Psychology of Design Masterclass – 12 Secrets of Motivation You Need to Know

Psychology of Design Pt6 – 12 Dark Secrets of Motivation You Need to Know

Table of Contents

What is the main source of our motivation? What makes people tick? Is there some science-based theory that will help us motivate people? Yes, there are couple dark secrets science can give us. In this article, we are going to dive pretty deep right into the fundamentals of the science of motivation. You will learn about twelve key ideas and concepts that explain why we do certain things or behave in a certain way, even if we don’t want. Let’s find out how to use motivation to design and build things that have the power to make a difference!

Psychology of design and the science of motivation

We as human can be immensely driven. Fuel of this drive is motivation. We are also creatures of habit. In last decade, motivation and habits have been subjected to extensive research. As a result, we have now available a handful of often groundbreaking or even shocking findings that can help us use psychology of motivation to design amazing products that will not only people love to use, but also products that will be able to change people’s lives.

Here is the thing, many world’s largest companies are already using many, if not all, of these concepts and theories to make their products literally addictive. Social networks, online retailers and various mobile games are just a few examples. Fortunately, we can also use this knowledge to create products that will help users improve their lives. So, it is only up to us to use this “soft” science along with advanced technology for good or to do harm. What’s your choice?

No.1: The closer to reaching our goals we are the more motivated we get

Have you ever bought a coffee or tea in Starbucks? When you buy some drink, you will also get a card for loyal customers. This card contains couple empty circles (or other shapes) for stamps. Every time you buy another drink, you will get a stamp. The basic idea behind these cards and stamps is that when you fill all the circles with stamps, you get one drink for free. I like this idea and useful marketing tactic for two reasons.

First, it motivates you to buy more from the same brand, Starbucks in this example. Second, it shows that Starbucks as a company knows that it is better, easier and cheaper for it to keep its current customers than to get new. Anyway, this marketing tool can be improved. Let’s say that every customer card contains ten empty places for stamps. So, when you buy your first drink and get this card, there are ten empty places. Well, nine because you just made your first purchase. Still, nine is a lot. If you are not regular Starbucks customer, it may not motivate you enough.

Let’s change the rules of the game. Now, you will not get a card with ten empty places for stamps. Instead, you will get card with twelve places, but the first two will be already stamped. You will also get one stamp for your first purchase. As a result, your customer card now contains three stamps. In other words, you already have three stamps out of twelve. You are much closer to getting a drink for free! Isn’t it great? You can probably already feel the motivation for another drink. Well, it is actually not any better. In a fact, you are on the same place as you were in the first example.

Let’s do a quick math. In situation number one, we had customer card with ten blank places. Meaning, you would have to buy ten drinks in total to get one for free. In situation number two, we had customer card with twelve blank places and two of them were stamped. Twelve minus two is equal to ten, both situations will end up with the same result. As you can see, no matter what situation will we choose, we still have to buy ten drinks. The only difference is that the second situation looks better thanks to the illusion that we got two drinks right from the start.

It is this illusion that we are already on the track and closer to our goal what makes the second situation more appealing to us. This is called goal gradient effect. This theory says that the closer to reaching our goals we are the more motivated we get. This effect works every time. Let’s say you are running a marathon. When will you be most motivated, and give it your best? Will it be in the beginning of the race, in the middle or when you will be able to see the finishing line? Most of us will often give it all at the end of the race. The finishing line will work like a shot of motivation right into your veins.

We can see the same effect in action in many online forms for feedback or registration, at least the ones that are better designed. Have you seen any form that used any kind of an indicator to show you your progress? The purpose of that indicator was not to make the form prettier, at least this was not the only purpose. Another more important goal of that indicator was to boost your motivation to complete the form. Just like with card for free coffee, this indicator showed you how closer you are to your goal – completing the form – with every step.

Dropbox uses the same effect when it shows us how closer we are to get additional storage capacity on our account when we complete certain task or convince our friends to give it a try. This may sound surprising for some people, but it seems to be true. According to one study, thinking about what we need to complete is bigger motivation for us than thinking about what we’ve completed so far. So, if you want to get in shape or learn new programming language, such as JavaScript, it might be better to implement some indicator and focus on what needs to be done.

