D Zeigarnik Effect: How to Apply It in UX

Por Redacción Aguayo

Discover how to leverage the Zeigarnik Effect to enhance user experience in your digital design. Explore effective strategies and practical examples.

CAPTION: Photo taken from Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

Introduction to the Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik Effect is a psychological phenomenon that highlights how the human mind tends to remember incomplete tasks or events more easily than those that have already been completed. This concept was first proposed by the Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in the 1920s, after observing that waiters remembered unfinished orders better than those that had already been completed. Since then, it has been studied in various fields, including cognitive psychology and user experience (UX).

Origin and Discovery

Bluma Zeigarnik conducted a series of experiments in which participants had to perform a series of tasks under different conditions. She observed that they more easily remembered tasks that were still incomplete, even after a period of time, compared to those that had been completed. This initial finding led to the concept of the Zeigarnik Effect and its implications for human behavior.

Mechanism of the Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik Effect suggests that the human mind experiences a kind of "tension" or "cognitive load" when faced with an incomplete task. This tension motivates the individual to remember the task and work to complete it, which can lead to greater retention and focus on the task at hand.

Applications in Daily Life

The Zeigarnik Effect has significant implications in various aspects of daily life, from productivity to product design and advertising. In the context of user experience (UX), understanding how this effect works can help designers create more effective and engaging interfaces.

Fundamentals of the Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik Effect is a psychological phenomenon that reveals how our minds tend to remember and focus on incomplete tasks more than those that have already been completed. This theory was proposed by Bluma Zeigarnik, a Russian psychologist, in the 1920s, based on her observations of human behavior and the recall of unfinished tasks.

Theory and Discovery

The Zeigarnik Effect originated from a series of experiments conducted by Bluma Zeigarnik in which participants were required to perform a series of tasks, some of which they were allowed to complete and others not. Zeigarnik noticed that participants more easily remembered incomplete tasks compared to completed ones. This led her to conclude that the human mind tends to actively retain pending tasks, creating a kind of mental tension until they are completed.

Mechanism of the Zeigarnik Effect

The mechanism behind the Zeigarnik Effect relates to how the brain processes and stores information. When a task is incomplete, the brain keeps it active in working memory, increasing the likelihood of remembering and completing it in the future. This "cognitive load" associated with incomplete tasks drives the person to focus their attention on them until they are resolved.

Practical Applications

The Zeigarnik Effect has several practical applications in everyday life and in fields such as marketing, advertising, and user experience (UX) design. For example, in product and application design, designers can use strategies to keep users engaged and motivated by presenting incomplete tasks or goals.

Relevance in User Experience (UX)

In the field of UX, understanding the Zeigarnik Effect is crucial for designing interfaces and experiences that keep users engaged and coming back continuously. By presenting information gradually or creating "hooks" that invite users to continue interacting, this effect can be leveraged to improve user retention and satisfaction.

The Zeigarnik Effect highlights the importance of incomplete tasks in human cognitive processing and their influence on behavior and memory. Understanding this phenomenon can be invaluable for designers, marketers, and UX professionals seeking to create meaningful and engaging experiences for users.

Applications of the Zeigarnik Effect in User Experience

The Zeigarnik Effect, discovered by Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in the 1920s, has found various applications in user experience (UX) design. This psychological phenomenon, which highlights our mind's tendency to remember and focus on incomplete tasks, offers significant implications for creating effective and engaging digital interfaces.

Interface Design

One of the main areas where the Zeigarnik Effect is applied is interface design. Designers use strategies such as the gradual presentation of information or the creation of incomplete tasks to keep users engaged and motivated. For example, by showing partial progress or keeping interactive elements unfinished, continuous user participation is encouraged.


Gamification is another area where the Zeigarnik Effect plays a significant role. By integrating game elements into applications and websites, such as challenges, achievements, and rewards, a sense of progression and motivation for the user is generated. The incompleteness of certain activities or the possibility of unlocking additional levels maintains user interest and incentivizes them to continue interacting with the platform.

User Retention

Understanding the Zeigarnik Effect is also essential for improving user retention on digital platforms. By designing experiences that keep users engaged and emotionally connected, the likelihood of them leaving the site or application is reduced. Strategies such as progress notifications, reminders of pending tasks, and personalized suggestions can help keep users active and engaged in the long term.

Content Personalization

Another application of the Zeigarnik Effect in UX is content personalization. By offering recommendations and relevant content based on the user's interaction history, a more satisfying and engaging experience is created. Users feel more involved when they perceive that the content adapts to their specific needs and interests, increasing the likelihood of them continuing to explore and use the platform.

Feedback and Response

The Zeigarnik Effect can also be used to improve feedback and response in digital interfaces. By providing immediate and visual responses to user actions, a feedback loop is created that reinforces the sense of achievement and progress. This can include animations, confirmation messages, and visual changes that indicate the success of an action or the completion of a task.

Workflow Optimization

Finally, the Zeigarnik Effect can be applied to optimize workflow in applications and digital systems. By designing interfaces that intuitively guide the user through a process, friction is reduced, and efficiency is increased. Clear presentation of steps to follow and indication of progress help keep the user focused and motivated to complete the task.

Practical Examples of Application in UX

In the application of the Zeigarnik Effect in User Experience (UX), we can find a wide variety of practical examples that demonstrate how this psychological theory can significantly enhance user interaction with digital products and services.

