Product Leadership
5 min read
Product Design: Behavioral psychology behind great products
Written by
Vinay Roy
Published on
29th Nov 2019

When I was studying Mathematics at University of Delhi, the head of the department gave me a book on psychology. She always said “You can’t measure what you don’t understand. Psychology helps you understand”. I got drawn towards the subject. I would spend countless hours studying how human mind thinks, learns, and make decisions. The ability to postulate from a ground of qualitative understanding and using quantitative analysis to verify the hypothesis intrigued me. Many years later, when I started building product, I would put the concepts in practice. Psychology became an enabler to drive product decisions. As a growth PM, I use it much more often as a powerful construct in understanding user friction and how I can reduce or remove that to increase conversion and fuel growth through product.

While designers and UX usually own this piece, knowledge of behavioral science and cognitive psychology could come as a strong trait of an exceptional PM. Here is a list of some psychological behavioral and how they inform product decisions

Cognitive load theory: By far the most profound work in cognitive psychology, ‘cognitive load’ refers to the amount of information that working memory can hold at one time. Working memory has a limited capacity and product should be designed to reduce the load. The ‘Problem space’ is the gap between the current state that the user is in and the desired state that you would want your user to be at. The wider this gap is, the higher the chances of introducing friction and lose the users along the process. The objective should be to reduce the gap by creating multiple small steps and taking user from the current state to the eventual state in smaller-incremental steps.

Minimize cognitive load to maximize utility and usability for the users.

Psychology of choices and analysis paralysis: Every once in a while, I come across a situation, where one of the team members says, “we shall let users decide that for herself or we should offer more choices, user knows what is best for her”. Unfortunately that is not always the case. We, as users, are not good at understanding our preferences and are even worse at vocalizing them. Making them feed you the information, as attractive as it sounds, hardly works. This also adds to the previous point of cognitive load theory. Hick’s law or Hick-hyman-law that states that increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time logarithmically.

Use data to guide design choices, if user is spending very little time on App, it means they did not find what they came for, if they spent too much time, they are stuck because of information overload. Between the two extreme is the goldilock zone where user is able to discover the value that the product is looking to deliver.

Product is never meant to be a Chinese menu so stay away from any temptation to do so.

Perceived value bias: Users of our product are no different from us. They are constantly evaluating the value that the product is trying to deliver. Most of the times they make this decision based on as simple an element as the color choices, text alignment, spacing etc. Once you have done the hard work of bringing user to the platform, keeping them engaged and push the perceived value higher, will depend upon choices you would make in product, so make aesthetic UI a priority in designing product.

Von Restorff Effect: Also known as isolation effect states that when multiple homogeneous stimuli are presented, the stimulus that differs from the rest is more likely to be remembered. This when coupled with status quo effect provides an extremely important lever for product managers to pull. Status quo effect states that human mind resists change. It takes a lot of effort for mind to evaluate and take an action so most often it will rely on status quo. Use biased CTAs (Call to action) to guide users towards the next stage in the funnel. Run A/B test before you start assuming on behalf of the users but once you have learnt the behavior let the product do the heavy lifting for them.

Fogg behavior model: Not always conforming to the standards can help . create product, especially when you want your product to be disruptive as well. Every now and then when you try to change user behavior, Fogg behavior model can act as a tool to understand why a user is not taking an action. It is always one of the three elements: Motivation, Ability, and prompt. When all three used right, user takes action and move to the next stage in the funnel.


Peak end rule: A psychological heuristic that explains that users judge an experience based on how they felt at its peak (i.e., its most intense point) and at its end, and not on the average of every moment of the journey. Since we have limited time and resources, use your energy and focus to identify the peak positives, peak negatives, and peak end moments in user journey and look to correct them. For example celebrating user success at the end of the journey could make your product memorable to the user and motivate them to come back.

Find the aha moment in the user journey and celebrate them


Fitt’s law: It says that user clicks on the target that is closer to them and easy to find. Making CTA large and keeping it closer to where your user was immediately before the next action reduces friction and increases conversion. There is a diminishing return to this so use A/B testing to get to the optimal point.

Product is a dance of two souls — the user and the brand. It is your obligation to lead and to make your partner shine.

There are many other psychological hooks that Product managers can use to create a sticky product. I hope we use them to create product that leaves the world a better place one feature at a time.

Read our other articles on Product Leadership, Product Growth, Pricing & Monetization strategy, and AI/ML here.

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