Who listens to safety instructions anyway?

We humans act far less rationally than we like to think. As technical writers, we need to speak to the instinctive, emotional side of our readers. Here is what we can learn from behavioral economics.

Text by Marco Jänicke


Image: © hanohiki/istockphoto.com

Have you been nudged to do something today? Chances are, you have. Simply speaking, a nudge is a gentle impulse that influences the decisions we make. I am hopeful that this article will act as a nudge. To give you some examples, think of a driver who is prompted to slow down by speed bumps painted onto the road. Or a smoker who is reminded of the consequences of his action with a smoking zone in the shape of a coffin (Figure 1).

What do these examples have in common? One can speed over painted speed bumps and smoke as much as he wants in a coffin-shaped smoking area without any actual consequences. Instead, these nudges are designed to influence our behavior.

Figure 1: Nudges in everyday life
Sources: https://inudgeyou.com, https://m.blog.naver.com


In 2008, the U.S. economist Richard Thaler and the legal scholar Cass Sunstein presented nudging in the entertaining and informative ...