Productivity Apps

Productivity apps are an excellent example of how the Zeigarnik Effect can be applied to improve user experience. For example, in to-do list apps like Todoist or Trello, the interface design allows users to clearly see incomplete tasks and motivates them to complete them to remove them from the list. This sense of achievement when completing partial tasks keeps users engaged and increases their productivity.

Online Learning Platforms

Online learning platforms, such as Coursera or Udemy, also leverage the Zeigarnik Effect to keep users engaged with educational content. These platforms often break courses into smaller modules or lessons, making it easy for users to track their progress. Additionally, they often use gamification systems, such as badges or points, to reward progress and encourage continued participation.

Fitness and Health Apps

Fitness and health apps are another prominent example of how the Zeigarnik Effect can be used to motivate users to reach their goals. Apps like Strava or MyFitnessPal use reminders and notifications to keep users engaged with their exercise routines or dietary habits. Additionally, tracking progress over time and visualizing achievements can increase user motivation and adherence to their health and wellness goals.

Gaming and Entertainment Platforms

Gaming and entertainment platforms are masters at using the Zeigarnik Effect to keep users involved and engaged. Mobile games like Candy Crush or Clash of Clans use addictive gameplay mechanics, such as the ability to unlock levels or earn rewards, to keep players hooked and motivated to keep playing. Additionally, video streaming platforms like Netflix or YouTube use recommendation algorithms that suggest content related to the user's preferences, encouraging them to continue exploring and consuming more content.


In e-commerce, the Zeigarnik Effect can be applied to enhance the user's shopping experience. For example, online stores often use shopping carts that display selected but not yet purchased products, creating a sense of incompleteness that motivates the user to complete the purchase. Similarly, limited-time promotions or offers can create a sense of urgency that drives the user to make a purchase before the offer expires.

Strategies for Incorporating the Zeigarnik Effect in Product Design

The Zeigarnik Effect, discovered by Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in the 1920s, is a theory that suggests people remember incomplete tasks or activities more effectively than those that have been completed. This idea has been widely applied in product and service design to enhance user experience and increase engagement and retention.

Designing Intuitive Interfaces

One of the fundamental principles for incorporating the Zeigarnik Effect in product design is to create intuitive interfaces that guide the user through a step-by-step process. By breaking tasks or activities into smaller, manageable steps, a sense of progress and achievement can be created that motivates the user to keep moving forward.

Use of Reminders and Notifications

Another effective strategy is to use reminders and notifications to keep the user engaged with the task or activity. These reminders can take the form of in-app alerts, emails, or push notifications on mobile devices, and can help keep the task top of mind for the user even when they are not actively interacting with the product.

Visual and Progress Feedback

Providing visual and progress feedback is crucial for making the most of the Zeigarnik Effect. Showing the user their progress throughout a task or activity, whether through progress bars, status indicators, or animations, can help maintain their engagement and motivation.

Gamification Systems

Gamification is another effective technique for incorporating the Zeigarnik Effect in product design. By adding game elements such as challenges, rewards, and competitions, user motivation to complete tasks or activities can be increased, and long-term engagement can be maintained.

Personalization and Adaptability

Finally, personalization and adaptability are key to creating effective user experiences based on the Zeigarnik Effect. Allowing users to customize their experience and tailor it to their individual needs can increase their sense of control and ownership, which in turn can enhance their engagement and participation.

Conclusions and Recommendations for Using the Zeigarnik Effect in UX

The Zeigarnik Effect is a powerful tool in user experience design that can significantly enhance user retention, engagement, and satisfaction. After exploring its fundamentals, applications, and practical examples, it is important to summarize the key conclusions and provide practical recommendations for its effective application in UX.

Key Conclusions

  • The Zeigarnik Effect, based on the principle that incomplete tasks are remembered more easily than completed ones, can be leveraged to create more engaging and memorable user experiences.
  • Applications of the Zeigarnik Effect in UX are diverse and range from designing intuitive interfaces to implementing gamification systems and personalizing experiences.
  • Practical examples demonstrate how the Zeigarnik Effect can enhance user retention and engagement in a variety of contexts, including mobile applications, e-commerce platforms, and productivity tools.

Recommendations for Practical Application

  1. Understand User Needs: Before applying the Zeigarnik Effect in product design, it is crucial to understand user needs, preferences, and behaviors to effectively tailor the strategy.
  2. Design Intuitive Interactions: Designing intuitive interfaces that guide the user through a step-by-step process can help maintain their engagement and facilitate task completion.
  3. Implement Feedback and Reminders: Incorporating timely visual feedback and notifications can keep the user informed about their progress and remind them of incomplete tasks, increasing the likelihood of completion.
  4. Explore Gamification: Gamification can be an effective way to leverage the Zeigarnik Effect by adding game elements such as challenges and rewards that incentivize user participation and maintain their interest over time.
  5. Adapt the Experience to the Context: It is important to tailor the application of the Zeigarnik Effect to the specific context of the product or service and the individual preferences of the user to ensure a personalized and relevant experience.

Future Implications and Areas of Research

While the Zeigarnik Effect has proven to be an effective strategy in UX, there are still areas of research and development that could be explored in the future. This includes studying how different cultures and demographic groups respond to the Zeigarnik Effect, as well as developing new techniques and tools for its implementation across a variety of digital contexts and platforms.

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