Alfonso Morcuende

re-new Orleans


We live and breathe words

Hello! I’ll have to be very direct. You are responsible for making an important decision. You are accountable for 600 people who are affected by a potentially mortal disease. The doctors present you with two possible scenarios::

  • Option A: Save the lives of 200 people.
  • Option B: You have a 33% chance of saving all 600 people and a 66% chance of not being able to save any of them.

What would your decision be? A or B? Obviously, there is a trick. With both options, there is a prospect of being able to save 200 people, but option B is too risky. 72% of the people who have to make this decision choose option A, compared to 28% who choose B.

Let’s give this exercise a new twist. I’m presenting you with two new options:

  • Option C: If you accept this option, 400 people will die.
  • Option D: With this option, there is a 33% chance that no one dies and a 66% chance that all 600 die.

What’s your decision now? When we present another group of people with these options, 78% of the participants choose Option D (which is equivalent in all respects to Option B), while only 22% select Option C (which is equivalent to option A).

Two groups chose options that are different but parallel to each other, and that’s because the choices were presented with different wording. This is an example of what is known as the Framing Effect, in which people react differently with regard to an option depending on whether it is presented as a loss or as a gain.

Today I want to talk about words, about texts, about content, about copy. Words are part of interaction. The power words have to put our users in a frame of mind should be considered and measured. The same visual design with different words means different outcomes. If you see to and take care of the rest of the interactions, content must be one of the first elements to incorporate in your designs. By incorporating the content in the design phase, we arrange, prioritize and emphasize our message better.


According to the definition in Wikipedia, Framing is:

“People build a series of mental filters through biological and cultural influences. They use these filters to make sense of the world. The choices they then make are influenced by their creation of a frame.”


Small changes in language can have a significant effect on behavior. This is due to the Framing users construct through language. By varying the wording, we can change a user’s Frame and modify his or her behavior. I will now go on to recount a few practical examples of modification of behavior by modifying language.

For restaurants, it’s a problem if you don’t show up at the restaurant after a telephone reservation. This is a problem here and in Chicago. And precisely in Chicago, restaurateur Gordon Sinclair was having serious problems with this issue. Gordon instructed his employees to change the last sentence they said to their customers at the end of a telephone booking.

  1. Initial Sentence: “Please call if you change your plans.”
  2. Sentence aimed at changing the Frame: “Will you call us if you change your plans?”

In the second sentence, the user felt emotionally connected to the cancellation of the booking. The system worked and the number of no-shows fell from 30% to 10%.

The following experiment was conducted at a queue for a photocopier. Students waiting patiently for their turn were asked by the person who was behind them if they could give up their turn. The person behind them could use two phrases.

  1. Initial Sentence: ”Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
  2. Sentence aimed at changing the Frame: ”Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”

It might seem that the second phrase does not add extra information and is redundant, but it’s more effective than the first one. By adding the word “because” followed by a reason, the student’s response changes. With the first phrase, the success rate was 60% when jumping ahead on the photocopier line. With the second phrase, the success rate with the students reached 93%.

Framing proves how careful we must be when writing our content and conveying loss or gain, responsibility in their actions or motivations and the reasons we offer our users. Design starts with good texts that add value and intention to the design itself.