Using Persuasion Tactics in Design

By understanding the emotions that influence a user’s behaviour and decision-making process, it is possible to design interactions that leverage those emotions.

Emotions shape all activity in adaptive ways.  In the absence of emotional markers, decision making is virtually impossible.” (Saver and Damasio 1991).

This theory of ‘persuasive design’ suggests that by utilising psychological principles of influence, decision making, socialisation, etc., at key decision points, it is possible to elicit key emotional triggers to provoke desired reactions.  Web designers are harnessing this power online particularly with regards to encouraging purchasing behaviours.

The key persuasion principles that are frequently used in this way include:

  • Reciprocation (the need to repay)
  • Commitment & consistency (the need to follow through)
  • Social proof (the need to follow others)
  • Liking (associate with something or someone you like)
  • Authority (believe those you trust)
  • Scarcity (the perceived value of rarity)

Nudging you to book it

One company renowned for its efforts in this area is the reservation agent Booking.com.  Over the years they have perfected the utilisation of various persuasion principles.  Below is a highlight of these elements Booking.com employ to encourage users to convert:

Booking.com with persuasion tactics highlighted
Booking.com with persuasion tactics highlighted

Booking.com increases the perceived value of a venue by showing its rating out of 10 given by other users and highlighting specific reviews.  This might seem innocent enough however, subconsciously they are utilising the social proof and liking techniques mentioned, encouraging your potential desire to ‘follow’ and ‘associate’.  If that wasn’t quite enough to get your finger twitching over ‘Book now’, Booking.com adds the element of perceived rarity value to its venues by highlighting that only a few rooms are left, but be quick, as 3 other people are looking at them right now.  Furthermore, some rooms are already ‘SOLD OUT’, a fact which screams at the user in red.  All these tactics are cleverly timed to increase your desire to book.

eBay is another giant utilising these persuasion techniques within their online bidding platform.  They appear to be running A/B tests of some of the highlighted features e.g. the blue ‘277 people are viewing this item per day’ to test its effect on bidding behaviours.  I know myself that seeing others looking at the same item as me has caused me to want to bid even more:

eBay with persuasive tactics highlighted
eBay with persuasive tactics highlighted

As if the mere thought of an auction did not create feelings of anxiety enough, eBay fills its pages with various persuasive triggers to get you bidding.  The main technique they utilise is through social proof which again, creates a rarity value of the item by highlighting how many people are ‘watching’ or ‘viewing’ the item that could potentially out bid you.

Of course, everyone is different, and these persuasion techniques aimed at the masses rather than on an individual basis, will not always work.  Not everyone obeys the laws of social proof and some of us may question authority.  Therefore, it is important to persuade individuals rather than a group.  With this in mind, it is crucial to develop a personalisation strategy.

The power of personalisation

By creating a profile of your users across devices you can ensure an accurate portrayal of their user journeys within your site, effectively paving the way for multi-channel persuasion.  Developing these “persuasion personas” allows you to suggest the most effective persuasion techniques for specific users based on previous responses/actions, increasing the chance of conversion for each customer individually.

Testing is key to this personalised persuasive strategy.  As highlighted, not all techniques work on everyone, and a strong testing strategy through A/B or MVT identifying which persuasion tactics are working and which ones are not is fundamental to successful implementation.

A persuasive conclusion

Persuasion tactics will undoubtedly always creep into areas of design, particularly that of ecommerce.  However, the main concern is that they are used in an honest way and not used to mislead or deceive people.  A good reputation takes a long time to build, but can be lost in an instant.

At the end of the day, take note from eBay, and develop strong testing strategies to ensure the right tactics are being utilised at the right time and make use of personalisation across all platforms.

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