UX Design Framework – Persuasion

Previously I have written about Content, Behaviour, Visual Design and Interaction. The fifth element – Persuasion, is a part of the UX design framework that has many darker, or manipulative connotations. Some would say that persuasion does not align itself well with the ethics of designing for the user.

But as BJ Fogg in his book, Persuasive Technology, says:

The answer to the question – Is persuasion unethical? Is neither yes or no. It depends upon how persuasion is used…The designers intent, method of persuasion and outcomes help to determine the ethics of persuasive technology…If a human were using this strategy to persuade would it be ethical? We expect ethical persuasion to include elements of empathy and reciprocity but with interactive technology there is no emotional reciprocity.

Which is why we sometimes feel cheated when technology fails to deliver an experience that is empathetic, and why as designers we need to be more aware of these potential pitfalls.

Here persuasion is explored in terms of design principles that influence people and factors of motivation – competition, cooperation and recognition. These characteristics also give products that are connected (from social networks to mobile applications) the power to persuade.

Entry Point
The point of entry into a design to the goal depends on how the page components or screen is composed. Reducing barriers to the goal is an important element here as is using navigational devices to orientate the user to their location and likely destination. This is the main reason why navigation must not be distracting – to ensure the focus of a user is on the task in hand. It could be finding information, buying a product or downloading files.  Products and services that are simple to use have a much greater power to persuade. The final element is luring the customer towards the goal in increments, persuading with images, well written copy and quality calls to action. These principles guide landing page design and in combination with effective search marketing provide persuasive online experiences.

Picture Superiority Effect


PinkPonk   Page layout, advertising and packaging all benefit from the strength of images to convey meaning as well as the accompanying copy that may be placed alongside.

Simply put, words and pictures are more memorable to people than words alone. They also allow a reader to scan a page easily.

Rather than a person having to read, images that convey meaning form a faster and less arduous method for comprehension.

Meaningful images are memorable, which in turn makes the message even more so.

Images are extremely persuasive when used in the right context.

Image courtesy of


Story Telling
A story has the unique characteristic that each person in an audience who has experienced it will have feelings that are unique to them. Their reaction to it occurs in a very personal way and when done well, this particular principle offers the most immersive and engaging experiences.

A well crafted story can manipulate an audience easily, either by playing with emotions (a tragic tale) or by motivating them to take action (e.g telethon documentaries). The fundamental elements to a good story are the setting, characters, plot, mood, movement and invisibility. In the most successful games, real immersion is achieved, or the medium becomes invisible due to these factors. A good plot, dynamic or charismatic actor, intriguing setting and atmosphere (music and lighting) accompanied by a flow that is paced suitably, will result in the most involving game play.


image   An important factor in story telling, particularly when used within marketing is that it must be authentic.

As BJ Fogg states; ‘credibility makes persuasion possible’. Without the belief (suspended or genuine) of the story’s reality, trying to persuade the audience to be motivated to do something will be very difficult.

Choose a different ending is an interactive video campaign to tell the story of how choices will change a life.

During this relationship between the story teller (the persuader) and the audience (the customer) there will be a time of optimal persuasion (Kairos effect). On the web this is most apparent on landing pages, where the context of a search query is mirrored for the user when they arrive and the call to action is apparent.

However, this obvious sales approach to designing (data led through either A/B testing or other qualitative measurement) runs the risk of ignoring elements of persuasion that are more subtle. It is far better to take a holistic view of designing for persuasion and regard difficult metrics such as context and culture alongside the content that is being offered and the desired action that a user may take.

By manipulating the way information is presented the ability to make informed judgments and decisions can be affected. This way of framing information is often seen either in a negative or positive light that either drives decision making or purely informs. For example politicians use statistics to great effect to persuade voters to change their views or form an opinion.



Image from Inside Facebook 
  There is another factor to this principle which is gaining traction in our inter-connected world, and that is how social connections influence our behaviour much more when aligned with a service or product. This social influence plays a key role in motivation, it is more likely to alter attitudes and create behaviour change. Presenting information alongside something a friend ‘likes’ frames the content in a new context. 

Twitter and Facebook facilitate ‘social framing’. A target behavior can be fulfilled if a user can discern that others are performing the behaviour with them.

This type of framing is a potent and powerful persuasive force that is not immediately obvious to users. Peer pressure (or normative social influence) is the catalyst that creates behaviour change.


BJ Fogg believes that influence strategy and tactics, not the interactive product, will be the unit of analysis, or the basic building block of measuring success in the future. It is entirely believable to assume that our personal networks will not only be more relevant to us than a search engine, but also influence how we spend our money and live our lives. What motivates or persuades us the most, is our desire to cooperate. We need to be recognized as giving value and compete in a manner that gives us satisfaction. Many communities flourish because of these factors. Consider writing reviews, sharing content, being rewarded for loyalty and participating in a forum as activities that hold true personal value to a user in a community or social network.

Out of all the principles, persuasion is the part of the UX design framework that has the its roots more in psychology and social science than in design. As designers, it poses the biggest challenge as it is outside the comfort zones we usually operate in. The final part of this series is one we can all associate with – Usability. Perhaps the most easily understood part of the UX design framework.

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