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Thinking, Fast and Slow: What Does Kahneman’s Theory Mean for Digital Product Design?

March 31, 2020

by

Amir M

Here’s a challenge for you: try not to think about polar bears...

You’re thinking about polar bears, aren’t you?

Okay, let’s try a different challenge: using only mental arithmetic, multiply 3720 by 82.

Got it yet? Probably not. 

But don’t worry. Both of these outcomes represent your brain working exactly as it should, at least according to the dual process theory as explored by Daniel Kahneman in his 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

If you’re intrigued about why the brain reacts like this — and how any of this stuff applies to digital product design — then this article is for you.

What is dual process theory?

Naturally, the best way to explain the fundamentals of Kahneman’s theory is to read and review his book — but we don’t quite have time for that. So, instead, let’s summarize the core tenets of dual process theory. 

Essentially, Kahneman proposes that humans have two modes of thinking:


  • System 1 refers to thinking which is immediate, intuitive, and almost automatic. It’s fast. This is our preferred means of thinking, because it’s quick, easy, and based on heuristics  (the things we’ve learned before). Our polar bear challenge above is an example of system 1 thinking.


  • System 2 refers to thinking which is far more in-depth, logical, and involved. It’s slow. Because it’s more comprehensive and time-consuming, we naturally try to avoid it whenever we can. The complex math challenge above is an example of system 2 thinking. And chances are your immediate response to it was “I can’t do that maths” (a System 1 heuristic), rather than kickstarting the laborious process of actually trying.


Leveraging dual processing in digital product design

So that’s the theory, but what does it mean in practice? More specifically: how exactly can you make use of dual processing in your digital product design?

These 3 great examples help us understand:

  1. When designing a solid user experience, you want to focus purely on system 1. Why? Because an easy-to-use user interface should be entirely intuitive. The second the user needs to engage system 2 to remember where that button was, or how they go back to the main menu, you’re introducing unnecessary friction.

  2. To encourage conversions via web design, you need to keep system 1 and system 2 thinking in balance. For example, a catchy headline and eye-catching hero image is pure system 1, but it may not be enough to secure a sale on its own. Once system 2 kicks in, the user will need more information in order to commit: testimonials, benefits-focused copy, and so on.

  3. You can use the principles of Thinking, Fast and Slow to better understand your customer, then tailor your product accordingly. For example, for low-priced items, system 2 should barely factor in: think too much about an impulse buy and you’ll probably change your mind. On the other hand, high-priced items should require just enough system 2 thinking to validate the system 1 thought: ‘Hey, I should buy this!


How do your customers think?

Whether you’re appealing to system 1 or a system 2 thinkers, it’s well worth considering Kahneman’s theory when designing your next digital product. And understanding how your customers think is the first step in creating a digital product which both engages and drives genuine action, fast and slow.

If you need help creating digital products which do this (and much more), get in touch with the Blackcreek team today. We’re here to help.