6 Black Friday email templates from Flo, Levi’s, Finisterre & more

Countdowns, discounts, social proof. They’ve got it all.

Welcome to the realm of organizational negative urgency.

Bandaid covering crack on pavement.
Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

In our design practices, we often strategically utilise a sense of urgency to encourage users to make swift decisions. However, it’s crucial to consider the consequences of these decisions, especially when negative urgency is at play — not just in our design but also in our collaborative efforts and organisations we work with.

Urgency in Design

A question arises: Why do we encourage users to decide and act quickly in our designs? One argument is to stimulate users “to make faster decisions, ultimately boosting conversions, user engagement, and satisfaction.” Whether this decision primarily benefits the user is debatable, but it can be viewed as a way to help ease “decision paralysis.”

By incorporating urgency, our aim is to elicit an emotional response in users and prompt them to take action swiftly. This can effectively combat procrastination in certain contexts and provoke immediate action, supported by behavioral principles such as social proof, scarcity, and the fear of missing out. In essence, we want to “gently nudge” users in the desired direction.

However, this strategy comes with severe challenges. Designers wield considerable influence, and in the worst-case scenario, some may resort to manipulative tactics, causing user frustration and stress. It’s unethical to exacerbate user stress by falsely implying the need for rapid decisions due to a limited product supply, often just to drive purchases and boost success metrics, creating a negative sense of urgency.

Deceptive Patterns Territory

While arguments can be made for ethical balance through transparency, unfortunately, examples abound of tactics like “a sense of urgency” being categorised as “deceptive patterns” in design. These patterns, deliberately or not, are “by definition, misleading” and “antithetical to transparency.” Coined by Harry Brignull, deceptive patterns are interfaces carefully crafted to trick users.

Example of deceptive pattern. A red colored Yes-button and a green colored No-button.

According to Brignull, deceptive patterns such as devising a sense of urgency by relying on behavioural principles should be examined through two lenses: if based on reality (e.g., actual low product stock), it can be useful information, supporting user decision-making. If untrue, it becomes deceptive and unethical, particularly problematic in contexts where users are likely to experience stress.

The concept of creating this type of “negative urgency” for the user does not seem to stop with the way products and services are designed. It appears to have roots that scratch from a much deeper place, namely within the organisations and culture within which they are devised.

Organisational Negative Urgency

Negative urgency in psychological terms involves impulsive actions when distressed, characterised by high Neuroticism, low Conscientiousness, and low Agreeableness. Humans often make hasty decisions when grappling with negative emotions like stress, sadness, fear, or anger.

Unfortunately, this tendency doesn’t stop with individuals, but infiltrates organisational dynamics. From higher management levels, it swiftly permeates lower levels, affecting communication among colleagues and teams that once worked harmoniously.

Where negative urgency in design is likely to be an intentional choice, what makes this organisational variant particularly vicious is the fact it is often not. Thus making it also more difficult to identify and resist.

Recognising this phenomenon is crucial, as it offers the opportunity to reconsider commitments and prevent an immense toll on all levels of the organisation.

Where Does It Manifest?

In practice, this urgency materialises through arbitrary deadlines, vague project briefs, competing priorities, and excessive workloads.

You might hear phrases like:

“The developers need designs to proceed.” OR putting it more bluntly we must “feed the developers”

“It’s already late/this has already taken too long” (without any clear deadline communicated in the first place)

“We need this done before the company announces X.”

“X person is going on an extended break, and we need their approval before they leave.”

“This should only take X hours” (others estimating the workload on your behalf)

Lack of effective leadership, struggles fitting design into agile development processes, and the challenge among designers and researchers to “prove their value” contribute to these issues.

Fortunately, we have seen people in the industry talk openly about the burden of designers and researchers to showcase the impact and how challenging it is if the organisation is not ripe to embrace it. As recently put by Erika Hall in her LinkedIn post;

Photo of Erika Hall’s LinkedIn post

If your organisation isn’t prepared to learn, it doesn’t matter how much research you do.

