Peak-End-Rule

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Image created with Midjourney. Image prompt: A stylized 2D, minimalistic rollercoaster journey. At the peak, a brightly glowing orb symbolizes the most intense moment. At the end of the journey, a radiant, welcoming sunset awaits, symbolizing a delightful conclusion

In the world of product design, understanding how users perceive their experiences is paramount. One psychological principle that has gained prominence in this area is the Peak-End Rule, a concept that suggests people judge their experiences based on how they felt at the peak and at the end of the experience, rather than the total sum or average of every moment1.

The Peak-End Rule in a Nutshell

The Peak-End Rule was identified in a groundbreaking study by Kahneman, Fredrickson, Schreiber, and Redelmeier in 1993. In their experiment, subjects were subjected to two different versions of a single unpleasant experience involving cold water. Interestingly, subjects preferred to repeat the trial that ended with slightly warmer water, despite it being longer. The researchers concluded that subjects chose the longer trial because they remembered it more favorably1.

Applying the Peak-End Rule to Digital Software Products

Now, let's look at how the Peak-End Rule can be applied to the design and development of digital software products through three different examples.

Example 1: Social Media Platforms

Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook know the power of the peak-end rule well. The peak moments often come from receiving notifications of likes, comments, or shares - the social validation triggers a rush of positive emotions. The end of the user journey might be personalized recommendations, ensuring users end their session on a positive note.

Example 2: E-commerce Platforms

E-commerce platforms like Amazon use the Peak-End Rule to enhance their customer experience. The 'peak' is often the moment of finding the perfect product after browsing through several options. The 'end' is the swift and seamless checkout process, leaving a last positive impression on the customer.

Example 3: Fitness Apps

Fitness apps like MyFitnessPal or Strava can also benefit from the Peak-End Rule. The 'peak' may be the moment the user achieves a personal best or completes a challenging workout. The 'end' could be a positive message of encouragement or a visual display of their progress, leaving the user with a sense of accomplishment.

Conclusion

The Peak-End Rule has significant implications for product design and user experience. By focusing on creating peak moments of joy, usefulness, or satisfaction and ensuring a positive end to the user journey, product developers can create more memorable and delightful experiences. Remember, people recall negative experiences more vividly than positive ones, so it's crucial to minimize any potential pain points and end the user journey on a high note1.

Origins

A 1993 study titled “When More Pain Is Preferred to Less: Adding a Better End” by Kahneman, Fredrickson, Charles Schreiber, and Donald Redelmeier provided groundbreaking evidence for the peak–end rule. Participants were subjected to two different versions of a single unpleasant experience. The first trial had subjects submerge a hand in 14°C water for 60 seconds. The second trial had subjects submerge the other hand in 14°C water for 60 seconds, but then keep their hand submerged for an additional 30 seconds, during which the temperature was raised to 15 °C. Subjects were then offered the option of which trial to repeat. Against the law of temporal monotonicity, subjects were more willing to repeat the second trial, despite a prolonged exposure to uncomfortable temperatures. Kahneman et al. concluded that “subjects chose the long trial simply because they liked the memory of it better than the alternative (or disliked it less)”.