S2E12 – Nudging

Nudging is the art of “ever so gently” influencing someones behaviour. This could be as simple as a countdown counter to make someone make a choice faster, or in a more serious case, package pills in a way that lowers the suicide rate on a national scale.

The definition of a Nudge is, any aspect of the choice architecture that alters peoples behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentive. To count as a mere nudge the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates.

In this episode you will learn about

Choice architecture. 
Nudges, Sludges, Friction and Libertarian Paternalism
Suicide rates and Gym memberships


Nudge – The Book

Nudge Theory

Expand to get the transcript

Martin Whiskin 0:02
You’re listening to hidden by design a podcast about the stuff that you didn’t know about design. My name is Martin. And this is

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 0:10
hidden by design. Nailed it. Oh yeah. And my main thing was to

Martin Whiskin 0:16
know, the podcast starts and we should start recording. Now

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 0:20
you’re not recording. Today we’re going to talk about nudging, and the free choice and doing that in quotation. So all humans have a free choice in a lot of things. And notching is about I would say a little bit about the free choice. So what we’re going to talk about what you will learn today, Martin is what a choice architecture is. You will learn a little bit about nudges sludges, friction and something called Live Live Barry Terry and paternalism easy

Martin Whiskin 0:56
for you to say, no,

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 0:59
absolutely not. And then in the end, we’re going to talk a little bit about suicide rates and gym memberships. A bit of a cliffhanger for you. They’re interesting.

Martin Whiskin 1:08
Also, sludges. I’m intrigued by sludge is horrendous. Not just since lunches, I think

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 1:15
maybe maybe it’s my poor English. And he just said sludge, but

Martin Whiskin 1:20
it works well with with nudges, nudges and sludges. Okay, the the quote of the day, then, if you want to encourage some activity, make it easy. That is from friend of the show, Richard Thaler.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 1:33
Yeah, well, he at least he wrote a book. And he is one of the guys that coined the term nudging. So whenever you hear, nudging, it’s Taylor and Sunstein. So how does that making it easy and encouraging an activity tie into choice architecture? I

Martin Whiskin 2:01
was going to ask that actually.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 2:05
In order to understand what noxious is, and in order to understand what a free choices, then you have to understand what a choice architecture and Thaler and Sunstein can use the choice, texture as a way of explaining how choices are made, and how you can influence. It’s like, I wouldn’t say control, but you can you can influence the the people that you’re, you’re doing. And we talked a little bit about it in, you know, deceptive design, but I’ll get back to that. So a choice architecture, if you look at any design, or any activity that you do in your everyday life, it’s when you make a choice that affects your next choice. So you will have these path, it’s it’s like the built your a Do you remember the built your own adventure books, I

Martin Whiskin 3:01
was just gonna say Choose Your Own Adventure,

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 3:03
they will coach you on adventure. So in Danish, it was called sweat, I told them choose your own adventure. These books were a very specific choice. It has a very specific choice architecture where you read a paragraph, and then you choose your next section, what page you want to go to. And real life is in many ways like that. And the difference between choose your own adventure and real life is that as human beings, we tend to choose the road of least resistance. So in your choice architecture, whenever you are choosing making choices, if as a designer, we want to control what road and path you go down, we make the way that we want you to take EC and of least resistance. And that’s what nudging is. It’s where you make it easy to take the choice that you as a designer or a choice architect want to do

Martin Whiskin 4:10
just so like nudging guiding into a certain course of action. Yes,

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 4:15
exactly. And so that’s where libertarian paternalism. I don’t know, it’s very difficult to say that was that that was better. Yeah. Once you have choice architecture in place, then we can talk about the nudge itself. And so Thaler and Sunstein defined that pretty clearly they have this book, I’ll reference it called nudge. And then I think they have like two versions of it. And one of them it’s called the final version or the last version or something. But they describe a nudge as any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior. havior in a predictable way, without forbidding any options, or significantly changing their economic incentive. So, for it to count as a nudge, the intervention or the Yeah, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Right? So if you want to choose something, you can’t, you can’t just say, well, this option is way more expensive than this one, it has to be a free choice. Because if there’s an economic incentive, you, you tend to say, well, I can’t afford it. So it’s not an option for me. In the end, is like nudges are not mandates, you can’t force people to do it with for example, money. So I like that’s, that’s a form a description from from there. Just

Martin Whiskin 5:56
quickly, on the the money side of things I remember, I remember what episode it was number we were talking about a pair of jeans that didn’t sell didn’t sell very well, because they were cheap. And then they put them up, made them really expensive. And everyone thought, Oh, well, look, those jeans are incredible and started buying them. Is that nudging to a certain demographic?