Or as Sara Wachter-Boettcher brilliantly puts it in her article Hey designers, they’re gaslighting you, the message currently is quite brutal;

Just do more. And if that doesn’t work, you didn’t do enough”.

Unfortunately doing more is seems to lead to even further sense of fatigue and keeps the door open for ever increasing demands.

Urgency leading to constant state of stress

When individuals or organisations are stressed due to constant flod of changes or underlying issues, justifying urgency becomes especially challenging. This approach can lead to a feeling that “everything is on fire,” causing decision paralysis or creating “busy-work” that doesn’t contribute to the end goal.

Creating further pressure is rarely a great motivational tactic on anyone and adds stress especially when consumed by negative emotions such as stress, sadness, fear, or anger. There is no space to recover.

We wouldn’t subject our users to more stress when they are already overwhelmed, so why do we often disregard these principles when working with fellow human beings and organising our priorities and tasks?

How to override organisational negative urgency then? What if we treated it as another type of deceptive pattern in design?

Lego heads with angry faces
Photo by Nik on Unsplash

Back to Basics: Demand for ethical design can only come from ethical organisation

There are many arguments condemning deceptive patterns in design. One might ask why the same should be true for organisational deceptive patterns in organisations such as negative urgency?

Let’s look at a few ways designers can avoid deceptive patterns and whether it could be applied to organisational deceptive patterns of negative urgency.

1.Design for Transparency:

  • Designers’ Responsibility — — Clearly communicate information without resorting to deceptive patterns.
  • Organisations’ Responsibility — — Maintain transparency about urgency causes and empower individuals with essential information.

2. Ethical Standards:

  • Designers’ Responsibility — — Avoid deceptive patterns and incorporate ethical alternatives in design systems.
  • Organisations’ Responsibility — — Foster a company culture that rejects negative urgency, reflected in practices, hires and policies.

3. Empathy as the Cornerstone:

  • Designers’ Responsibility — — Prioritise empathy in design, avoiding deceptive practices.
  • Organisations’ Responsibility — — Cultivate empathy within the organisation, recognising and addressing concerns transparently. We wouldn’t ignore a user’s issues, similarly, we shouldn’t dismiss concerns within our organisation?

4. Balancing User Needs and Business Goals:

  • Designers’ Responsibility — — Collaborate with stakeholders to re-frame the benefits of good UX design…to make sure you’re designing a product that benefits everyone
  • Organisations’ Responsibility — — Ensure clear communication of business goals and their relevance to individual work.


As with deceptive design patterns, deceptive organisational patterns demand our attention. They can have severe long-term effects on the organisational level.

In our attempt to “move fast, break things”, we have ended up with move fast, break people…and thus end up moving slower.

Explorative and fast moving design culture requires organisational culture that embraces qualities listed above; transparency, ethical standards, empathy and balanced & relatable goals.

Creating negative urgency in design risks compromising the overall user experience, potentially losing users and damaging company reputation irreparably.

In organisations, ultimately this could lead to staff retention issues and even compromised employee brand reputation. Acknowledging and addressing deceptive organisational patterns, such as negative urgency, is crucial for businesses if they wish to commit to ethical practices and sustainable success.

Thus we shouldn’t hastily abandon the principles of good user experience on the organisational level. There is still work to be done in “designing for impact” and addressing these issues might be the most impactful thing to do yet.

If you are interested to read more on this topic, here are few great articles to check out:

The Era of “Move Fast and Break Things” Is Over by Hemant Taneja

Why Corporate Playbooks Fall Short in Tackling Organizational Trauma by Alba Villamil, Karen Eisenhauer, and Vivianne Castillo

Is Fear a Factor? by Erika Hall

How to Manage Someone Who Thinks Everything Is Urgent by Liz Kislik

Move fast, break people? was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *