The intention is not to trick people. Though I admit that this is a possible outcome. Heuristics is a tool, and only its usage can be wrong and not the tool itself. If you use a hammer the wrong way and hurt yourself, then you’re at fault, not the hammer.
What we want from leveraging heuristics to improve engagement in our audiences, is to reduce the mental fatigue where it counts, and to help them make the right decisions when it counts.
In other words, you want to decrease the mental load for your audience in an experience when they are going through easy, zero consequence areas so that they are fresh and full of energy at the points when they need to make significant decisions.
A use case of when heuristics are used badly is when a simple problem and decision are made overly complex to tire out the audience so that they make bad choices when it’s important. For example, when a shopping experience is made so overly complex that the customer is glad when the payment method is a 1-click process. They are so tired with the whole ordeal that they don’t care what the ‘hidden’ additional costs are as long as it’s over and done with. Sound familiar? I know some airlines that use this method.
When using heuristics, and using them effectively, it is done by being clear, simple, and transparent. If at any point your reason to use them is to trick your audience, either intentionally or unintentionally, then you’ve failed and likely propagated a bias. And in all likelihood as soon as they figure it out, you’ve also alienated your audience.
Let me give you an example of when I use heuristics when I work with my clients.
When working with clients who have a website-based experience, one of the easier ways of applying heuristics is with the type of language that they use on their website. Such as not using overly complex language to confound the audience and allowing for mental shortcuts where it counts. In this case, the example is when gamifying an experience by utilising an internal currency. When using a currency, the best thing to do is to use easy to understand terminology, such as ‘coins’ and not some made-up word that references a currency. If you use a made-up word, you’ll probably have to explain what it means, and it will likely confuse your audience. They’ll feel tricked if they didn’t understand it, and it can lead to the value of your currency being obfuscated because the audience doesn’t know how to equate it to real money.
It sounds simple and obvious, but it is true. An audience will have an easier time if you say 1 euro is worth 1 coin, rather than 1 euro is worth 1 strangering (because my company is aeStranger, and that is the name of the currency and now I’ve had to explain what it means and what it relates to…).
In the example of 1 euro for 1 coin, we used familiarity, anchoring and representative heuristics to help the audience. And as long we stay consistent with the value of the coin and are transparent and honest, then everything is fine. And both we and our audience do not need to worry about anything. Or explain anything further.