The takeaway

First, the distance between us and our goals play a huge role in our motivation. The shorter this distance is, the more motivated we are. If you really want to motivate someone, make sure that the end goal is in sight. Second, we can also use the illusion of progress (card with two stamped places) to achieve the same effect. Third, we like to be part of a group. Meaning, try to implement some kind of loyalty program to your product or service. It will motivate them to use the product and also promote it.

Fourth, our motivation decreases when we reach our goals. For example, when you fill your card with stamps and get your free drink, your motivation to continue with another card will be a bit lower. Therefore, you should think ahead and come up with some kind of “reward 2.0”. It is also this moment, when we reach our goal and get the reward, when we are most likely to lose our customer. Avoid this by creating loyalty program with multiple stages so the game never ends.

No.2: Variable rewards are strong motivation

There is at least one well-known experiment, in behavioral psychology, you may hear about. This experiment focused on operant conditioning and was done by psychologist and behaviorist B. F. Skinner. In short, Skinner was interested in how behavior can be influenced (strengthen) by rewards. During his research, he worked with pigeons and rats. These animals were rewarded according to specific conditions outlined by Skinner and his team.

Skinner and his colleagues then manipulated with the conditions for giving animals the reward and its frequency. There were four scenarios. In the first scenario, animals were rewarded according to consistent schedule. In case of the second scenario, animals were rewarded again according to variable schedule. The third scenario? Animals were rewarded every time they perform certain action (pulling lever, pressing button). In the fourth scenario, animals should again perform certain action, but they were not rewarded every time.

With these scenarios outlined, researchers watched how will animals react in each situation. The result? This experiment, and couple of others, demonstrated that animals showed the biggest motivation in the fourth scenario, when reward was variable and not directly tied to performed actions. What’s more, the same theory also applies to us humans. Slot machines are probably the best example. You throw in couple coins pull the lever and wait. You never know when you will win and how often. Unfortunately, you can’t predict that. In case of lot machine, time is not relevant.

What you know is that sooner or later you will win and the longer you will play, the higher your chance will be. As a result, many of us will sit and play waiting for their “lucky” moment. Unfortunately, the only entity making money here is the casino, not you. How can we apply this to design? Do you remember the customer card from previous section? That card is an example of third scenario – you will be rewarded by getting a free drink every time you pass certain condition – get ten stamps. The same thing with Dropbox example.

It could be an interesting experiment if Dropbox tried to gradually increase the reward with the number of people you invite to Dropbox. Meaning, you will get bigger reward for inviting, say ten friends than five. With the addition of an indicator showing you how your storage capacity is increasing, this could be even stronger motivation. This could be even remodeled into contest.

The takeaway

First, if we want to make variable rewards work, we have to know what users are looking for. Reward has to be meaningful and desirable. Think about your audience and do some user research to understand the wants, needs and desires of the people who will use the product in the future. Second, before you implement any scenario for rewards, think about the outcome you want to achieve. If your goal is to increase the frequency of performing certain action, you should use scenario with variable rewards.

No.3: We can become addicted to searching for information

How often do you feel the urge to check your phone, email or social media profile? Have you ever search for something on Google and then found yourself browsing a completely different website? Don’t worry, you are not alone. What I just described is a consequence of how our brain and dopamine system works. Dopamine is often referred to as a happiness drug. For a long time, it was assumed that dopamine is what causes us to feel happy.

Recently, scientists found that dopamine is actually responsible for something else. The reality is that dopamine is responsible for our wants, desires, motivation and searching. Dopamine causes elevated levels of excitement, motivation and purpose-driven behavior. It is thanks to the dopamine that we are interested in thinking about certain thoughts and searching for information. There are two systems in our brain. The first is dopamine system. It is responsible for wanting and drives us to do something. The second is opioid system. This one is responsible for feeling satisfied.

As you may already guess, these two systems work together. Dopamine system creates a want and puts you in motion. Opioid system gives you satisfaction and stops you. For example, let’s say you want to know something. Dopamine system will kick in and you will get a dose of motivation to start searching for information. When you find what you want to know, opioid system will kick in. You will get a nice dose of satisfaction and stop searching. The thing is that these two systems are not equally strong. Dopamine system is stronger.

