How great use of psychology in design tripled my intended donation

 First things first, apologies for the “could-have-been-better” quality of the photographs in this post. My camera decided to “call it a life”, so until I replace it my PDA will play the role of a photographer’s main tool-of-trade.

I always try my level best to dedicate most part (if all is impossible) of my Fridays’ “working hours” to self-improvement, so I went to Exclusive Books on Friday morning, and I sort of ended up using a huge chunk of money reserved for my groceries on books.

Worry not, I’ll survive — starvation is temporary, but knowledge isn’t.

Back to the real reason for writing this post.

One of the books that I bought is Made to stick by brothers, Chip and Dan Heath. I only read about ten pages thus far but I’m already confident this will be one of the purchases I’ll forever be thankful I made.

After paying for the books, I went to the graphic design books shelve. While browsing through design books that caught my eye, this young lady, 16 years of age I assume, walked towards me. I then took a step backwards just so there’s enough space for her to pass, but she didn’t.

She stopped in front of me and then waved at me with a smile. While I, at the back of my mind, was wondering “Er, what the hell did I do to get such a warm smile from a stranger?”

Before I could think of any possible answers she handed me a card, the blue card in the picture above.

It turned out she was deaf. The card she gave me read:

“Smile! Try and speak to the deaf people by sign language”

The card then had Alphabetical deaf sign language with an illustration of how to say “thank you” in sign language.

Now enter, the moment that I applaud.

Again, at the back of my mind, I was trying to recall if I had any coins in my pocket which was unlikely because I hate coins. I think their value fails to justify their weight, but I did.

Just before I was about to literally dig deep into my pockets, my eyes got stuck on the part below:

 I think this card posses some excellent employment of usability, authority, and psychology. There’s a lot to learn from this, and the lesson can be applied almost anywhere. Ideas, business, website design, user-interface design, graphic design, user experience, to name just a few.

Honestly, I was thinking of giving the young lady around R3.00, which is what the coins I had totaled.

But the bottom part of the card suggested the amount of my donation, it sort of (without using ‘force’) gave me a minimum to donate, well at least what the organization would appreciate. Add to that, the sympathy that “naturally” accompanied the situation.
After those two seconds, reaching for the few coins I had was “out of the question” — I ended “coughing up” R10.00.

What myth is common in the areas I’ve listed as areas which this lesson could be applied?

  • More options equals a happier consumer or user.

  • You have to let consumers decide on everything, as to what they want or need.


The first myth, actually causes more confusion than action. While, the second also causes a bit of confusion.

I would love to quote Steve Jobs to touch on the two fallacies:

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
— Steve Jobs

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
— Steve Jobs

The purpose of this post was not for me to rant and rave over money that I donated, it was to illustrate a real-life situation where clever usage of psychology and sometimes taking authority can make a design or product sell better.

If you play your cards right consumers might actually spend way more than you actually hoped for.