Persuasive Design: using advanced psychology effectively – UX Collective

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

Websites have come a long way in a short space of time — it’s really quite amazing just how much some of the sites belonging to the last decade’s most established brands have changed from their first iteration.

Persuasive Design


When websites were first used for commercial purposes, they didn’t pay too much attention to user experience; the aim was to cram as much content into one page as possible. Now they are heavily researched, data-mined, and optimized in order to grab your attention and offer up the right content, functionalities, and options at the right time.

More and more companies are using advanced psychological research and in order to drive more engagement and purchases, have turned what used to be an art into a science.


Persuasive Design

In addition to many essential elements, good design will always take into account a user’s emotional and psychological needs. Let’s look at persuasive design and explore how the mental processes that influence how humans behave can be applied to design.

The word “persuasion” is often associated with manipulation, trickery, and — especially for a designer — the use of dark patterns. It’s earned itself a bit of a reputation. Nevertheless, let’s be clear that’s not what we are discussing here. Persuasive design can improve user experience by making a site easy to use — it understands psychological triggers, the behavior of users and engages them.

For example, Amazon persuades users to keep buying more by recommending alternative products and accessories and employing mimetic, persuasive patterns by displaying “customers who viewed this item also bought…” options. In order to close the sale quickly, they also offer shoppers the ability to purchase items with one click.

We are all spending a lot more time in an online world, and designers can use what they have learned from offline behaviors to craft better user experiences. Whether you want to tweak an existing website or build an app, persuasive design will guide and support the user’s online experience.

How can a designer use the latest research in psychology to enhance the impact of their designs?

Understanding the principles of psychology provides you with an ability to explain the underlying rationale of your work. It can:

  • Serve as a source of research and justification in a shortfall of user research.
  • Help validate your design and reasoning to a client.

Let’s discuss a few of the theories.

The Perception of Control

As humans, we have an innate need for control. This is traced back to our humblest of beginnings. In coining the hierarchy of needs, psychologist Abraham Maslow named our most basic ones: health, food, and sleep. All these require a level of control over our environment.

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