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 6:15
That’s a? That’s a really good question. So my immediate answer was no that nudging, however, you can say that it is nudging to some degree. Think about it as I’m carrying playing on your social status and your relationship with others. That’s why you want that’s why you would choose to more expensive pair of jeans. So they thinking ahead of time and thinking, if I buy these expensive ones, and I’ll be more popular, you can call that and not share it where the Yeah, the money is not the incentive, the incentive is social status. Does that make sense? Yes, but you have to look at it. Like if you look at that, create your own, choose your own adventure, choose your adventure, then just look at the path, like look at it as a grid. And it has to be easy to choose one or the other. It cannot be it can be prevented by any economic or other to choose one or the other. The way that I usually try to explain it, it’s like really, really fast as you would have. If you have a room, like a concert hall or something like that. And then you have two doors, the doors lead to the same room. If you then make a sign that says welcome and put that on top of one of the doors and then put to uniform people greeting people at one door, then you will see that 99% of all people will go to the door where people agreed it and most people are going right so you have this, you’re notching them, it’s not because they can’t choose to the door. But you’re kind of nudging them towards the door with the with the greeting committee and the welcome sign. So you’re not removing their free choice. And that’s what liberal libertarian paternalism is all about. It’s like the pet parental thing is that you nudge and here we are going into deceptive design again. So you nudge people for, for making choices, that is of in their own best interest. So as you know, with parents, they always try to do what’s best for you. Libertarian paternalism is about making sure that you have your free choice. But still we are nudging you in a direction where that’s best for you. So, so as a parent, you want what’s best for your child. So you have this you have this situation or this this construction where as a society or as a designer or as a politician. You want to do things in a way so that that your your users do what’s best for them as seen from their own perspective. So that’s the notching. And so, so that’s a good notion I think from from from generally you you always want to do what’s best. But there’s a different right so when we talked in the episode about deceptive design, we had the conversation about you know, it’s the intent. There kind of does it whereas, so you want what’s best sight from your perspective. So when you’re doing this deceptive design, your intent is to benefit yourself and when You’re not doing deceptive design, you’re trying to benefit the user with notching, and, like libertarian paternalism, I’m getting better for each time. I said it a lot of times before the podcast. So you want to empathize with the user and think about what do they think is best for myself? And what is actually so you, you know, I think there’s a, there’s a, there’s a common use of a, an experiment where there was a party, and at that party, someone had a lot of knots placed around on tables, right, and people were mingling and small talking, and then they were eating at the knots. And then at some point, the host of the party notice it, noticed that people were snacking on these nuts. And he thought they’re gonna lose their appetite before we’re going to eat right? Because these are hungry people, they keep eating the nuts. So he got away to he got out, and then he removed all the nuts. And then the guest thanked him. And then you think why? Well, because all of them knew that they wanted to eat dinner, they all did not really want to eat the nuts. But by removing it, they knew what was best for them. Like they knew they were not supposed to eat the nuts, but still that do it. And there’s a lot of situation in your daily life where you know that you’re not supposed to do something, but you do it anyways. Right? It’s specifically when you’re tired or exhausted after a long day you you can attend to do stuff that you’re not supposed to you knew that yeah,

Martin Whiskin 11:55
or as a man leaving a dirty plate on the side, instead of putting it in the dishwasher.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 12:03
That would never happen.

Martin Whiskin 12:07
The thing is, what happens with me there is I put it on the side. And then my girlfriend will say that belongs in the dishwasher. And then I will code and I go to put it in the dishwasher. And she says not like that. Yes.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 12:21
She’s nudging you

don’t know if that’s a good segue into opt in or opt out. So I chose to, to talk about opting out, up, opt out, because these are kind of nudging, right? You, you can nudge in like you can opt into something meaning that you want to in order for someone to do something, you create some friction, right? So so so if you look at their choice architecture, there’s two ways that you can make a path of least resistance. And one is to lower the difficulty, or the resistance on one path from one node to another, right? If each choice is a node, and then they’re all connected in this grid, then for each choice you make, you can say, well, the connection between the notes is that the difficulty, then you can either heighten all of the difficulties of all of the notes you don’t want people to choose, which will then make it easier for the one that you will do want them or you can lower the difficulty on the Note that you want them to go to. So an example of this is for example, donating organs. And obviously, I don’t have any numbers from this. I don’t know why I don’t. But in some countries, they made an opt out instead of opt in. Yes, they did that here they are. Yeah. So I don’t I guess you don’t remember the statistics on it. But it was significant, right? So if you opt in, it’s really, really difficult because people will forget it. It doesn’t have any immediate impact on the life, but actually it does not because it’s something that will take effect when you die. And so instead in some countries like the UK, they inverted it. So now you have to opt out. So by default, you’re signed out to donate your organs if you die in an accident so that someone else can get it and it’s absolutely amazing. The difference there is because now you made the you made it the resistance or the The difficulty lies in opting out instead of opting in. You have these mechanisms that you can work with. So when you’re trying to nudge when you Trying to understand how do I nudge people? Then you have to understand all of the choices they have. And they have to figure out, what’s the best like do we opt in? Or do we opt out, because both can be nudging. And it doesn’t have to be sludging.

