A nudge is all it takes 👉


A bit late for it, but happy New Year! I hope your resolutions are still going strong (if that’s something you do). I recently resolved to dig deeper into topics explored in previous emails.

This email is part of a series on persuasion.


Read part 1: This 👇 is what prevents action

Read part 2: Persuade your audience to take action



A light push on the shoulder? No, not that kind of nudge. I’m talking:


  • Pre-filled email subscription check boxes.
  • Impulse buy items placed near checkout counters.
  • Inspirational posters in office spaces (“Work hard, play harder!”).


Before we get into what a nudge is, we’ll have to understand another concept of behavioural economics:


Choice architecture– the different ways choices can be presented to a decision maker, impacting how they make decisions.


nudge is anything in the choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way. One could say nudges help people make good, or better decisions, but really, that depends on who’s doing the nudging, and why.


Based on the definition above, it’s clear that nudges aren’t a single technique, or even a new concept. Nudges happen everywhere—online, offline, on websites, over phone calls. You’ve probably used them (which would make you a “choice architect”). 


Let’s try to pin this down, and understand how we might want to use them consciously.


Nudges can be categorised into:


Transparent nudges: The decision maker is made aware that you are nudging them in a particular direction.


Non-transparent nudges: The nudge is not disclosed to the decision maker.


Some (and definitely not all) of the common nudging techniques within those categories:



Note: A nudge is only transparent if the decision-maker knows they are being nudged, and also if it is clear why they are being nudged.



Prominent among the criticisms for nudging is that it doesn’t create lasting changes in people’s behaviour, wherever that is necessary (education, legislation, and enforcement are more long-term, albeit more effortful solutions).


The ethical question is even harder to answer than the question of effectiveness. That is, answering how (non-transparent) nudging impedes on a person’s autonomy. I.e.:


  • Their freedom to make an informed choice.
  • Their capacity to determine what to choose.
  • Their chosen identity and goals.


Are nudges inherently unethical, particularly if they are non-transparent? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


See you next time,