The Science of User Experience

How to use cognitive science in modern software development.

Table of contents:
Introduction. What this article is about
Aims and Disclaimers
Part 1. A Good Product
Part 2. What is User Experience (UX)?
Part 3. Choice Architecture
Part 4. Choice Architect
Part 5. Cognitive Biases and UX
Link to the full, interactive version of UX CORE (105 examples of using cognitive biases in team and product management):
Part 6. Our Days
Part 7. Not Only Biases
Part 8. Epilogue
Part 9. Complementary Material

  • to define User Experience in terms of psychology and provide knowledge to create high-quality UX in the products of any kind;
  • to show the overall framework for evaluation and assessment to determine product managers’ qualities;
  • to induce potential investors to invest more in products based on the principles of cognitive psychology and behavioral economics;
  • to justify product managers’ ideas, even though they are being refuted by IT technicians despite being true;
  • to show another side of the “boring” researches gathering dust in libraries, pointing out the importance they have on the future of software development;
  • to encourage psychologists and economists who give thought to changing their career to consider product management as an option. The IT world needs such specialists much more than armchair analysts and MBA/PMP graduate pseudo-managers.

Part 1. A Good Product

I will not expand the article with abstract arguments about the product, neither its usefulness, the market, or end-users. However, many people will nor agree that a quality product can fail and still not be defined as bad or low-quality, so I will elaborate further on this topic.

  • human factor (internal leaks within the company; or silly technical issues such as spilled water on the servers by the cleaner on the day of the product release);
  • poor management skills (the founders came to an agreement on profit sharing too late which caused a rift; mass layoffs caused by excessive pressure on the development team which disrupted negotiations about investments);
  • bad luck! The importance of bad luck is entirely ignored by both amateurs and experts («The Black Swans» of Nassim Taleb);

Part 2. What is User Experience (UX)?

Since UX nowadays is more often associated with UI design, my “opponent” in discussing this certain topic will be Joe Natoli. Joe Natoli is the 30-year UX and design veteran, one of the most popular UXD experts (User Experience Design), author, and speaker. He also has launched the most successful online courses on Udemy on topics of User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI). He has spent more than three decades consulting on UXD for the Fortune 100, 500, and Governmental organizations. He names himself «User Experience Evangelist,» hence I can refer to his concepts made publicly in his books and video tutorials.

Part 3. Choice Architecture

The term “choice architecture” was popularized in a book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by two American scientists: Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Their collaborative work made many different specialists responsible for creating consumer choice to look at their work from a new perspective. I will briefly describe these figures to clarify their significance for the reader.

Part 4. Choice Architect

The Choice Architect term was coined by Sunstein and Thaler, describing it as: “A choice architect has the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions.”

Part 5. Cognitive Biases & UX

This is the main body of the article.

  1. Vagueness, insufficiency of data. A lack of meaning;
  2. Not enough time. When we need to act fast;
  3. Different priorities of information. When we memorize and recall.

#1 Availability heuristics [P]

The tendency to overestimate the likelihood of events with greater “availability” in memory, which can be influenced by how recent the memories are or how unusual or emotionally charged they may be.

#4 Mere-exposure effect [P]

The psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. The more often one sees someone, the more pleasant and attractive this person seems to become.

#6 Cue-dependent forgetting [P]

Cue-dependent forgetting, or retrieval failure, is the failure to recall information without memory cues. It is an inability to recall memory due to the lack of stimuli or signals that were present during memory coding.

#11 Base rate fallacy [P]

The tendency to ignore general information and focus on only the specific case, even when the general information is more accurate.

#13 Humor effect [P]

Humorous items are more easily remembered than non-humorous ones, which might be explained by the increased cognitive processing time to understand the humor or the emotional arousal caused by the humor.

#21 Distinction bias [P]

The tendency to view two options as more dissimilar when evaluating them simultaneously than when evaluating them separately.

#36 Neglect of probability [P]

It is the tendency to disregard probability when making a decision under uncertainty and in which people regularly violate the normative rules for decision making. Small risks are typically either neglected entirely or hugely overrated. The continuum between the extremes is ignored. As Rolf Dobelli explains, “We have no intuitive grasp of risk and thus distinguish poorly among different threats. The more serious the threat and the more emotional the topic (such as radioactivity), the less reassuring a reduction in risk seems to us.”

Part 6. Our Days

Unfortunately, the lack of good product managers is the main obstacle to creating quality products. Most companies do not yet deeply understand the difference between a product manager and a product owner, which makes the situation worse. Sometimes these positions are even put through “/” in vacancy announcements.

Part 7. Not only biases

I would also like to address product managers’ knowledge of certain fields that have received little attention in this article, but that are no less important to understand than biases.

Part 8. Epilogue

To conclude, I would like to explain why I have highlighted psychology, especially the critical importance for a product manager to understand the cognitive biases.

Part 9. Complementary material

Daniel Kahneman — “Thinking Fast and Slow”
Nicholas Taleb — “The Black Swan”
Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein — “Nudge”
Richard J. Davidson — “The Emotional Life of Your Brain”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — “Flow”
Jim Collins — “Good to Great”
Jesse James Garrett — The Elements of User Experience (2nd Edition);
William Lidwell — Universal Principles of Design;
James Clear — Atomic Habits;
Erin Meyer — The Culture Map;
Joe Natoli — UX Design Fundamentals Udemy Video;
Joe Natoli — UX & Web Design Master Course: Strategy, Design, Development Udemy Video;

Cognitive Science and Behavioral Economics enthusiast. In IT for over 12 years. Here I write about Project and Product Management. My website:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store