Labor Perception Bias

Duration: 2 min

…why faster isn't always better.

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🧠 User Psychology
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Imagine going to a
fancy 5-star restaurant.

You order a rare and complex dish…

—comes back with the meal you ordered just 15 seconds later…

…that'd feel suspicious, right?

The waiter leaves, and then—

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Well, it's the same thing with digital products…

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Imagine signing up for Hubspot's CRM app and…

…towards the end of the onboarding, you import
your 287,539 contacts.

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Oof… that's a lot of contacts,
I hope everything goes well… {tap}

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—and BAM! Hubspot imports all those contacts in just 0.01 seconds.

…uh… that was it?

Did it work?

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Just like in the restaurant example, faster isn't always better.

You could improve the experience by—

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slowing things down to reassure the user.

Labor Perception Bias

People trust and value things more when they see the underlying work.1

People dislike waiting in general, but if your users have high expectations (e.g., money transaction, migration, analysis, reporting), they become skeptical if the waiting time is too short. That's why displaying a labor screen right after a key action can improve your UX.2

For "benevolent deceptions"3 (fake waiting times), there are important ethical rules. We cover them step-by-step in the bonus at the end of this story.

1Labor Illusion Effect, Psychology of Design (2021)
2Visibility of System Status, NN/g (2022)
3Fake progress bars, The Atlantic (2017)
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When you understand the Labor Perception bias, you see its applications everywhere.

For example…

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…when you transfer money on, you're not just—

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—dumped into an activity log.

uh, ok…? Hopefully my money will get there…

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Instead of this
abrupt transition… shows you—

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—a reassuring animation of your money being processed and transferred.

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Now, these transition screens may seem like simple interface decorations, but…

…the psychology behind the  Labor Perception bias can have a serious business impact.

Be careful though…

The Labor Perception bias can  be damaging if you apply it incorrectly (e.g., unethically).

For example—

The ROI of Labor Perception

A well-designed effect can increase your app's perceived value by up to 15%.1

Perceived Value vs Perceived Labor

The net lift on activation, retention & revenues obviously depends a lot on your context (waiting duration, audience, product, etc), but it's worth testing.

1Transparency vs Perceived Value, Harvard (2011)

Plus, you can apply this concept to almost every product, so give it a try.

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During the 2016 Presidential elections, the New York Times used a live "Election Needle".

—this amplified
labor perception is not quite ethical.

Could you say why?…

Information vs Fear

Think about it: if the data is updated every 15 seconds, why is the needle jittering 10 times per second?

The answer is simple: this amplified uncertainty1 maximizes engagement2, page views3, time on site, and revenues.

You should use Labor Perception to reassure users, not to manipulate them.

A more humane approach would be to only move the needle when the data is updated (i.e. every 15 seconds).

P.S. we cover more ethical designs in our Product Psychology course (Module 5).

1Election Needle Anxiety, Bustle (2020)
2Fake progress bars, The Atlantic (2017)
3The Election Needle Returns, NYT (2017)

As you can see, it's best to follow clear guidelines with the Labor Perception bias.

So to help you—

Dozens of employees fed
new data every 15 seconds.

Their hypnotizing needle conveyed hard work, but—

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Labor Perception Cheat Sheet

Get this free bonus that contains:

  • EXAMPLES: 11 more examples in B2B, B2C, desktop, and mobile products
  • CHECKLISTS: 5 steps to apply the Labor Perception Bias to any product
  • ETHICS: 2 ethical rules to respect
  • TIPS: 5 do's and don'ts to follow

Get the bonus cheat sheet

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

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Want more examples of Labor Perception Bias?

Watch these two case studies:

Well done.

You completed Growth.Design's Case Study #041:
"Labor Perception Bias"