You’re halfway through a movie on Netflix. It’s not engaging, the plot seems aimless, and the characters aren’t relatable. Yet, you keep watching. Why? Because you’ve already spent an hour on it and quitting now feels like wasting that time. Despite the diminishing returns of enjoyment, the investment of time compels you to see it through to the end, hoping it might improve or, at the very least, to justify the time already spent.
The Sunk Cost Effect occurs when people continue a behavior or endeavor as a result of previously invested resources (time, money, effort, etc.). This effect becomes a fallacy when it leads to actions that don’t enhance happiness or provide a positive outcome. It’s a common psychological trap where past investments lead to future actions, regardless of the actual current value of the activity. In UX design, this can manifest in sticking with a design or project direction due to the resources already spent, even when evidence suggests a pivot or abandonment would be more beneficial.
Let’s reflect on our design processes. Can you recall a story where you continued down a certain design path, even when indicators suggested it might not be effective, simply because you had already invested significant time and effort into it?
One way to avoid this would be to regularly review our design decisions against current data and ask for feedback during working sessions, not just past delivery.
It’s important for us to foster a design culture where pivoting or abandoning a less effective design is viewed as a positive step towards a more successful outcome, rather than a loss of invested resources.