Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence in UX Design

Summary: Addressing these 3 fundamental psychological needs in our products increases user motivation and well-being and keeps them engaged and likely to use our designs.

At Nielsen Norman Group we like to say that users aren’t lazy, they’re efficient . Everything that people do — including using websites and apps — takes some amount of energy and focus. Because people do not have unlimited energy or time, they stay efficient by only doing what they are most motivated to do. People are motivated to do some things because they have to and others because they want to .

Psychologists Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, who have studied human motivation in depth, developed a theory of motivation called the self-determination theory , which describes how all human beings have three basic psychological needs that drive their use of time and energy:

It turns out that people tend to be motivated to do whatever will meet these three needs. People also have greater psychological well-being when these needs are met. Because these needs are so interconnected, just about anything that can help meet any or all the needs will likely show some effect. The better something can meet these needs, the greater the motivation and sense of well-being. Let’s look at each of the three human needs in turn and then consider how good UX design can cater to them in ways that effectively motivate users.

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