The Power of Nudge Design and Micro-Copy: Simple Tactics for a Better User Experience

Nudges and micro-copies promote an experience that best meets the fundamental goals of users.

Nudge design is the practice of thinking about design in the service or product environment through subtle behavioural prompts to users to encourage the choice that best matches their real expectations.

Micro-copies are, for their part, words or small phrases that promote understanding of an interface.

Together, they aim to help users use a service or product more efficiently and with greater satisfaction via contextual “guidance” information.

Nudge design: a concept based on anthropology and behavioural science. Use it but do it gently.

Anyone who creates the environment in which decisions are made is known as a 'choice architect.' And this is part of almost all types of jobs (from doctors, accountants to architects).

Richard Thaler

The theory of nudges

The theory of nudges comes from economics and behavioural sciences. It was popularized by Nobel Prize-winning economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008). Nudges are small behavioural incentives in our environment to make us make choices in our own and general interests. Nudging is reflected in the user experience when applying the principles of Nudge Design.

This notion is closely related to persuasive design but introduces the different concepts of benevolence and empathy.

Thaler and Sunstein’s book explain that humans are not “homo oeconomicus”, i.e., an individual does not systematically make choices that are beneficial to them. Our “choice architecture” (set of options perceptible to an individual in each environment) is influenced by different criteria: cognitive biases and heuristic judgements, the presentation of information, etc. The nudge modifies the architecture of choice to propose the best decision for the individual and the general interest. It is also important to emphasise the term “proposal”: there is no question of forcing the user to make the choice being encouraged. He can also avoid it with ease.

Here are a few examples:

  • Basketball hoops have been placed above public bins in Le Havre to encourage citizens to use these bins,
  • The piano staircase was created in the metro to promote their use.

Often, Nudge Design is based on familiar concepts that offer positive values and are accepted by our societies.

Nudges in the digital world: perpetual incentives?

Between mobile applications and the Internet at our fingertips, from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed, smartphones have become an integral part of our lives. With their array of features and interactions, they drive our architecture of choice to be perpetually altered. Nudge Design is systematised from shopping on e-commerce sites with recommended offers to mobile apps for home meal delivery or even social networks that offer us this or that knowledge.

It is, therefore, essential not to overload our interfaces with nudges because the more they are perceived and consumed, the less powerful their flavour is.

Thus, these “nudges” have become anchored in our digital service consumption habits without any safeguards, and we sometimes no longer notice them. Nudge design must therefore be subtle: too much of it is distrusted by the user, and too much becomes ineffective and invisible. In both cases, the user develops insensitivity.

For nudges to clearly impact our decisions, the designer must fine-tune them in conjunction with behavioural analysis and user testing. Once this adjustment has been made, nudge design simplifies or guides the architecture of choice when faced with lists of routes to go on holiday or purchases via a discount highlighted (“only 7 hours left to take up this offer”); the examples are legion.

Finally, they promote the impression of having made a good decision, having made the right purchase, and having learned a language efficiently (via the principle of reward). Let’s take an example with Duolingo, a mobile language learning application. It offers a gamified experience that encourages people to learn faster and faster. This is a case of a nudge that promotes learning and, thus, the adoption of the application. For example, it proposes to restart the introductory courses when you have not taken a course in that language for a long time. This is not an intuitive design choice by the company, but a deliberate work based on the values it wishes to propose in its service experience.

The practice of Nudge Design allows:

  • To convey the values of the company or institution by using environmental and societal benchmarks
  • Simplify decision-making by encouraging the user via interactions (passive or active) to make the best choice for them
  • Reinforce the feeling of beneficial choice through explicit and immediate feedback
  • Facilitate the development of service or product skills
  • Encourage the adoption of positive service or product habits

Micro-copying: a small but effective text

Micro-copies promote good interaction with the service

Micro-copy is a textual message in various forms, small phrases or words, contextually oriented, that guide users through the experience of a service. Although an interface should stand on its own, micro-copy offers additional clarity.

It can be seen on a website, a mobile application, and even an operating system. It is everywhere. From error handling (“if you leave this page without saving, you’ll lose your data”) to navigational wording that hints at the content behind it to additional instructions (in a form, for example).

Also, depending on the style, it usually corresponds to the company’s tone of voice (verbal identity), whether it is Amazon or Sarenza, via Netflix. Finally, it further encourages users in specific contexts, reassuring them or anticipating their hesitations.

Micro-copies offer users:

  • Must be formalised in natural language in proximity
  • Contextual encouragement
  • A good affordance (Affordance is the ability of an object or system to evoke its use, its function. Affordance provokes spontaneous interaction between an environment and its user)
  • Reassurance or anticipation of their hesitations
  • A reinforcement of the verbal identity of the brand

The two concepts, therefore, complement each other through the qualities of accompaniment and guidance through the different interfaces that make up a service or product. We shall see in detail the advantage of their association with users.

Nudges and micro-copies: two concepts for an optimal experience

Simplified and guiding use

A service experience can certainly be adapted to the target users. Still, it will be optimised with a simplified needs architecture and (passive or active) guiding indications and recommendations. This is precisely what the combination of nudges and micro-copy is all about.


They offer key primary concepts to the experience:

  • Helping and reassuring the user (guidance, error, feedback…)
  • Purchase recommendations (optimised product, cross-selling, etc.)
  • Facilitate use and encourage adoption


 An accompanying and guiding experience

Through effective textual indications integrated contextually into the interfaces, sometimes interactive to be better noticed, nudges mixed with micro-copies help the user with anticipatory advice, with information corresponding to their needs.

A site can also reassure the user, permanently anchored in an anticipatory logic.

Purchase recommendations

These have become one of the design standards in e-commerce: product recommendations based on users’ cookies, previous purchases, etc. These recommendations exist in three primary forms: the best product according to the user’s criteria, the cross-sell (what complements the product well), and the up-sell (the range above).

Sometimes, specific recommendations create additional interest, especially when they put the customer’s interest before that of the company to build loyalty and develop a relationship of trust.

Facilitate engagement to encourage adoption

One of the ways to acquire leads or convert is to make it as easy as possible to use with minimal effort. There are many ways of doing this. The main idea is to focus on the value of use: this is precisely what Amazon does. A classic shopping journey consists of choosing items, adding them to the basket, and completing the transaction. However, the e-commerce site has succeeded in offering something better: merging the add-to-cart and transaction steps into a single button, the “One-Click”.

In this respect, Google proposes the use value of specific sites, which makes it possible not to even visit them; the efficiency is total.

Creating an impact: From useful to the optimal experience

Nudge design and micro-copy are, therefore, very complementary tactics. Nudge relies on subtle behavioural incentives that change the architecture of choices in a given environment, with a beneficial stake for them. They have a very polymorphic form and are easily adapted to micro-copies. These make any interface element immediately understandable, anticipate needs, and reassure and guide the user. They also reduce the external cognitive load (the amount of brain energy required to interact with an environment) on a service or product.

Putting the two together is necessary to guide, convert and retain users. These two practices should be centralised and described in the company’s design system.

Auteur : Bruno DALBOUSE

UX/UI designers