As a result, we want, desire and search more than we need to feel satisfied. Anyway, why is dopamine system so strong? Dopamine is important to help us survive. It is fuel for our curiosity. Dopamine drives as, human kind, to constantly look for new places, learning new skills and evolve. Without it, we would just sit in our cave on our butt and sooner or later probably extinct.

The takeaway

First, we are naturally hard-wired to search for information, explore and discover new things. Second, our desire for searching is stronger than feeling of satisfaction. It is relatively easy for us to get into infinite loop that later leads to us hating ourselves for procrastinating instead of doing the work. Third, the easier searching for information is, the more intense our desire for searching will be. That’s why searching on Google, Pinterest and similar websites is so simple and easy.

No.4: Unpredictability motivates us to search constantly

Let’s stay awhile with the dopamine. Another big stimuli for dopamine is unpredictability. Meaning, when some situation we didn’t predict occurs, we get a dose of dopamine. Let me ask you something. How often do you check your phone or email? A lot of people are checking their phones or emails multiple times a day (even hour). The reason is that we don’t know whether we got new mail or message. When we open our mailbox and there is new mail, we get rewarded by dopamine. The more we repeat this cycle, the stronger our urge to check mail or phone will be.

When you think about it, social networks, email and also our phones are basically just another forms of the fourth scenario we discussed in section about variable rewards. All these platforms works just like slot machines. We can’t predict when will we win, we just know that this situation has to happen. That’s why we continue pulling the lever (checking mailbox, twitter feed or phone). Whether we like it or not, we have to know that these things are modeling our behavior.

These platforms and devices are basically training us just like Pavlov trained his dogs. When Pavlov’s dogs saw the lightbulb lit up or heard the bell ring, they immediately started to salivate because they were expecting food. When we check our phone or mailbox, we are using the same physiological circuit. Our dopamine system is very sensitive for any stimuli that signal an approaching reward. And, every time there is some, even slight, stimuli suggesting that something may happen, our dopamine system is immediately activated.

It is interesting that the most powerful stimuli for our dopamine system is gradual barrage of information in small pieces. The reason is that these information are not enough to satisfy our desire for information and learning. From this point of view, 140-characters phone messages or tweets are almost devilish tools that can make our dopamine system go nuts. Now you know why you like to spend time on twitter. All of this comes with a potential danger.

When we stop paying attention to these principles and how they influence us, we can easily end up in infinite dopamine loop. First, dopamine will create and fuel our desire for searching for information. Second, we will go on Google, Twitter, Facebook, our phone or mail to find the information we are looking for. Third, we find these information a reward and this will also work as a motivation for another search. With time, it will be harder for us to resist our urges.

There are two big problems with this dopamine loop. First, we can quickly become less and less sensitive to dopamine. It works just like nicotine, caffeine or heroin. Our brain has specific receptors or neurotransmitters that respond to these chemicals. The problem is that these chemicals have the ability to alter the activity of the neurotransmitters. Meaning, the more dopamine we get, the more we will need next time to satisfy our desires. The second problem is that it is quite possible that we will this constant checking in habit.

Fortunately, there are ways to escape from this dopamine loop before it is too late. If you find yourself in this situation, you have to leave the environment fueling this loop. Meaning, use social media blockers, turn off your computer, put your phone on a place that’s out of your sight. Also, make sure to turn of all notifications and other stimuli. You can also replace parts of your habit loop. When you will feel the urge to check your mail, instead of performing the old routine and opening your mailbox, do something different. Repeat this new routine instead of the old one.

The takeaway

First, you should connect various stimuli such as sounds with the arrival of information. This can work as a motivation that will gently nudge people to search more often. Second, you should give people information in small pieces. Then, you should also allow them to get more information. This will escalate their desire to search for new information. Third, remember that the more unpredictable the arrival of information is, the more will people’s desire to search for them be.

No.5: Intrinsic reward is the strongest source of motivation

There are two types of rewards. The first type of rewards is called extrinsic. These rewards are coming from the outside. It is something that is tangible. It can be physically given to you when you accomplish something. Example of extrinsic reward can be financial bonus from your boss. It can be a certificate, badge, couple of points or medal for winning some sport event. The only thing that is important is that these rewards are tangible and give to you. They don’t come from within.

