The Science Behind Better Experience Design

What if I were to tell you that we can rig how consumers remember brand experiences; inducing positive memories and completely overriding negative ones?

Peak-End Rule
The peak-end rule is a psychological heuristic, or mental shortcut, that impacts how people remember past events.

For brands, it’s paramount  to consider all of the cognitive biases that affect the customer decision process.

In understanding this, we can maximise our ability to establish deeper, richer connections with our consumers with less effort.

Peak end rule

The science

The peak-end rule suggests that our brains simply cannot remember every detail of every day, we are limited in what information we can store.

Our brain shortcuts this process by condensing our experiences into a series of snapshots, consisting of the intense positive or negative moments (the “peaks”) and the final moments of an experience (the “end”).

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Conceived by professors Kahneman & Tversky in 1999, several studies, conducted over an array of diverse circumstances, support the theory’s validity.

inside airplane sitting


Creating peaks:
Television commercials that create positive feelings are rated more highly by viewers if there are peaks of intensity and end on a positive note, rather than a commercial that was consistently pleasant all the way through.

Holidays that ended on a bad flight home are remembered less favourably, despite everything on the holiday going well.

The perils of an unhappy ending:
A 2008 study demonstrated that college students who received a desirable gift, followed by a less desirable gift, were less happy than college students who only received the one desirable gift, despite receiving an extra gift.

Likewise, children were more pleased after receiving a chocolate treat alone, rather than a chocolate treat followed by a mildly enjoyable piece of gum.

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Negative experiences are redeemable:
It’s no wonder women subject themselves to the pain of childbirth all over again, willingly, when their harrowing experiences end on such a rewarding high of a child.

A study proved that even a colonoscopy that had an extra 20 seconds, which were merely uncomfortable, not painful, added on to the end was rated better than those who did not receive the extra 20 seconds, despite being in discomfort for longer.

As a less gross example, patrons who received an otherwise negative dining experience, but were given a free dessert at the end, rated their experience considerably more favourably than those who did not.

“Manufacture the emotional peak purposefully, to create it by design.”
Adam Toporek, CX thought leader and author


Onboarding in software is a key opportunity to consider Peak-end. Modern apps like Slack focus on frictionless journeys which leave users feeling good about the experience.

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In summary
Cognitive biases arbitrate entire segments of our memories so all that is left is how we felt during the peak and the end of the experience.

So how can we use this to our advantage?

Don’t be passive in allowing a consumer to meander through interactions with your platforms, be active; curate intentional designs devised to be affecting.

Brands need to design experiences for their consumers that will create an indelible impact. They will always remember the peaks and the end, so be exciting, surprising, and go out with a bang.

About the author

Anna Ryan is a strategist at Athlon working within research and insights. Her work helps create brand and product experiences that transform global brands and scale-ups.

For more information on Athlon contact 
Ranzie Anthony 

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