Persuasive Technology (Unedited Notes)

Persuasive design is about changing people’s behaviors by changing their viewpoint. Recycling is confusing, so we changed the barrels to have differently shaped holes to encourage people to put the right object into the right bin. Persuasive technology is creating a product that encourages you to complete an action. Talk by Matt Donna.A Fitbit encourages you to walk more. A Tocky alarm that rolls off your night stand in the morning encourages you to get up. Mint helps you pay down your debt, and create better money spending habits. This is all persuasive technology.

Macrosuasion vs. Microsuasion

Macrosuasion is a value proposition, Microsuasion is a conversion. This talk is going to focus on microsuasion. One form of microsuasion is how when you create an account on a website, it offers you an email newsletter opt-in. One option is that there is a blank checkbox with some text about receiving our emails. Option 2, the box is checked. Option 3 is that you can’t uncheck the box, but you can opt out later. Option 4, they don’t tell you anything, they just start sending you emails. We’re moving from the honest to the deceptive.

What’s the effect of the options?

Option 1 at DeviantArt had a 1.6% opt-in rate. The box was unchecked, the copy was pretty standard. Option 2 had the box pre-checked and the opt-in went up to 48.3%. Pretty impressive change for one line of code.

Completion Meter

LinkedIn uses a profile completion meter. Users want closure, and this is a way to get them to finish the job. You give them the process broken out into digestible steps and they’re more likely to complete the action you want. Beyond this, LinkedIn also let’s you complete additional actions to get more profile views through their Continuing Education. It’s a progressive enhancement to the user.

Good Defaults and Reduction

By starting with option 2, they created a better default that got people to sign up. By Reducing the amount of clutter will also help encourage the user to finish a process. Google is a great example of removing distractions. Amazon’s checkout process doesn’t really let you leave. If you click the logo from the checkout page, it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s hard not to complete the checkout process.

Social Proof and Testimonials

Showing users your “most popular plan” in a price table makes people feel better about making a decision. Similarly, testimonials act as proof that people are finding a product useful, etc. It reaffirms the user’s decision to buy in.

Opportune Moments, Timing, and Time Limits

After you leave a shopping cart, you might get a notification to say “Hey, don’t forget that you’ve got items in your shopping cart..” You might also get an email notification about this a day or two later. These actually work pretty well to increase conversion.

Feedback Loop

You know when you post something on Facebook and you’re sitting there waiting to see who will “like” it and how many people will comment, etc.? This is about getting that feedback loop to know that you’ve done the right thing. It’s like finding out that using some hashtag on twitter gets you more followers. You try something, you get the instant feedback, you try something else. The feedback loop is instant.


You can scare people into completing an action with time limits. Daily deals and Ticketmaster are the best at scaring you into acting now. Same with showing you how many items are left available. People don’t want to miss out.

Visual Design

You can establish credibility through design. Mint always comes off as a highly credible website because the design is very polished. Craigslist, on the other hand, not so much.

Wordsmithing is now really a fundamental part of the design process. Using appropriate wording on calls-to-action can make or break. If you use “your” vs. “my” you might have very different conversion rates.

Recognition and Rewards

Being an Amazon Prime member or a Hulu Plus member makes you sort of an exclusive member of this group. You can also incentivize behavior through using things like badges. You make the user want to continue trying to attain those goals. This gamification technique drives users and changes their interactions.

The Dark Side of Micropersuasion

We might make presumptuous claims or get a little greedy. When we set defaults to trick people or confuse people, or we presume that the user wants something that they may not. For instance, iStockPhoto defaults you somewhere in the middle of the price choices, but you may only need the smallest one and you have to actually change the default in order to not spend more money.

Spotify also makes it difficult to not share what you’re listening to with your Facebook page. Once you do get that turned off, it will actually turn back on after a certain amount of time automatically.

Facebook employs a guilt technique for deleting your account. They make you jump through hoops and check off a lot of boxes, but also show you pictures of your closest friends and tells you how much they’ll miss you. Sneaky.

LinkedIn has an opt in to use your contacts to add to your connections, but really, who wants to add everyone in their contacts list to their network. Also, on the following screen, if your contacts aren’t already on LinkedIn, you can also spam invite them all to join. Not great.

“Privacy Zuckering” is using a cognitive overload to encourage people to be more open on Facebook. They overwhelm you with privacy options so that you don’t want to bother actually performing the act of making your profile more private. It’s in Facebook’s best interest that you keep your profile wide open, so why would they want you to actually make it private?

White Hat vs. Black Hat

White Hat we think about nudging people while Black Hat is more about tricking users to make a decision that they may not have made otherwise or that they would be tricked into completing an unintended action.

Applying Persuasive Design in 10 Steps

1. Know your users

Beofre you build the product, you need to know about your users. You can’t persuade them or nudge them if you don’t know anything about what they like or dislike.

2. Know your product

It has to be first Functional, then Usable, then finally you can make it Persuasive.

3. Determine the behavior you want to drive

You have the user, the business needs, the product, what’s the behavior that you want them to complete? Do you want them to sign up? Do you want them to complete a profile?

4. Put the user in control

When the user feels a sense of ownership, they’ll go through greater lengths to work with it.

5. Make desired outcome align with the user’s interest

On Spotify, my goal as a user is to listen to music. Spotify’s goals are slightly different.

6. Market that behavior that you want to incentivize through educaiton, stories, social normals, gains, surprises, etc.

Using personal stories and storytelling is much more effective than showing data and numbers. User stories go much further. If the gains are large, break them down into chunks (think badges). People also love to be surprised and delighted.

7. Identify potential losses or negative results to discourage behavior

Paypal will tell you about the negative results of using a credit card (there’s a fee), so you will be encouraged to use your checking account (which incurs no fee). Give bad news all in one punch.

8. Build the path to the desired outcome and help users through it

Show what the potential outcomes are, and let users feel a sense of accomplishment. Once the user is in the funnel, you have to continue to provide ongoing feedback to continue encouraging.

9. Keep it simple

Users can get overwhelmed easily, they have a lot of information overload, they face decision fatigue. Keep it simple. Don’t stress them out.

10. Experiment, Measure, Learn, & Iterate

It’s best to do a lot of testing and experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. Always keep the user in mind throughout this process.

Persuasive tech illustrated

General Impressions

Overall, this was a good talk. It was nice to see so many great examples of both White Hat and Black Hat techniques from companies whose website people interact with every day.

Matt has a great way of explaining concepts and while the information wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard of before, it was nice to see such a thorough exploration of those ideas in one brief talk.

1 Comment

  1. Really glad you liked the talk! 🙂