Dopamine is a major factor in reward-motivated behavior. Most people think dopamine is a chemical that causes pleasure, but that’s not quite right.
Instead, dopamine is about anticipating an outcome (good or bad) and the ensuing behavior. It affects motivation. And without motivation, there is no action.
This is why designers tasked with driving user action should understand how their designs can motivate people to complete a task. Dopamine is released for several reasons, but two, in particular, are of interest for UX designers:
- Celebrating little wins
- Completing a task
Error prevention, error recovery, and feedback are at the center of user experience design. I argue that most of UX is about these three simple yet powerful concepts. In some ways, this is a bit of an exercise in the obvious, I know. But isn’t most of UX just that?
What might not be so obvious, however, is the power of positive feedback in user experience.
Think about it; most of the feedback we offer users is negative in nature. This actually triggers cortisol release (a stress hormone) and reduces serotonin production (another neurotransmitter responsible for stabilizing people’s moods, feelings of well-being, and happiness).
By and large, we give users positive feedback only at the end of a task. And that’s a missed opportunity.
But by the time a user completes a task and we give them a virtual “high-five,” we’ve missed a giant opportunity to promote the release of dopamine, and by that, amplifying the user’s motivation to complete the task.
When we offer users little encouraging nudges as they move through a task, we can promote dopamine release and chemically prime the user to want to finish the task.
Imagine a world where instead of providing users negative feedback to prevent or recover from an error, we give them positive feedback as they are doing something right. See the example below.
Most password interfaces validate their security policy after the user submits the form, not while they enter the password itself, as seen above. This is a simple example (that could be improved by not having the red “X” at all since that’s negative) that really gets at the core of incremental positive feedback to manage error prevention and recovery and boost dopamine production and motivation.
The same principles can be applied when someone enters a properly formatted email, phone number, credit card number, address, etc. It can also be applied when someone adds a product to a shopping cart and when the user advances from one step to the next in a flow.
Try it on your designs and report back.