a local food market and sold jam. One day, they offered people a choice of 24 kinds of jam, meanwhile, on the other day, they offered a choice of only 6 kinds. What were the results?

People who were given fewer choices were about 10x more likely to buy than those who were given more choices.

“Giving users too many options leads to confusion and inaction.”

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So, what does this have to do with web design?

We know that giving users too many options leads to confusion and inaction—so when you’re adding a design element to your website, you should always ask yourself if it’s really necessary.

Web design should guide the visitor towards the action you want them to take, whether it would be clicking a like button, subscribing to your newsletter, or buying your product. Anything that doesn’t fulfill that function needs to go. That way, your design will be clean and uncluttered, and your visitors will be more likely to take action.

Add scarcity

In 1975, Stephen Worchel, Jerry Lee, and Akanbi Adewole conducted a study (opens PDF) on how supply and demand affects the perceived value of an object.

They placed cookies in two identical glass jars: one jar contained 10 cookies, and the other contained two. They asked the participants to rate the cookies, and unsurprisingly, those whose who got the jar with two cookies rated the cookies higher than those who got the jar with 10 cookies. Moreover, those who were told that the cookie supply was limited due to the demand gave even higher ratings!

Scarcity makes us appreciate things more.Twitter Logo It’s human nature; we tend to hoard scarce resources and play more carelessly with abundant resources.

“If people think they have all the time in the world to make a decision, they often deliberate for so long that they eventually end up forgetting it altogether.”

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How can you use this evolutionary quirk to your advantage? You should look for ways to make whatever it is you are selling scarce. Here are some ideas:

  • Sell coaching? Reduce the number of available spots and increase your price per session.
  • Sell digital products? This one is a bit more tricky, since you can’t tell people that you have a limited number of ebooks or video courses. However, what you can do is offer a deal with a reduced price for a limited amount of time.
  • Sell physical products? Display the number of products you have left in stock.

If people think they have all the time in the world to make a decision, they often deliberate for so long that they eventually end up forgetting it altogether. Don’t be afraid to give them a nudge!

Make sure call-to-action button stands out

In 1933, psychiatrist and children’s pediatrician Hedwig von Restorff conducted a series of memory experiments that were focused on items that stand out.

Her best-known experiment was one where asked subjects to memorize a list of ten times, nine of which were written in black ink and one in blue. When she asked the participants to list the items back to her, she noticed that they were most likely to remember the item that was written in blue ink.

This is called the Von Restorff Effect: that items that stands out the most is the most likely to be remembered. How can designers take advantage of this?

You can use the Von Restorff effect to increase your conversion rates by making your call-to-action buttons stand out from your overall color scheme. There’s no one-color-fits-all solution for this, but in general, you should pick a color that contrasts with your overall color scheme. Yellow, green, and red colors all work well for call-to-action buttons!

Always A/B test everything

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that something based on research that works well for most people might still not work for your particular audience.

Related: How Netflix does A/B testing

Without A/B testing, you’re shooting in the dark: you need to track what works and what doesn’t. Twitter LogoGet A/B testing software, make changes one at a time, and observe the results. Only implement the changes that increase your conversion rates.

Also, if you haven’t run A/B tests before, I highly recommend you to read A/B Testing Mastery: From Beginner To Pro in a Blog Post guide from ConversionXL.

Get your goal

It’s important to understand that we are living in the attention economy: there are over 1.8 billion websites online, and we are competing with all these options for the attention of all of our visitors. Will you be able to capture it, or will they quickly look around and then leave immediately?

Make sure that you know what you always know what it is that you are trying to achieve: are you trying to get likes? Email subscribers? Sales? You need to make sure that each page of your website has one, and only one, goal.Twitter Logo Then, use design and copywriting to consciously guide your visitors towards taking action. Good luck!

Want to learn more about your brain on design? Check out:

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