I recently attended a persuasive design training course given by given by Paul Boag. Paul is a user experience consultant and expert in digital transformation.

These are my notes from the day:

Applying psychology to digital channels

  • You can’t really persuade people to do something they don’t want to do – but if they do want to do something, try to encourage them to do it with your brand.
  • Making tasks easier is persuasive design.

Channel dropping – persuade customers to purchase with an easy experience

  • 90% of online customers device switch when completing a task.
  • Creating a fluid and easy experience between devices and channels is very important. All these little bits build up during the experience and become immensely frustrating.
  • You don’t need to use clever persuasive tricks if the experience is easy and joyful to use.

Microsoft case study – identifying customer needs can reduce feature bloat.

Microsoft Office released a knowledgebase for their customers after they received a lot of complaints about how hard it was to use a new product they had released. Microsoft filled the knowledgebase with every problem and response they could think of. They ended up receiving more complaints because customers couldn’t find what they were looking for, as the knowledgebase was too large.

More content you add = more complexity = harder to find what you are looking for

John Maeda, author of Laws of Simplicity, recommends using the Remove, Shrink, Hide formula to help solve such problems.

  • Can we remove it? No
  • Can we hide it? No
  • Then, make it small and shrink it (eg. Hide it in the footer)

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Paul Boag recommends using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to help identify persuasive techniques. Maslow identified 5 key motivational needs: physiological, safety, social esteem and self-actualization.

7 tools of persuasion

(Reciprocation, Commitment, Social proof, Authority, Scarcity, Framing, Salience)


  • Giving a present as an incentive is not reciprocation. That is a reward.
  • If a customer opens an account for example, then is told they will receive a present – this is reciprocation. There is also a strong chance the customer will share this information with their peers.
  • A good example of this is Mail Chimp who provided their customers with a free hat when they created an account with them. Customers then started talking photos of themselves in the hats and posting them online. Mail Chimp didn’t try to get their customers to do this – it just happened naturally.


  • Committing to support your customers
  • Case Study – First direct committed to their customers that they would answer the phone in 3 rings. This commitment led to an increase in customers. However, after time the company couldn’t maintain their 3 rings policy and call wait times started increases leading to a drop off in customer base.

Social proof

  • Video testimonials have proven to work better than text. Basecamp have successfully used video testimonials on their website. They have customers talking about the projects they have worked on and then explaining how Basecamp was used successfully during the project.
  • Green Peace website uses social proof well. They have alerts on their homepage when a customer gives a donation or signs up to a petition eg. “Bill has just given a donation to…”
  • 90% of people trust their peers more than they trust a brand


  • Nothing has an absolute value
  • Case study – McDonalds were having a dip in Sales of their Quarter Pounder burger so they introduced a more expensive Half Pounder burger – they knew this new burger wouldn’t sell a lot but it increased the sales of the Quarter Pounder.

Making people act now is another important persuasive tool

  • When there are too many options to choose from people will experience choice paralysis
  • Case Study – Apple reduced their product offering to 4 key products

Building Trust

  • Video testimonials – make it rough and ready – feels more authentic
  • Storytelling – talk through experiences, talk about people within the company.
  • It’s easy to hate a brand – not so easy to hate “Gary” who works for the company. Putting faces to brand helps build empathy towards the brand.
  • Case study – Microsoft were getting a lot of bad press after they released IE6. Customers began hating the developers. The developers got frustrated and decided to start their own video blog to show customers who they were and what they were doing – this did more to help the brand than any pre-release would have done.
  • If a company had a small beginning – tell the customers this – it helps to build empathy.

Ensuring your brand succeeds in the digital economy

  • Show the personality of the brand – Be human
  • Resist anything that doesn’t sound human. If you read out some content and it sounds silly and not what you would say then why do we stick this all over our website.
  • Case study – Waterstones have 2 twitter accounts – Head Office and Oxford St – HO account is more corporate and the OS account is more human (rude, takes the piss etc) – guess which is the more popular account? Yes… the Oxford Street account.
  • Admit you mistakes
  • Be available – show your phone number
  • If you don’t want to put a phone number on every piece of comms – just tell the customer that the phone number is on the website. People want to be able to solve their own problems, let them know who to make changes etc first and if they are unable point them towards a phone number.
  • Be direct – don’t avoid tough questions.
  • Case Study – McDonalds in Canada created an assumptions page. They tackled all the assumptions customers made about their products head on. Eg. There is no chicken in MCDS chicken nuggets – they produced videos showing how the nuggets were made.
  • Be reassuring – remove the risk from a purchase.
  • Case Study – Wiltshire Farm Foods – On their website they promoted Free Delivery for all products. However, when customers entered their post code some were annoyed to find that their post code wasn’t eligible for the free delivery offer. So, they stopped promoting the free delivery and instead displayed the highest price for delivery against each product. Then, when a customer entered their post code they would show the free delivery offer if they were eligible.
  • Engage in discussion – invite customers to share their experiences via social.
  • Professionalism – design, copy and photography all play a part in making the brand look professional.

How to be an expert for the connected consumer

We need to change the way we work within big organisations, as UX professionals we need to show that we are the experts. Here a few ways to achieve this:

  • Think problems, not solutions
  • Have a methodology
  • Create a service manual
  • Get better at communicating what we are doing
  • Educate the organisation
  • Become better at justifying decisions

Using content to help persuade

  • Create compelling copy to grab user’s attention
  • Focus on the benefits and not the features.
  • Address users in the 2nd person – ‘us’ and ‘you’
  • Never over promise
  • Front loading – provide a summary at the top of the page. GDS website does this well. Bank Holidays and VAT rate pages
  • Headlines – users like lists (10 ways to…, 5 types of….). They know they can just skim read the content.
  • Audience reference – target specific user groups – design for somebody, alienate nobody.
  • Write better copy
  • Avoid Jargon – the average reading age is 11 yrs old.
  • Good tool for reviewing copy – Hemingway editor
  • Write with personality
  • Keep it short, aid scanability, keep it simple
  • 4 step formula – What I’ve got for you (Front Loading), What it’s going to do for you, Who am I (Why should I value your opinion), What do you want me to do next?

Designing Calls to Action

  • Focus on the core offering
  • Social icons – distract from the primary CTA of the page
  • Need to motivate people to make a decision now.
  • Get the position right – provide ample space around the CTA
  • CTA should be contrasting colour
  • Have a CTA on every page – No page on a website should be a dead end.

Final Thoughts

  • Tricking people is a false economy
  • Persuade people to take action now
  • Persuasive design = visual design, Copywriting and CTAs
  • Focus on building trust
  • Get to know your users

For more information on the course visit: https://econsultancy.com/training/courses/persuasive-design/