Persuasive Design

Cultural and social expectations play a major role in the psychological experience of a design. Driving user acceptance through persuasion and behaviour change is one of the biggest challenges a designer can face and one of the greatest gambles a global company can face. In his UXBristol 2016 workshop, Alberto Fereira focussed on how to encourage behavioural change through subtle stimulation and mindful design, leveraging the users’ beliefs, expectations, and journey context.

“I want to understand people and design for people. That’s why I came to UX.”

Alberto argued that we want to influence users to go down a certain path, rather than telling them what to do. He opened by quoting Joseph Wong: “influence is the compass, persuasion is the map.” You have to be very convincing and appealing in your design to make users stick with your site. That is the art of persuasion.

Our motivations are, for the most part, unconscious. The human mind cannot process so many conflicting emotions at any given time, so we need to be able to focus on what is important. The brain is constantly receiving and classifying information. We need to create structures that maximise the attention span that the user has.

Alberto discussed various aspects of human psychology, including implicit affordances, where someone will replicate the behaviour of others. This is why you are twice as likely to to if a jar already has a tip in it. He also discussed decision-making biases, arguing that everybody lies, especially to themselves. We think of ourselves as better and more accurate than others. This is a survival strategy. People rationalise lies in order to continue perceiving themselves as good people – best exemplified by the Ashley Maddison site. Online retailers like Amazon also use this to help people justify purchases even when the purchase does not meet a real need.

Alberto went on to discuss the domains of persuasion design principles, including: cognition, gamification, perception and memory, and social. From an ethical perspective, he stressed that we have to be aware of how we use these techniques.

Humans are overconfident of our own knowledge, we suffer from confirmation bias (where we look for evidence to validate our own ideas), negative bias (where we pay more attention to negative content), and the Semmelweis Reflex (we prefer things to be as expected and do not shift paradigms easily). Alberto discussed how these principles are applied practically to the design process. He also discussed techniques that appeal to our natural aversion to loss, and our illusion that we are (as users) are in control by hiding things that are not relevant.

Alberto alluded to the appeal of Pokemon GO and how our need for completion is being leveraged within the design of the game. He also showed how the concepts of social proof, competition and scarcity are combined in a site like to encourage you to book/buy and create an urgency for you to do so. These techniques can prompt someone to make an impulse purchase.

Fundamentally, you want to enhance triggers, improve motivation, increase ability and effect behaviour change.



Workshop participants were asked to choose a scenario and identify the principles discussed that could be applied to that situation. They were encouraged to use habit-forming hooks and to be creative.

Scenarios included optimising a landing page, encouraging ongoing engagement, changing habits and attitudes, and improving an onboading process.


About Alberto Ferreira

Alberto Ferreira has worked extensively in globalization services and product development, with his key interests lying in user experience (UX) as well as content optimization technologies and processes. He specialises in aiding companies to redesign their digital presence and determine the user’s real needs with a global perspective. He has over seven years of experience in Agile methodologies and corporate change, and is a cross-disciplinarian by nature. Alberto is also the author of Universal UX, to be published by Morgan Kaufmann in 2016, and often speaks and writes on design, UX and content globalization.

Follow Alberto on Twitter: @SententiaWorld