Persuading & Nudging

Design needs to capture the attention and set a tone but increasingly a designer’s thinking is used by organisations in a non-graphic way. Most of us in marketing try and change consumer behaviour. Changing may, of course, involve doing more of the same thing, Advertising may at time be guilty of the sledgehammer approach and design of the too-subtle-for-it’s-own-good approach.

Persuasive design – mainly on websites – and nudge theory are two ways of trying to change behaviour. Persuasive web design aims to change user behaviour and perception through social influence online. It is more subtle than ergonomic design – simplifying the user’s interaction. Ultimately, if done right, persuasive design can result in a user interface or website which is more enjoyable and user friendly.

Most of us will observe the behaviour of other people to judge what is considered normal or socially acceptable, and then mimic such behaviour. When applying this to persuasive design, it is known as “social proof”. When shopping online and looking at a product page, you may see a feature on the page with the title “People who bought this product also bought…” – this is social proofing. Facebook and Twitter use social proof by giving users the option to “like” or “favourite” content shared.

Another persuasive design technique is “Framing”. Imagine a digital service for sale where there are three alternative options to choose from which to choose. Two of these options are merely distractions. The first option is exaggerated and fully featured, while the final option is stripped back so much that it is barely useable. The option you want the user to choose is the middle option, it has more features than the minimal choice but less than the first – it feels “just right”, so such framing is often referred to as the Goldilocks effect.

As noted by UX guru Jakob Neilson and other researchers, the default settings on a user interface can greatly influence a user’s behaviour. You may want to pre-populate fields with default values that persuade the user or hint at what to enter on a form. The default setting is often viewed by users as the recommended option. Another example would be search engine listings. Most people will click the top listing as they see this as the recommended option, but it’s not necessarily the most relevant to the searched topic.

People will feel more comfortable using your website if they believe it comes from a credible and influential source. The “authority” principle is how to influence a user’s behaviour through trustworthiness. Layout, typography, colour schemes and visual appeal help, but it is not enough. To really make a user feel comfy more credible factors need to be added. For example, logos for accreditations and awards. When selling products on a website, the use of trusted security symbols and payment processors works best.

In his inspiring book, InfluenceDr Robert Cialdini says once we have made a choice or taken a stand, they will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave with that commitment. The pressures will cause people to respond in ways that justify earlier decisions. So we like to believe that our behaviour is consistent with our beliefs. In persuasion design, we can apply this by requesting a publicly visible small commitment from the user. Once they commit to following you on social media for example, they are more likely to continue to “like” posts on your newsfeed as they have already committed.

Users can be persuaded with rewards for particular tasks – like following us on social media or signing up to a newsletter. Rewards include premium content. Users can be asked to “like” a brand on Facebook first to get access to content. Sites like Hubspot offer premium marketing content and information which can be downloaded as PDF’s. To access such quality content, you must first sign up to their newsletter.

Users will only give consideration to content which is relevant to their current task and may react adversely if distracted by information which is wasteful. A person will uphold this “tunnel vision” until they have finished the task or reached a milestone. In persuasive design, these “seducible moments” (one for the meeting lingo bingo) – It is when a user is open to distractions outside of current tasks.

From a less commercial angle, nudge theory uses positive reinforcement and indirect suggestion to achieve it’s aims. Obama and Cameron have used nudge in forming policies. Examples of nudge include the image of a fly on urinals to improve the gent’s aim, reducing energy use in US homes by telling the bill payer how their usage compared to a neighbour’s and green footprints leading to bins reducing littering.

Many elements of persuasive design overlap with nudge, but design thinking is core to both. Now, Google “choice architect” and see how much persuasion you can spot in your daily browse.

This article first appeared in Marketing Magazine – Design Brief – July/August 2015