Product Design Lessons

Mastering Design Feedback  |   Lesson #118

Influencing Users with Familiarity Bias


At ZURB, we utilize psychological triggers and patterns to increase engagement with the products we design. Over the last two decades, we’ve helped over 300 companies find focus and make successful products. In this lesson we’ll be covering how you can use the design trigger of Familiarity Bias to quickly gain trust from your users.

What is Familiarity Bias?

People are biased toward liking or trusting things that they find familiar. With repeated exposures, fondness can develop for things that are initially disliked or totally unknown. The familiarity principle, or mere-exposure effect, describes the tendency for people to show a preference for things merely because they seem familiar. Familiarity can develop rather quickly, and only requires repeated exposures to a stimulus. Inclination toward the familiar has no basis in logic — products are preferred simply because people “like” them.

When the iPhone was first released it had a completely touch screen, no physical keyboard, and used brand new gestures like pinch to zoom, it was a very foreign idea. Apple’s design, however, created an interface was very familiar. They designed a calendar that resembled a physical calendar and a virtual keypad that looked like the buttons from it’s physical counterpart. Apple introduced an unfamiliar device with very familiar patterns. Designing the iPhone’s interface this way helped the phone immediately feel familiar. After the iPhone’s patterns were adopted by the majority, Apple was able to abstract the design further by pushing for flatter designs.

How You can Use it

Determine the design elements that will help you build familiarity around your product or service. Use those elements across your site and advertisement campaigns to create consistent exposures over time. Leverage familiar language and imagery to establish a sense of familiarity when launching a new site or promoting a new product. Use design patterns to create familiar interfaces. Make connections with related things that your users will already be familiar with. While increased trust comes with increased familiarity, so can increased expectations.

SquareSpace uses the familiar image of a desk to create a familiar space for their users to feel comfortable in. This puts the customer at ease and allows them to more easily absorbve the messaging. Familiar messaging is just one way to give your product familiarity bias with your users.

Next Steps

Make it easy to get to know you! Provide a tour or demo to help familiarize users with the product. Familiarity bias is powerful, so use things that are familiar to your audience to help them adopt your product faster and enjoy it sooner.

About the instructor


Brandon Arnold is a Foundation mastermind. He contributed several key components of the latest version of our framework, and walks you through getting started with Foundation for Emails.