Anchored in Good Design

In a previous post, we outlined the anchoring and adjustment bias, the fact that an uninformative number can easily influence our judgment. In other words, we are surrounded by facts and figures meaning that we rarely make decisions in a vacuum. We must, therefore, remain cognizant of the possibility that our choices can be influenced by an irrelevant number. Simply because someone asks if a project will take six months does not make it so. By itself, the number six is irrelevant.

Think of it this way. How would you respond if your colleague posed this question: “How long do you think it would take you to run one mile, about four minutes?” While I sincerely hope that you run faster than I do, I’ll venture to guess that you would reply, “No, I cannot run a mile in four minutes.”

In the post about the anchoring and adjustment, we explained the importance of re-anchoring by taking the outside view. Case studies, project histories, and industry standards often serve as useful reference points when re-anchoring.

But, how is anchoring relevant to design? Anchoring occurs because we have a natural tendency to compare. We can use this tendency to our advantage as long as we do so ethically.

While anchoring can cause us to refer to an irrelevant number, it does not have to be this way. If we present numbers that make sense, numbers that do, in fact, go together, we can ethically influence customers. The use of anchors to influence purchasing decisions is common in the software and service industries. For example:

anchoring bias


The purpose of this design is to make the $159 appealing. It seems far less expensive than $399 per month while maintaining an association with this more expensive package by retaining the word “Premium.” At the same time, Unbounce customers may not wish to view themselves as cheap or as starters (read beginners). In such cases, the $159 premium offering is likely the favored choice as indicated by the “best value” label.

Unbounce lists its services and prices clearly. There is no deception here. Rather, the pricing page takes advantage of the natural tendency to compare.

In summary, when we are anchored in good design, we can ethically used the human tendency to compare to influence where customers look and how they perceive our products.


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