Intrinsic rewards are the exact opposite of extrinsic rewards. These rewards come from within yourself. They are not physical and you can’t touch them. Well, you can at least “watch” them on devices such as MRI and brain scanners. Example of intrinsic reward can be knowledge you learned. It can also be your awareness that you did your job right or that you helped someone. Did you feel happy when you made someone’s day? That feeling of happiness was intrinsic reward.

Contrary to what you may think, money may not be the best way spark motivation. In a fact, monetary rewards can backfire and worsen your performance. There is area in brain called nucleus accumbens. This area is activated when you expect to get a dose of any addictive substance such as nicotine or cocaine. Next, a dose of dopamine is released. One side-effect is that you also become more prone to risky behavior. Money also trigger this area. Therefore, when you expect monetary reward you may take more risks. You may also decide to work only for monetary reward.

Another argument for the power of intrinsic rewards comes from book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. This book suggests that there are three powerful stimuli for motivation. These are autonomy, mastery and purpose. Daniel Pink basically argues that these three stimuli work better than any other extrinsic rewards. You can using these stimuli to create sustainable motivation for yourself and also your colleagues, teammates or employees. Read this article and find out how you can to motivate your team for amazing results.

The takeaway

First, remember that extrinsic rewards such as money are not the best way to motivate people. Instead, you should focus on looking for intrinsic rewards to motivate people. Second, if you want to give someone a reward, you can increase impact of the reward by making it unexpected. Third, contact with other people will also motivate people to use your product. We are social beings. Try to create a community of active users around your product and support mutual communication.

No.6: Our motivation stems from progress, control and achievement

Have you ever though about why people spend hours writing articles on Wikipedia, Quora or writing open-source software? There are many other activities, that require high level of knowledge and skills, people are doing without getting paid a single dollar. So, why are they doing it? One of the reasons is that we like to see that we are achieving some progress. We like to see that we are learning something new, expanding our knowledge and improving our skills.

When we are talking about making progress, I should also mention that even small signs can have a huge impact on our motivation. This is also why you will have a higher chance of getting people to fill in form if you show divide it into smaller chunks and implement some kind of indicator. Then, every time user will complete another phase, he will immediately see how much closer to the finish he is. Just remember to keep the form relatively short. Let’s also remind ourselves that progress indicators can help you create the notion that time is moving faster.

Let’s apply the principles we discussed so far on hypothetical online learning platform. First, we should divide the whole learning curve into smaller and more manageable milestones or sub-goals. Second, we should create something that will provide users with feedback on their current progress and also outline the remaining milestones of his learning curve. Third, we should keep users motivated by implementing gamification principles. Meaning, we should reward users with points and badges. The amount of points should be variable.

Fourth, we should actively support community around the platform. As we discussed, being a part of community can be strong stimuli. It will also give chance users to help each other instead of relying on the platform itself. Fifth, we should also encourage users to share their achievements on social media. This will make users feel good about themselves and their progress and it will also help promote our platform across different channels. Remember, word-of-mouth is the best marketing tool there is.

The takeaway

First, if you want to increase the number of active users, returning visitors or customers, you should offer them activities we like such as socializing with friends, learning new things, improving our skills, sharing our ideas, etc. Second, if you need to provide people with motivation to do some boring task, let them do it their way. Give them sense of control and autonomy. Third, look for ways to help people set goals and stick to them. Fifth, constantly show people their progress toward the goals they set for themselves.

No.7: Our ability to delay gratification develops in childhood

How good you are with delaying gratification? When you want something, are you willing to wait or do you need to get that thing immediately? Whatever your answer is, it is high likely that this behavior is characteristic for you since early childhood. There is also a strong evidence suggesting that our ability to delay gratification in childhood can play important role in how successful we will be later in life. This was demonstrated by Stanford marshmallow experiment.

In this experiment, psychologist Walter Mischel worked with group of children. Each child was offered a simple choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards if they waited. These rewards were either marshmallows or cookies and this experiment is also known as Marshmallow test. Anyway, this was not the end of the experiment. Couple years later, Mischel found the children from the study to find out how successful these children are. The result?

