Understand user behavior

The Persuasive Patterns card deck is a collection of 60 insights from psychology that will help drive users toward action.

Design psychology is a powerful tool for creating effective user experiences, but it must be used responsibly. Designers must understand the complexities of human behavior and create experiences that work both for its users and their businesses.

As you take on the persuasive design toolbox, you must do so responsibly. User behavior is complex and interconnected, and cannot be reduced to a simple cause-and-effect model. Designers must view users as real people with their own motivations, goals, and desires. User journeys are not always straightforward, and users may take many paths to achieve their goals. A deterministic and simplistic view of the user can lead to ineffective design solutions. Designers must strive to create experiences that work for users on their own terms, rather than pushing them around like pinballs.

To successfully apply persuasive design principles where you both keep your ethics intact throughout the journey and create stellar results, follow these best practices.

Avoid Misuse

When considering the desired behavioral outcomes for your product, it is crucial to ensure that they benefit both the customer and the business. Short-term thinking may lead to a temporary boost in conversion rates, but it can ultimately damage your brand’s reputation and trustworthiness.

To avoid misuse, it’s important to adopt a win-win mindset when defining your behavioral outcomes. This means ensuring that your solution not only meets the business’s needs but also solves the customer’s problem without causing any harm.

Avoid the pitfalls of short-term thinking and create interventions that provide long-term benefits for your brand and your customers. Remember that it takes a lot of time and effort to build customer trust, but it can be lost quickly if we don’t respect our users and their needs.

Short term thinking leads to long term pain for your brand

Desired feeling first

We often do not realize that our behavioral interventions can have profound emotional impact on users. Starting your design process by asking: “How do we want our users to feel when they use our product?” can help you move away from unintended misuse and start your behavioral design from an empathetic and emotional lens.

Ask: "How do you want your users to feel when they use your product?"

Starting by identifying how you want users to feel can guide their design decisions and help ensure that the resulting outcomes are positive for everyone involved: both the user and the business. By focusing on the emotional experience of the user, designers can build trust and empathy, which are essential components of successful design.

Combine Patterns for compound effects

Persuasive Patterns are interconnected and interrelated, and their combination can lead to compounding and innovative effects. The sum is often larger than its parts. Examples are:

As you become more familiar with each pattern, you will discover their relationships and incorporate them into your design process. By recognizing these relationships, you can design your product in a more empathic, smarter, and effective way.

However, consider how the patterns work together and avoid overusing or over-complicating them. As you combine patterns, ensure that they work in harmony and complement each other rather than canceling each other out or creating confusion.

Avoid Frankensteins

Avoid the temptation to apply all Persuasive Patterns simultaneously to solve a problem. When designing products, it can be tempting to include as many persuasive patterns as possible to achieve a desired behavioral outcome. This desire often leads to over-complication, bloated experiences, cognitive overload, confusion and rarely ends well.

Through the lens of the law of diminishing returns: after a certain point, adding more persuasive ingredients to a design will result in increasingly smaller improvements in output - and ultimately backfire negatively.

Through the lens of the law of diminishing returns: after a certain point, adding more persuasive ingredients to a design will result in increasingly smaller improvements in output - and ultimately backfire negatively.

Adding many patterns or interventions to a product or service will not necessarily lead to greater effectiveness or outcomes. In fact, the opposite may be true – the more patterns that are added, the more likely they are to compete with each other, create confusion, or reduce the overall impact of the design. After a certain point, applying more persuasive patterns to a design will result in increasingly smaller improvements in output and ultimately backfire negatively.

Instead, focus on a concise combination of patterns that work well together. This way, you can more accurately track what works and what doesn’t, and create more effective behavioral solutions.

Keeping it simple also allows you to accurately track the effectiveness of your interventions. If you have too many moving parts, it can be difficult to isolate which persuasive patterns are contributing to the desired behavior. By focusing on a few key interventions, you can better understand what is working and what is not.

Additionally, simplicity can help you create a more elegant and aesthetically pleasing product. A simple design can be more visually appealing than one that is cluttered and confusing.

Diagnose before prescribing

Act like a Doctor! Spend time to understand underlying behaviors to guide your future solutions. Don’t just use Persuasive Patterns to brainstorm ideas from scratch. A much more effective way to find the perfect complimentary persuasive ingredient to a design is to diagnose what hinders your users from achieving their goals.

Figure out what is stopping people from achieving what you want them to:

  • A lack of social proof may be causing a lack of trust and credibility in the product or service.
  • A lack of reciprocal events may be causing a lack of engagement or loyalty from users.
  • Little anchoring may be causing confusion or uncertainty about the value of the product or service.
  • No clear value attribution may be causing users to question the benefits of the product or service.
  • Little storytelling may be causing a lack of emotional connection or engagement with the product or service.
  • Are people suffering from Inaction Inertia from not having previously taken action?

Knowing the root cause of the issue is the first step in creating effective behavioral solutions. By taking the time to diagnose your audience, you can increase the effectiveness of your persuasive communication by tailoring your message to their unique needs and desires.

Test Early and Often

While academic research provides a valuable starting point, it’s important to keep in mind that the context in which a particular intervention is implemented can have a significant impact on its effectiveness. Most studies are conducted under highly controlled conditions, which may not accurately reflect the real-world context in which the intervention will be implemented. The real world is full of unpredictable variables that can influence the effectiveness of a behavioral solution.

To account for these contextual factors, it’s critical that you test your persuasive ideas as early as possible. This allows for feedback and iteration, which can help refine the intervention and increase its effectiveness.

We developed the Validation Patterns for this purpose: A collection of product experiments that can help you test your hypothesis without writing a single line of code.

Do you want to learn more about persuasive design?

The Persuasive Patterns card deck is a collection of 60 insights from psychology that will help drive users toward action.

Anders Toxboe Author

Based out of Copenhagen, Denmark, Anders Toxboe is a Product Discovery coach and trainer, helping both small and big clients get their product right. He also founded UI-Patterns.com and a series of other projects. Follow Anders at @uipatternscom.