In UX, heuristics are mental shortcuts that help users simplify their decision-making process.

Updated on September 21st, 2023


In UX, heuristics are mental shortcuts that help users simplify their decision-making process.

Heuristics are something our brain does by default. That's because we can only process a certain amount of information at once, and because of that, we need to use shortcuts to save energy.

As a UX designer, using heuristics is a great way to decrease cognitive load for your users. It is very helpful to improve usability and increase landing page conversion rates.

Heuristics vs. cognitive biases

Heuristics are closely related to cognitive biases. Here's how they overlap and how they differ.

While heuristics can help users solve complex problems, they can also introduce errors because of cognitive biases. When you only rely on the things you know, you're less inclined to discover alternative solutions or new ideas.

Heuristics can also contribute to prejudice and stereotypes, two of the most common cognitive biases.

Types of heuristics

There are different types of heuristics, and each plays an important role in the decision-making process. They can all occur within different contexts, and because of that, understanding is an essential skill for UX designers.


This heuristic involves making decisions based on how easy it is to bring something to mind. The things that come up earlier in your mind are the ones you are more likely to choose.

Let's say you're planning a trip by air travel or train. However, there was an airplane crash in the news recently, and because of that, you feel like air travel might not be the way to go.

Recent events come to your mind so quickly that you're convinced that plane crashes are far more common than they really are.


The familiarity heuristic refers to how people are likely to favor things, places, or ways of doing things they have experienced before.

When users are given multiple options, they're likely to choose the option they're familiar with because they already know the benefits and how it works.

Relevant examples for UX designers include how users sign up and how elements are positioned. Users expect the search bar to be in the top right of the screen, for example.


This heuristic involves making decisions influenced by emotions in a particular moment. For example, when we're in a positive mood, we're more likely to see the positives of our choices instead of the potential risks.


The anchoring heuristic mentions how we're more influenced by the first pieces of information we receive. As a result, we create a mental anchor and compare the other choices and information we receive to the anchor.

This could lead to poor choices because the information after the anchor might not get the focus it deserves.


We're likely to give more value to things that appear unavailable. Marketers often use this heuristic to influence how people buy certain products.

For example, when you're looking at a hotel room, you're likely to see a popup that mentions how many people are visiting the same page as you. This triggers the scarcity heuristic.

Trial and error

To solve problems, people tend to use different strategies until they find one that works. This is one of the most common heuristics in our daily lives.

For example, when trying to design a solution, designers try different options until something works. This also helps when finding the quickest way in traffic or when playing video games.

Useful resources

What Are Heuristics? - Very Well Mind

Why do we take mental shortcuts? - The Decision Lab



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