Persuasive Design: Understanding Psychology of Human Behavior

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User behavior and expectations are perhaps the two most essential concerns in the world of design. It is often the eccentricity of human behavior that fascinates a designer more than anything. Following that, designers get more eager to answer questions like,” what motivates the user to choose a specific product over the other?”, “Why do they spend more time on a website?” or “why do they need more or fewer options to make a decision?” This is where the application of persuasive design comes in. 

To a designer, the process of predicting and analyzing user behavior is always central. In a rapidly advancing digital world where various user perceptions take shape every day, designers must be able to persuade their users to engage with the brand. Therefore, they use the popular techniques of persuasive design. 

This blog will help you better understand persuasive design and how it can help you as a designer to explore human behaviors and influence them. 

What is Persuasive Design?

What is Persuasive design

Persuasive design is the practice of taking behavioral insights from psychology and sociology, like motivations and cognitive biases, and translating them into frameworks and patterns to apply them in product design. Persuasive Design helps you understand – how mental processes influence, how humans behave and how they can be applied to good design.

Many designers use persuasive design to understand psychological triggers, user behavior, and what engages them the most. They later use those discoveries to make an easy-to-use site and improve user experience.

There are six persuasive principles commonly used by UX UI designers to enhance user experiences: framing, reciprocity, scarcity, social proof, authority, and salience. Let’s have a more detailed look at each of these persuasive design principles.

1. Framing

Users often tend to compare various products before making a purchase decision or signing up for a service. This is because they want to make a decision that brings them the most value. The persuasive principle of framing, also thought of as the Goldilocks principle, appealingly compares different options. For example, you might have seen various websites display two payment options side by side to help customers choose the best fit for their situation.

2. Reciprocity

Reciprocity is the principle of returning the favor. Often, people feel obligated to repay favors. They don’t feel like taking advantage of someone’s generosity. Understand it this way, when a person gives something to you, they expect you to reciprocate, even if only by saying “thank you.” 

3. Scarcity

The scarcity principle states that the less of something there is, the more valuable it becomes. People tend to make decisions more quickly if they know something is not going to last much longer or that quantity is limited. For example, travel booking sites often show a sign for little time to purchase a holiday package. You must have also seen the fast-filling indication on Book My Show while booking movie tickets, creating an urgency for the customer to make a decision.

4. Social Proof

People often tend to do what they see others do. Or, they wait until they witness others doing something to try it themselves. Social proof is one of the persuasive principles that relieves anxiety, reassuring users that they aren’t the only ones taking action. This can include displaying customer feedback and reviews on your website. 

5. Authority

The persuasive design principle of authority shows that people look up to experts and trusted sources for the information they can utilize when making a decision. If your users see a recommendation from an expert or an authority with knowledge of a product, field, and trends in the field, they are more likely to take action. It may seem like extra work to educate your customers, but you need to reveal your expertise to gain credibility. 

6. Salience

The salience principle indicates that people only pay attention to what is most important to them at that moment. The Google search page, for example, is an excellent representation of this persuasive design principle.

Believe it or not, persuasive principles play a significant role in the majority of decisions people make, whether they realize it or not. People often ask themselves three questions before making decisions, “How much time and effort will it take?”, “How much will it cost?” and “How will it benefit me?”. Considering these questions, designers have more insight into how to create a UX persuasive design. Get a website or product based on persuasive principles

Dark Pattern vs. Persuasive Design Techniques

Dark Pattern vs Persuasive design

Not all designs which attempt to convert a user into a subscriber, or influence them to book or purchase something, ultimately making money for the business, are wrong. As long as you conduct persuasion openly without an intent to deceive, it can help improve the user experience. The reason is that tasks and decisions which were expected to require extra effort are simplified; they engage and motivate the user to take action.

In the digital world, the designs intentionally created to trick users into doing something they don’t want to do are called dark patterns. Unlike persuasive techniques, dark patterns are ingenious yet ethically questionable patterns that deviate from expectations and intentionally trick users into doing something that benefits the business but not necessarily them. Dark patterns effectively hide in plain sight based on the same psychological principles as persuasive design. However, they may not come back to haunt users later in the experience. 

But, is there another, more ethical way to achieve the same kinds of results? How can you, as a designer, persuade people to do stuff without trickery? It turns out that you can use the same principles of psychology employed by dark patterns to persuade users instead and invoke positive behavior changes. Persuasive design techniques, when used responsibly, can add value to a user’s experience and increase user engagement.

Now, let’s get you acquainted with the most effective persuasive design techniques.

Effective Persuasion Design Techniques

Persuasive design Techniques

Media technology, such as television advertisements, has always played an essential role in influencing human intentions and behaviors. However, since technology has become highly interactive, its potential to influence human behavior has also increased immensely.