So slouching is when you do the opposite. Right? So now you don’t have the person’s best interest you again, it’s very, very connected to deceptive design. sludging is when, when you, you make the right choice really, really difficult. Right. So again, either opt in or opt out. But your intent is no longer to do what’s best for the user, your intent is to do what’s best for you. So you can say, in many ways, slouching is deceptive design, or it’s a tool to make deceptive design. Here’s an example of of sludging, right? You when someone wants to cancel a subscription to internet subscription to, I can’t think of anything that does really, really bad right now. But but if you want to cancel, it will ask you Do you really want to cancel, and then they will try to come up with some offers or some counter stuff for you to, you know, keep being there. They will try to alter you so that you stay on the subscription, because they know

Martin Whiskin 16:42
that you’ll be missing out on these benefits. Yes.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 16:46
So so they’re really, really trying to alter your decision of canceling the subscription by nudging you ever so slightly for each step you have to take. And then they will make it a multi step, you know, options like a choice maze that you have to go through in order to do it, and they would just really slow you down. And like that’s, you can call that deceptive design, but it’s definitely sludging

Martin Whiskin 17:13
does the part. So even after you’ve gone through that process and cancelled it? Do the subsequent sort of emails that say, Oh, look at what you’re missing out on, do you want to renew? does that become part of the like, almost like post sludging? Yeah,

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 17:29
yeah, you could say that. Yeah, some would call it nudging. Because now you know, from a company side, there’s like we’re giving the we what’s best for the user. But it’s not it’s lodging, it’s definitely this is this is what’s important to understand about libertarian paternalism, it’s that, you know, you really believe that people should have a free choice, and it’s up to them what they do. And then what you do is you then try to manipulate or guide people in taking the right or the wrong option. So in many ways, you just like, it’s very tied up to deceptive design and the understanding of that.

So I have a story about canceling my gym membership. So because I sit down all day, just as you probably do a lot. Because we work with computers, I have to, I have to do my back exercise, I have to do my exercises to keep my body healthy. And then we have this gym not far from where I live. And that’s where I have my membership. And it’s really, really, really expensive. And they just increased their price. And I’m like, that’s too much, I’m not going to pay that amount of money to go to a gym two to three times a week when I when I don’t feel like running. So I’m gonna cancel. And they made it hard for me to cancel. I could not cancel via email, I could not call them up and cancel, I had to go to the gym in person to cancel that subscription, which is in my eyes illegal, it should not be legal. So that’s a that’s a that’s an example of sludging where you really, really make it difficult and a big hassle for people to cancel the subscription. And they, they they do that on purpose.

Martin Whiskin 19:28
This. There’s an organization in the UK, for I’m not going to name the organization, but I think I’ll strongly hint towards it. It’s for it’s for small businesses to help small businesses and to sign up to that. You get hassled extensively by sales reps. Who can be very aggressive so it’s made out to be that this organization is good for your business which is is, but the method in which they get you to sign up is negative that it makes you feel bad. That makes sense. So the, the outcome is positive, should be positive. But the process of getting there is the example I’m thinking of was when I was going to sign up anyway. But I didn’t know how to do it. So I spoke to one of their sales reps. And he was so he was just a salesman. So he was thinking of his his commission. Yeah. So he wanted me to sign up to make money. So is that sludging or nudging? Because the outcome was still would have been positive, despite that initial aggression?

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 20:36
Yeah, so he’s definitely trying to, not you. Also, because he knows that it’s in your own best interest, right? What, what I’m thinking here is, if we go back to the episode about emotional design, is this is where typically organizations and sales organizations, and provision based salary is just really, really bad. Because provision, the game design, or the design of provision based salary, ends up being you thinking about your own permissions and not the company and the experience that you have. So the end result of that kind of behavior is you want it to be a member, you know, you have to be a member. And then when you sign up, you don’t feel that you’re a member. So, so what you end up being, I don’t know how to explain this the easiest, but just think about you know, it when you think about yourself, do you think about I have a membership in this union, or I am a member of this union,

Martin Whiskin 21:45
there was nothing after that I never use the services and and I’m not a member now, because it left such a sour taste in my mouth. But

