Framing Effect

Duration: 3 min

…why context affects decisions.

🧠 User Psychology

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Yes, the "increase" wording would likely have more impact because of a principle called…

Which wording would you rather use?
(Click below to guess👇)

Imagine you've been working on increasing user retention.

You're presenting your progress during a team meeting…


Framing Effect

How you present information shapes people's perceptions (and decisions).1

Here, 20% retention and 80% churn are mathematically equivalent. But positive framing2 makes the former seem better.

Up next, you'll see 5 more examples.

P.S. Framing is key to rallying people (colleagues, stakeholders)3. It's why
we cover ethical persuasion in our Product Psychology course (Module 4).

1Framing, Psychology of Design (2023)
2Decisions frames, Tversky & Kahneman (1981)
3Making numbers count, Chip Heath (2022)
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To better explain the psychology behind this, let's look at another example…

If you visit YouTube and check your settings… {tap}

…you'll see the following video quality options.

What do you notice here?

That's right, YouTube avoids writing "Lower picture quality" by reframing it as "Data saver."

Associative Priming

Words evoke associations in our minds.1

For example, the word "low" has negative connotations. If repeatedly seen, it can inadvertently associate YouTube itself with "low" quality or value.2

By selecting words with positive associations, YouTube ensures the brand is associated with positive attributes.1

1Growth.Design, Calm Case Study (2019)
2Semantic priming, Neely, J. H. (1977)
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When you understand the Framing Effect, you see its applications everywhere.

For example…

HelloFresh applies 3 psychology principles related to Framing in this checkout screen.

Can you name them?

Hint: look at these 3 areas.

1. Status quo bias:

People tend to accept the default option presented to them. Especially with…

3. Anchoring:

$9.99/serving seems cheap because your brain will intuitively compare that to the cost of a restaurant meal.

2. Social proof

Framing 3 meals/week as the most popular option reassures you it's the right option.


Pricing Psychology

Most pricing psychology principles1 rely on the Framing Effect and its related cognitive biases (anchoring2, social proof, default bias, loss aversion, etc.).

The same price in a different context can lead to different purchase behaviors. But ethics are crucial here, as you'll see next.

1Pricing Psychology, Nick Kolenda (2023)
1Anchoring Bias, Psychology of Design (2023)
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Here's another example of Framing that's extremely powerful…

For months, Gmail has been prompting me to add some extra info to my account…

But I kept ignoring it.

Until one day…

17 years of emails!?

I don't want to risk losing that… {tap}

—they used this slightly different wording.

Loss Aversion

According to prospect theory1, people perceive a potential loss as emotionally more severe than an equivalent gain.2

"Loss framing" is ethical here because it clearly benefits the user (prevents getting locked out), not just Google.

1Prospect Theory, Wikipedia (2023)
2Loss aversion, Psychology of Design (2023)
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Now, these reframing tactics may seem like simple wording tweaks, but…

…the psychology behind the Framing Effect can have a serious business impact.

For example, Google increased hotel booking engagement by 17% by changing 3 words on this screen…

Can you guess which ones?

Hint: Look here.


They simply reframed the action from "Book a room" to "Check availability".

The ROI of Framing Effect

Google used the Framing Effect to increase engagement by 17%.1

Perceived Value vs Perceived Labor

Unlike previous examples, this difference isn't about positive vs. negative framing.

It's about user context and empathy: the way the action is framed feels less threatening. "Checking" is explorative compared to the committal "Booking".

1Hows words drive behavior, Google I/O (2017)
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Be careful though…

The Framing Effect can be damaging if you apply it incorrectly or unethically.

Oh nice! $14 seems like a deal compared to my $3,260 trip.

Waaaaait a minute…

…they're actually trying to sneak $1,499 in extra fees?!

No thanks… {tap}

For example, I was booking a flight the other day.

And this checkout step almost fooled me…

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Framing vs Ethical Design

This design is unethical for 3 reasons:

  1. Exaggerated loss-aversion: The anchor to $3,260 is biased because most insurances are never claimed1.
  2. Hidden fees2: Deceptively trying to charge users more (unlike the HelloFresh example from before).
  3. Confirmshaming3: Making the user feel bad for declining optional insurance can trigger reactance4.

You should use Framing Effect to reassure people, not to force them.

P.S. we cover ethical design principles in
Product Psychology course (Module 5).

1Travel insurance survey, Insider (2023)
2Hidden Costs, Deceptive Patterns (2023)
3Confirmshaming, NN/group (2017)
4Reactance, Psychology of Design (2023)

…wow, really?

I felt so manipulated that I went to a different flight booking app out of spite.

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framing Effect Cheat Sheet

Get this free bonus that contains:

  • CHECKLIST: 5 steps to apply the Framing Effect to any product ethically
  • DO'S AND DON'TS: 7 tips to follow
  • EXAMPLES: 8 more examples in B2B, B2C, desktop, and mobile products

Get the bonus cheat sheet

As you can see, it's best to follow clear guidelines 
with the Framing Effect.

So to help you—

—I added more
examples, checklists and tips
for you in this free bonus!

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