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Tech For Good Talks: Nudge Theory

Another month means another spectacular ‘Tech For Good Talks’ for the books. These events have quickly become a mainstay at Cube and we are loving the opportunity to be able to engage with you all (virtually) and dive into topics near and dear to our heart.


Nudge Theory

Another month means another spectacular ‘Tech For Good Talks’ for the books. These events have quickly become a mainstay at Cube and we are loving the opportunity to be able to engage with you all (virtually) and dive into topics near and dear to our heart.

At our most recent event, our ahh-mazing hosts Rich and Gabby delved into Nudge Theory. It is such an important topic, and happening right under our noses more often than we are aware!

What exactly is Nudge Theory?!

Nudge Theory describes techniques that ‘nudge’ people into making decisions by providing the path of least resistance.

This theory exists all around us in our day to day lives, and – done well – we don’t even notice. From the shops removing sweets at the checkout promoting healthier shopping habits to the government changing organ donation to an ‘opt-out’ scheme.

There is no difference in digital experiences. With apps making the ideal outcome, for example, making appointments, saving money, or quitting smoking. By making the process as slick as possible the user is funnelled through to the end goal without much thought or faff.

But as Spiderman taught us, with great power comes great responsibility. Nudge has become a common tool within app creation, but it has the power to promote healthy or indeed unhealthy behaviour. The endless scroll on social media, Bezos manipulating our Amazon shopping habits and companies sending you down a labyrinth of opt-outs to try and keep patronage are all examples of this concept being abused.

Brass tacks of Nudge Theory

If you wanted to delve even further into Nudge Theory, “Nudge” by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein is a great book and spectacular resource on the topic! The Obama administration used this book as well as other governments all around the world. Our UK government even have used it,  for the basis of the behavioural insight team. But, until you get your hands on it, I’ll do you a solid and breakdown some of the key learnings in it.

The choice architecture

Is used in a communications platform when you are offering people a choice. Choosing whether or not to do something, or pick an option. It’s a very designed process, even though it doesn’t necessarily feel like that, most of the choices you make are extraordinarily thought through and strictly designed by people. 

We use it in UX and UI all the time, but it really exists in almost every aspect of life. Even down to the government’s response to COVID. They are constantly trying to nudge us into certain directions and behaviours.

Nudges are not mandates

This isn’t a law that’s passed down. There is some definitive direction, but the choice exists solely within you. Though you can be nudged in certain directions to make it easier to make the choice “the nudger” wants you to make. Smoking is a great example for this. While it’s not necessarily banned, the government have been making it harder and harder for the consumer to actually smoke. 

Some different types of nudges that exist are:

  • Defaulting- People generally speaking, if you offer them a series of choices they will choose the default option they are given. So if there are a range of choices to be made, you offer the choice you want to be selected as the default one so that they are most likely to opt for that.


  • Social Proof- If you are unsure about what to do about something, you are given the idea of what other people are doing, and likely to follow the herd. If you can see that someone bought the same item as you and is the most popular choice, you are most likely to just go for that option.


  • Salience- You put the option in front of the person to make your desired outcome, the easiest choice. The shops doing this with health food and removing the sweets from the till is a great example of this.


  • Gamification- Making something challenging to someone with a gamified technique is a really powerful nudge tool. I think the most unorthodox method of employing these urinals at an airport that are literally gamifying to achieve their desired outcome (cleaner floors!)

Nudge Theory in the wild

As you know, Tech For Good is kind of our jam. Our entire ethos exists on our unending passion for creating technology for bettering the world, mankind or just making the most impact we can as an agency. Nudge Theory is completely a part of what we do and the change we are trying to affect in the for good world. From marketing to design we are always so cognitive of “nudging for good” and utilising it to solely promote positive behaviour and positive change.

Some examples of how we have done that with our own projects are:

England Rugby

With the rise in the popularity of contactless rugby we were tasked to get people hands-on with a new a digital solution. Making O2 Touch Rugby more accessible regardless of gender, age or experience with O2 and England Rugby. 

Easier said than done! But that’s precisely what we did. We made it easy. So easy that through signups and payment, the process was extremely simple and straight forward. With salience and gamification, the users could engage with and use the app so seamlessly. By nudging users along the path in the easiest possible way, we were able to build an app that encouraged people getting out there, interacting and being physically active!

O2 Touch Rugby Platform

Expert cube opinion

In order to really explore the in’s and out’s of Nudge Theory, we wanted to talk to an expert. Luckily for us, that expert is our very own Head of Creative, James

His role is to make sure the products we make look awesome and are intuitive and inclusive and help users create their own positive impact. Nudge Theory starts in the beginning, in our D&D process, the creative team play a really big part in taking clients through immersion workshops. They then are able to get real clarity about the kind of behaviours that we need users to enact so that the client can hit their measure of success. From that point, we have a clear behaviour that we want to change and that serves as a bit of a north star for the team as we are designing our concepts.

We then take those and put them into prototypes and test them against how well they achieve that goal and affect the behaviour change. At that stage, there are loads of different tactics, that work differently in different spaces. So it’s really interesting each time that those tactics are really different. For example, in some cases, some of the users find that they resonate with badges. But in others, they respond to social proof or physical rewards depending on how demanding the task is, and how motivated users are to do it.

It is always a bit of a mix, in the end, it’s not just one thing but we keep iterating until we find that mix and strike that balance. The mix of things that feel rewarding and affect behaviour change, whilst not being too coercive and overly nudgy is so important to keep at the forefront of the process.

As always, we had a lot of really great questions at the end of the event, so feel free to holla if you had any yourself! We’re already planning and getting excited for our next event on December 10th, all about ‘Future Gazing in 2021’ so make sure you sign up and don’t miss out!

Published on November 18, 2020, last updated on November 18, 2020

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