Children who were able to delay gratification and wait couple minutes, instead of eating the marshmallow immediately, we more successful in school, life and work. These young people also had healthier habits and lifestyle and were able to manage stressed better. Soon, more studies have been done to examine the connection between the ability to delay gratification and brain. It is assumed that people with lower self-control have worse neural connectivity in some areas of brain. These areas are responsible for our cognitive control and ability to manage ourselves.

Fortunately, our ability to delay gratification is, just like any other ability or skills, trainable. We can train ourselves by postponing rewards and pushing outside our comfort zone. The next time you will see something you think you need to buy, resist the urge. Promise yourself to delay the purchase for couple days and think about the reason behind your desire to buy that thing. Then, even if you decide to buy it anyway you will at least make an effort and train your ability to delay gratification. You will also learn not to act on momentary urges.

The takeaway

First, there are people who are born with better ability to delay gratification. Second, our ability to delay gratification plays significant role in our life. Third, we should pay attention to what kind of media we use in our designs. People having problems with delaying gratification will be more influenced by images and messages showing scarcity (limited offers, etc.). Fourth, train your ability to delay gratification. It can make your life better and even improve your motivation.

No.8: We are lazy by nature

Through our history, humans realized that one of the best and easiest ways to survive is to conserve energy. As a result, we will often do only what’s necessary and nothing more. We also use the same principle when we are making a decision. Meaning, we often decide for option that is satisfactory, but not optimal. The reason is that conducting complete analysis of all options may require disproportionate amount effort. This type of analysis may also require more time than we have. We may also not have enough cognitive capacity to consider every option.

As a result, it makes sense to focus on looking for option or solution that satisfactory, instead of optimal or perfect. Veteran web developers will probably know what am I talking about. The question is how can we use this finding in design. We shouldn’t force users to think, as Steve Krug says. let’s take web design for example. We often think that users will read the whole page, from the top to the bottom (along with all banner ads of course). Our clients often believe it too.

The reality is completely different. Visitors will usually quickly scan the page, skim couple paragraphs and click on one of the links or buttons they either consider to be the most interesting or is related to what that thing they are looking for. In other words, the large portion of visitors will never actually read all content on the page. What’s more, they will not even see the whole page! In some sense, we can think about web page as a billboard or advertising poster in the subway. People will pay only small attention to it.

You don’t have to believe me. Instead, give it a try and watch yourself the next time you will visit some website. It is high likely that you will pay attention to only a few parts of the page and ignore the rest. There is no motivation for paying more attention than necessary. Meaning, if you are looking for X, why should you pay attention to Y? As we discussed we are hard-wired to search for information. This is also a fuel of our motivation and desire to visit specific website. In most cases, we are looking for something, we have certain goal. This is true for the majority of Internet users.

Therefore, we should make our design to look as easy-to-use as possible. For example, we should embrace whitespace and use it to group related information and create structure. This will also make the page easier to scan. We should also provide users with clearly visible option to search through the content. Take a look at couple blogs and you will find some kind of search field on almost all of them. Remember, we love to search. It is one of the (legal) sources of dopamine.

The takeaway

First, people are lazy. They will do only the steps that are necessary to get the task done with least amount of effort. This may not be true for all cases, situation and all people. Still, I suggest that you design for lazy users first and then slowly progress to people closer to the edges with more motivation. Second, people will look for satisfactory solution. Meaning, people will look for solution that is good enough. This solution doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to work.

No.9: We look only for easy shortcuts

When you use your favorite apps and programs, how often do you use shortcuts? Also, which shortcuts do you use and which do you ignore? We don’t need to discuss this in-depth. We all like to look for ways to do more faster with less and in least amount of steps. This applies mostly to task we have to do more than once. There is one condition that has to be met. Shortcut has to be simple and easy to find. Otherwise, we will not be willing to change our behavior and habits.

A good way to implement shortcuts into design is by using presets or preselection. Let’s take web forms as an example. We can either try to force people to fill the countries letter by letter or we can provide them with presets. Then, people will need to input just the first letter and relevant options will “pop out”. If you decide to implement presets, make sure to notify users about it. Also, remind users about the preferences they created in the past. This is important especially in case of e-shops. You probably don’t want to surprise user by sending his order on old and invalid address.