Today, technology holds the capability to adapt to the user’s input, needs, and context. As psychological and social theories are often very broad, the field of persuasive design is developing its frameworks to support designers in creating suitable design decisions. One such framework is Fogg’s Behavior Model.

Fogg’s Behavior Model

According to B. J. Fogg, the Stanford Behavior Design Lab director, three variables (motivation, ability, trigger) must converge for behavior to occur (B = M + A + T). When it doesn’t happen, one of the three elements is missing. 

The Fogg’s Behavior Model helps designers to identify what is stopping a user from performing actions and offers a collection of subfactors to diagnose the issue, namely, core motivators, simplicity factors, and triggers.

It demands you to motivate users to accomplish a task, give them the ability to perform that task effortlessly, and then trigger that user to act. The situations won’t always be the right balance of each element; one will often outweigh the other, and that’s perfectly fine. 

For example, on Twitter, the motivation to tweet might be low, but the ability to do so is high.

Let’s have a look at each of these sub-factors in more detail.

1. Motivation

According to Fogg, there are three types of motivational drives, and each of these has two sides. When the motivation is high, users go through more complex tasks to achieve their goals. Whereas when the motivation is low, they are more likely to perform just the easy tasks.

  • Sensation: the physical level of motivation (pleasure/pain)
  • Anticipation: the emotional level of motivation (hope/fear)
  • Social cohesion: the social level of motivation (social acceptance/rejection)

2. Ability 

Ability relates to how easy it is to accomplish a target behavior. Understand it this way, for you to behave in a specific manner, you must be willing and have the ability to do so. Although this is common sense, designers tend to assume that users have more ability than in reality.

Following are the six elements that hinder ability:

  • Time: the time consumed to complete the behavior
  • Money: is cost acting as a barrier to performing a behavior?
  • Effort: the physical effort put in to perform a behavior
  • Cycles: the amount of mental exertion to complete an activity
  • Deviance: the social acceptance to complete the behavior
  • Routine: how routine the given behavior is?

3. Triggers

A behavior is not meant to happen without a prompt. The best examples of external prompts or triggers can be your growling stomach or routine, like opening the fridge when you pass by. Here are three types of prompts:

  • Facilitator (high motivation / low ability): facilitator triggers make the behavior easier.
  • Spark (low motivation / high ability): Spark motivates behavior and should be designed with a motivational element.
  • Signal (high motivation / high ability): acts as an indicator or reminder to perform a behavior.

You must craft equally functional and engaging interfaces to give your users a greater sense of control, leading to a satisfying user experience. It is like a human to possess a need for control.

Therefore, you need to offer positive experiences to your users in the digital environments developed for them. In other words, deliver tools that make users feel that they have better control of their journey. 

Persuasive Design Elements

Persuasive design elements

Now that you have an understanding of what persuasive design is, you must know how to put it into action. Here are 4 persuasive design patterns or elements that you can use to create experiences that connect users’ pain points to the company’s solution.  

1. Personalization

Personalized information is considered more effective when it comes to shaping attitudes and beliefs than generic data. Therefore, you must always try to provide tailored experiences to fit the needs of the individual. This is a fundamental yet highly effective element of persuasive design. Allowing you to simplify matters for users, and show them what is most relevant to their needs, interests, or personality.

2. Motivation

Show your users how well they’re performing in specific behavior and allow them to keep track of habits they want to change. Doing so will motivate them to continue performing that particular behavior. This way, they can learn more about themselves and further motivate themselves to carry on. You can also throw in some positive reinforcement from time to time, letting them know that they are performing well and keeping them engaged and driven.

3. Triggers

Adding slight triggers can nudge your users to act. Triggers cause users to perform an action in the context they’re in. These can be emails, notifications, SMS alerts, links, etc. Offline triggers like alarms or reminder sheets count too.

4. Conditioning

Another powerful, persuasive design element is conditioning. It reinforces the targeted behaviors. This calls for learning when to use incentives and how to prevent fatigue. Also, it involves making consistent design decisions and templates that prompt good habits.

For example, when you get people to fill in a user profile. Those who complete the profile get access to more resources on the website, while those who don’t have limited access.


Persuasive design is of no value without the psychological and sociological insights you gain through user research. Through persuasive design, you get to understand the needs of your users and what motivates them the most. At the same time, knowing your audience also helps you design functional persuasive websites and highly engaging user experiences that trigger user behavior. 

Whether you want to improve the UX design of an existing website or develop a new application, persuasive design can help you drive more engagements, increase the average time spent on the platform, and perhaps even increase your sales significantly. 

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