People equate visual size with numerical size. You can make a price seem lower by adjusting its visual size. Here’s how and why…
You’re designing a marketing piece— whether it’s an online pricing plan or a sales flyer — and you need to display your price. How big or small should your price be in relation to the other elements in that design? Does it even matter?
In this video, I’ll explain why — based on numerical cognition — that seemingly unimportant decision is, in fact, very impactful. And I’ll give you specific techniques to apply those principles, so that you can choose the optimal size of your price, as well as any other numeral that you want to display. So let’s first look at the relationship between visual size and numerical cognition.
Part 1: Visual Size & Numerical Cognition
Our brain has one conceptualization of size. When we encode numbers and values, we don’t encode them as specific digits. We encode them as general magnitudes, such as small or large. So because our brain only understands one concept of size, there’s a blurred overlap between NUMERICAL magnitude and VISUAL magnitude.
Here’s an example. If I were to display two numerals, and I asked you which numeral was higher, you’d be able to answer more quickly if I increased the visual size of the larger digit. Your timing would be slower if I increased the size of the smaller digit. And again, that’s because your brain only has one abstract conceptualization of size — so it often lumps together numerical magnitude with visual magnitude.
Researchers conducted that study, and they found that whenever people encounter a number, they unconsciously activate both dimensions —numerical size and visual size. Now, most businesses focus on that numerical dimension — trying to figure out the exact right price to use, which is usually a very expensive endeavor. However, you can achieve similar effects — for much less time and money — by focusing on the other dimension, and adjusting the visual size of your price.
In fact, some researchers argue the visual size might be MORE powerful. In another study, researchers confirmed that people perceived prices to be lower in magnitude when those prices were printed in a smaller font size. What’s interesting, though, is that the extent of that effect was very large. The researchers said that this strategy can be more important than the actual magnitude of the price.
But the main factor that you need to understand is that our brain has trouble distinguishing between numerical size and visual size.
Part 2: How to Choose the Right Size
And now the important question…how can you apply that knowledge? Well, if you look at most online pricing plans, a lot of websites will put each price in a large font at the top, in order to visually distinguish each plan. And it’s a good intention. However, it’s usually the wrong approach. Instead of displaying your PRICE in a large font at the top, display the NAME of your pricing plan. Then, underneath that name, put the price in a smaller font size.
Now, here…the small font size is important. However, what’s equally important is the CONTRASTING SIZE between the plan name and the price. Size perception is always relative. If you took a large font size in one context and placed it in a context with larger elements around it, then suddenly it becomes small. So size is always relative to the surrounding elements.
Therefore, when you enlarge the name of your pricing plan, it gives people a baseline to compare the visual size of your price. If you don’t want to enlarge the name, you’ll need some large element within your design to generate that baseline. And ideally, that baseline SHOULD be text, so that it shares the same perceptual characteristics of your price.
Now, the NAME of your pricing plan is one option to distinguish your pricing plans. However, an even more ideal option, if possible, is to enlarge some type of unique numerical benefit. For example, if you sell online storage space, put the different numerical units in big letters at the top, such 10GB, 50GB, 250GB. In doing so, you’ll STILL be taking advantage of that mechanism, except in the reverse way. Since more storage space is a positive cue, when you enlarge those numerals, people will mentally conceptualize a larger amount of storage space — i.e., a larger amount of value that you’re offering. So those enlarged numerals should generate more sales.
And the same goes for discounts. Because you want to maximize the perceived size of discounts, whenever you display a percentage discount or an absolute discount, always try to make those numerals seem visually larger within the surrounding context.
And even though this is starting to go beyond the topic, the same underlying concept should apply to product images on eCommerce websites. If you’re selling an external hard drive, for example, you want people to perceive a large amount of storage space. So in that case, you should display a large image for the hard drive because that will subconsciously reinforce a large amount of storage.
Now, just to recap, when displaying your price, try to position larger text elements around it. That design will reinforce a smaller VISUAL magnitude of your price, which will influence people to perceive a smaller NUMERICAL magnitude. And do the opposite when you want to MAXIMIZE the perceived magnitude of a number, such as a discount. When displaying a discount, place smaller elements around it so that you make it seem larger.
And if you want a deeper look at the research behind these principles— or if you want to lean more pricing techniques— you can click below to download my full PDF on the psychology of pricing.