The takeaway

First, provide users with shortcuts that are easy to find, use and remember. You can also let your users create their own custom shortcuts to increase their motivation to use these shortcuts. Second, provide users with presets. This can help you reduce the number of steps necessary to complete the task. Third, provide users with some kind of notification of the presets they created in the past. In case of e-shops, you should allow customers to check the shipping detail as a part of creating new order.

No.10: Creating new habits takes time

We often do certain activities on a daily basis without even thinking about them. What transformed these activities or routines into habit? And, what was our motivation behind it? What is necessary to change some habits? According to one study, on average, it takes about sixty-six days to create new habit. This study was done in University College London. There is one problem with this number. It is based on extremely wide range.

Participants in this study needed from eighteen to two hundred and fifty-four days to form new habit. Still, there was one pattern in all cases. Every process of habit formation started with increase of automaticity of behavior. After a while, this automaticity reached stable level and participants needed less willpower and conscious action to perform the activity. We should also mention that it takes more time to more complex activities to become a habit.

Another interesting finding of the study is that if you miss a day it doesn’t have significant impact on how long habit formation will take. However, if you miss two or three days in a row, it will start to influence the amount of time you will need to establish new habit. Therefore, it might be a good thing to not to rely purely on your motivation and rather push yourself to be consistent and follow the regime you set. Otherwise, your motivation may not be strong enough to last long enough.

What if you fell off the track? Research suggests that it is better to forgive yourself as soon as possible and give it another try. Don’t punish yourself for what happened. Focus on ways how to avoid repeating it in the future. Another useful tip to create sustainable motivation for creating new habit is let them, or yourself, commit to something similar, but on smaller scale. The goal here is to initiate change in personality, or how we see ourselves, and build a path for bigger commitments. Habit is basically about creating a commitment. Start small and slowly progress.

The takeaway

First, you should divide every task or goal into smaller and more manageable sub-goals or sub-tasks. This will make it easier for people to stay on track and achieve these goals. Implementing sub-goals also require less motivation. Lastly, easier and less complex habits are easier and faster to create. Second, provide people with some strong motivation to return and repeat the habit every day or at least every other day.

When people miss more than two or three days in a row, the amount of time it will take to form new habit will increase. Forming new habit will also require more motivation. What’s more, higher number of missed days will also increase the probability that people will stop working on forming the habit and give up. Third, stay patient. Creating new habit takes time. Also, be prepared that some people will need more time to form new habit than others.

No.11: Competition is motivating only under certain conditions

Imagine you are trying to get on one of the top Universities in the world. Part of the admission process is participation on knowledge test. This test will take place in one of the classrooms at the University. Now, imagine that, on the date of the test, you enter the classroom. To your surprise, there are another at least one hundred fifty students. Does this number matter? Can the number of your competitors influence how well will you handle the test?

According to one study, increasing number of competitors can have negative impact on your motivation. The theory is that when we have to compete with lower number of competitors, we believe that we have higher chance of getting better results. As a result, we will try harder and make more effort. When we have to deal with higher number of competitors, it is harder for us to estimate our chances. This, in turn, lowers our motivation. When you think about it this theory sounds quite reasonable.

When we have to compete with lower number of competitors, we have to be better than smaller number of people. In other words, our chance of reaching higher position in the ranking is higher as well. Therefore, our motivation to compete and do our best is higher. It is interesting is that we don’t even have to be in the same room with other competitors. Just the knowledge that there are another hundred people is enough to decrease our motivation.

The takeaway

First, competition can be a good way to stimulate people’s motivation. Second, we should keep the number of competitors around ten. When the number of competitors get too high, it can have negative effect on people’s motivation. Third, the right amount of competition will stimulate motivation even if people don’t see other participants. Consider implementing some leaderboard or notifications to show people’s how well are they doing in comparison with other users.

No.12: Freedom to decide is source of motivation

How many times a day are you using some product that gives you freedom to choose? How many of these products allow you to get something done by yourself? Just take a look around yourself. Your computer, you mobile phone, the Internet, e-shops, ATM, internet banking,. All these products are giving these options. Self-service systems are a little bit a paradox. There are people often complaining about how many difficult it is to get in contact with another human being.

The paradox, I see here, is that these are right. A lot of services have been automatized. For example, self-checkout machines in stores are quite common even in less developed countries. There are also new services delivering various goods or cooked meals right into your home. What’s more, you often don’t even have to be there to accept the delivery. Instead, you came from work in the evening and everything is already prepared for you. And this is just a beginning.

Every day, we are getting closer to the future where our home appliances will take care about our supply of food. For example, when you run out of butter, your fridge will connect to the Internet and order it for you. Or you may send a message to your fridge with an idea for a dinner. Then, your fridge will check which ingredients do you have and which do you need to buy and order them. The same applies to your coffee machine. Are you close to running out of coffee? Your coffee machine will take care about it.

As a result of technology advancement, it is easy to see that contact with another people, in case of these aspects of life, will soon be something unusual. Still, this doesn’t change the fact that we like to, at least, have the freedom to do things on our own. We should also briefly mention that when we do something by ourselves we value it more. Imagine you buy two pieces of furniture. The first one will be delivered assembled and ready to use. In the case of the second one, you will have to put it together by yourself. Let me ask you which piece of furniture will you value more?

In most cases, you will value the second piece of furniture more because you assembled it by yourself. You might also feel good about yourself for that achievement. This also why IKEA is so successful. When you do it by yourself, you will feel good about yourself. Another reason why so many people like to show their diplomas, certifications, medals and prizes.

The takeaway

First, we like to have the freedom to make our own decisions and get things done by ourselves. Just having this option can work as a source of motivation. Second, we are proud on what we achieved. Another reason to implement badges and other elements of gamification. Third, provide users with sufficient amount of information. Otherwise, they will hesitate to “take charge”.

Closing thoughts on psychology of design and motivation

We are on the end of another part of Psychology of design series. I hope that this article helped you understand how important motivation is and in what ways you can use it. Let’s quickly recap the best practices about motivation we learned today. First, our motivation is stronger when we are closer to reaching our goals. Just seeing our progress can be enough to stimulate and fuel our motivation. Second, the most effective way to reward people’s is through variable rewards. It was shown that motivation to perform task is higher when reward is unpredictable. Still, reward has to be something people’s want, need or desire.

Third, we have innate desire to search for information. This desire is based on our dopamine and opioid systems. It is so strong that and it can even become an addiction. Fourth, unpredictability of the arrival of information can motivate us to search constantly. The best way to give people information is in small pieces. You should also provide people with ways to get more information To increase their desire to search for new information.

Fifth, intrinsic rewards, or the rewards coming from within, are the strongest motivation. Extrinsic rewards, such as money, will work only under certain conditions. These rewards can also start to backfire. Sixth, to get people more motivated, provide them with information about their progress. You should also give the control over their actions and praise them for their achievements. Seventh, our ability to delay gratification develops in childhood. This ability has also big influence on our success later in life and work and how healthy we are. Fortunately, it can be trained.

Eight, we are naturally hard-wired to be lazy and conserve energy. To increase people’s motivation to complete certain task, lower the number of steps required. If complexity is necessary, make every step easy, or make it at least look like that. You can also provide people with presets or preferences (in case of e-shops for addresses, phone numbers, etc.). Just remember to give people some option to double-check these presets. Ninth, we like to use shortcuts. These shortcuts has to be simple, easy to find and remember. If shortcut is hard to use, don’t expect people will use it.

Tenth, if the goal of your product or service is creating new habit, remember that it takes time. Also, remember that the building the same habit can require different amount of time for different people. There is no “golden” number that can be applied on everyone. Eleventh, you can use competition to fuel people’s motivation. Just remember to keep the number of competitors low, under ten seems to be our golden mean. Otherwise, competition will start to have negative effect.

Twelfth, we like to have freedom to decide our future actions. We also like to get things done by ourselves. Both of these things can be a strong source of motivation. Give people some way to notify them about their achievements so they can be proud of themselves. Also, remember to always provide people with sufficient amount of information if you want to give them freedom to make their own decision. Otherwise, it will just not work.

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By Alex Devero

I'm Founder/CEO of DEVERO Corporation. Entrepreneur, designer, developer. My mission and MTP is to accelerate the development of humankind through technology.

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