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 21:53
and that’s, that’s what you want, right? As a company, you really want you want that. I think that’s more in the emotional design toolbox. When it comes to, but definitely there’s some nudging and some, he’s trying to alter your decisions in your choice architecture, right? So so he’s trying to make a choice architecture. And he’s really being aggressive of just pushing you down one of those roads. A place where so we’re talking about that I have a different one. And I promised that I wanted to talk about gym memberships and suicide rates. So So he, I think I just really think that suicide rates is a really, really good example of where you can put in some, some resistance in some of the choice path. So in the past, the EU, the UK, government made some suggestions, so they want it to change the way that that they just saw that there was a lot of suicides in, in young girls, specifically, that would take too many pills and then commit suicide that way. So one of the things they realized was that often this is done in affection. And often it’s done, it’s like suicides are typically done in affection. So what they did was that instead of having big pill glasses, they made blister packs, and they restricted the amount that you could buy. And the reason why they did that was that they were notching, or, you know, they were the mechanic, they were, they were increasing the resistance in some of the past, right. So that if you want it to eat pills and commit suicide, that way, you had to buy, you had to go twice or three times to the store to buy all of the blister packs needed in order to do the deed. And then the blister packs have, you know, the functionality that you have to click them out one at a time. And so you really have time to think about what you’re doing. And so that was introduced, I can’t remember, but I think in 2010, or something, I believe. And it reduced the suicides in the UK, with pills by 43% After 12 years. And that’s just just by doing that, like you know, doing. And so Denmark was seeing this, and they kind of thought, well, you know, you you we want to do something we also want to do something, but that seems to be and that’s where, you know, the liberators like the liberal mindset. It’s like you are free to choose. It’s like it’s not for us to kind of make that decision. And so instead that tried to do campaigns and all sorts of different things in In order to change it, and obviously it didn’t work at all. And then they put this system in inspired by the UK. And two years after it was introduced in Denmark, the suicide rates for for pills was dropped by 59%. So it had like, it’s like an enormous impact on on suicide rates with pills. And so you know, that kind of that, I think I really liked that. And like, even though it’s a very dark topic, it just really puts things in perspective in that you can give people their free choice. And notching is kind of because everyone knows that it’s best for you not to eat all of those pills.

I don’t have, I have one more topic, which is the default options. When you’re designing interfaces and stuff like that. A way of really just nudging is to make default options, the best options, always just make sure that your default system one that you want, or if you want them to choose, like don’t set a default option. Like if you can’t make the best default option, then don’t set a default option. I think that’s my end advice of nudging. And like Do you have any questions or anecdotes?

Martin Whiskin 26:27
Well, I just keep trying to think of going back to I’m gonna skip back some slides here. The Libertarian paternalism parenting Well, while controlling the situations, I’m just thinking about parenting now and how every day, we will be saying things to our children to try and help them on their journey. And as a child, you will have so much of that nudging happening from all different places. So from school, from parents, from grandparents, from older siblings, and all that sort of thing is, I just found it really interesting to make that link with, I’m probably going to be aware now every time I’m saying something to my children. Oh, that’s her nudging.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 27:11
Yes, yes. You absolutely yeah. And like, I think I really liked that as well, because you want your children to be free and make their own choices. But you also want them to make the choices that’s best for themselves, right? So so you want them to be free to make the right choice that you think. So like going to school and learning to read. They don’t really want to do that. And so you have to kind of constantly, you know, help them understand that it’s, it’s, and the moment they realize how cool it is to read. You see, they start reading every sign and everything. They slightly they get it. I love that moment when they get it. Yeah,

Martin Whiskin 27:52
I’m thinking about how sometimes when I offer different choices for breakfast, where’s your breakfast, don’t know. So then I go into the options, but I tend to sometimes alter the way I say, the different options. So it’ll be D one, you know, this is a terrible exam, because I’d never offer this but chocolate, or Shreddies or something like that. So try to make the best, the better option for them sound better? Yes.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 28:21
And so in many ways, mentally you’re making so you’re a choice architect at that moment. And you’re trying to line up the different the different choices and then you’re trying to alter the shortest like the resistance on each of the path between the choices right? By by socially you’re like basically you’re You’re blackmailing your son, or making you feel happy. But you know, he you are indicating what choice would make you happy and so to make you happy, he have to make that choice. Because definitely he knows that chocolate is what there’s

Martin Whiskin 29:00
a whole episode in parenting and nudging. I think there’s so many samples are going through my head.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 29:09
How to how to use design as a parent, but I use it a lot actually. I have to admit in order to make my my my children’s life the best life that they can

Martin Whiskin 29:19
have beautiful place to end. I think unless you’ve got anything else to say

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 29:22
I have I have nothing.

Martin Whiskin 29:25
Thank you for listening to another episode of Hidden by design. You can find out more about us at hidden by design dotnet or you can find us on LinkedIn. My name is Martin whisking. This is Toby on lingo. Sorenson net, yes. Got it. That’s good. You can also like, subscribe, follow the podcast on all of the platforms that’s important to follow it on all of the platforms. Give us five stars. And an excellent review please as well. Thank you.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 29:51
Can I say something? No, we love you. I said something anyways,

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 29:55
I’m a bad boy.

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