Design with the Principle of Cognitive Closure

Closure or need for closure (NFC) are psychological terms that describe an individual’s desire for a firm answer to a question and an aversion toward ambiguity.

The feeling of ambiguity or uncertainty puts people on edge. It is only when they have reached their goal or found a solution that people can feel comfortable setting the thing aside. The feeling of completeness that accompanies closure puts people at ease. That is why most people describe above image as a circle as our brains have the tendency to favour clean and unambiguous outcomes.

There are many ways to leverage closure in service design and online applications. The focus is mainly on encouraging people to strive for completeness by achieving goals or collecting items until they have a full set. The compulsion to collect, to be complete, drives people to action.

Social networking Linkedin has used closure quite well in its design to encourage you to provide information to them as this is how they make money, selling advertising based on your specific information. When they need information from you, they make it clear that you are in a disorderly state (e.g.. “You are a few steps away from completing your profile”). It also rewards you for completing your profile so that you feel accomplished and are encouraged to engage more. Also, one other clever tactic they use is that they show you easy ways to resolve the disorder into harmony with the minimum effort as you’ll often abandon sites that make you work too hard(e.g. Linkedin shows you one thing at a time to complete.

Good loyalty programs also create that compulsion for completeness for you by giving you some initial free stuff. For example Subway reward card would have worked better if the customer was given a card with 12 squares of which 2 squares were already filled as a membership bonus as opposed to a blank card of 10 squares to fill. The need to complete the partially complete card, makes it almost impossible to not want to use the card over and over again. This is also a good example of how artificial advancement increases effort!!

Another application that has leveraged closure well is fitbit. You are initially asked to set some fitness goals. Your dashboard will then be customised based on the information you have supplied to encourage you to engage, complete and reach your goal. For example in below left screenshot of my fitbit, you can see that I have climbed 9 floors on that day. As my set goal for the day is to climb 10 floors, the circle is incomplete and blue. This encourages the me to do more to complete the circle and also get upgraded to the colour green !!

Another very interesting thing to notice on my fitbit is that the polygon which represents my Weekly Exercise stat is set to pentagon. This is due to the fact that I had set my weekly exercise goal to 5 days ( pentagon = 5 sides). That means if I choose my weekly exercise goal to 6 days, the polygon will have 6 sides this time and will be a hexagon. By doing so, you know what is ahead of you to complete the set and you will do anything in your power to achieve that!

The BBC app is a good example of how a progress bar can be used as a completeness meter. In its Video’s of the day section, the progress bar on top of the page shows you how close you are to completion which acts as a compulsion generator for you to keep watching the videos and scrolling to the last page. Once you are on the last page, it also surprises you with an unexpected reward ( a little animation of some circles ) to celebrate your achievement of completion with you!

The ingenious Instagram’s Stories progress bar design gives you double the pleasure of completion. The number of pieces on the progress bar shows you how many stories you are expected to see on each profile. The pieces are also equal to create order. On the other hand, the dynamic progress bar shows you how much of each story you have completed watching so far which eliminates any ambiguity of how much left until you are done!

The designers have also had the new generation with shorter attention span in mind when they split the progress bar into smaller increments so that the new generation user has the piece of mind that each task ( story) is short and only requires minimum cognitive effort which again will minimise abandonment of the task.