10 lesser known UX persuasion techniques

Hypnotised woman

Today it’s not enough that a website or app is easy to use and great to look at, it should be persuasive as well. It should subtly get users to do what you want them to do, without them even realising it (of course without resorting to any dark patterns or dark UX funny business).

There are lots of well know UX persuasion techniques out there, such as scarcity (basically telling people that they had better get in there quick before something goes), exclusivity (sorry, members only) and social proofing (i.e. utilising the herd mentality). Here are 10 lesser known UX persuasion techniques that can also be very, er… persuasive.

1. The more ‘real’ something is, the more we will pay

A number of studies have shown that people will pay more for exactly the same item, the more ‘real’ it is to them. For example, they will pay more for the same item if they can touch it, rather than just physically see it (e.g. behind some glass). They will also pay more if they can see a photo of the item, rather than just a textual description. This is hardly surprising and helps explain why a lot of shops have now become little more than convenient showrooms prior to an online purchase (come on admit it, we all do it!). This is why it’s important to bring products and services to life online. For example, by providing lots of photos, high resolution imagery, videos, 360 degree views and so on. It’s also important to acknowledge that people will most likely want to see something in the flesh, so let them easily find out where and how they can do this.

Food counter showing cooked meats

It turns out that we will pay more for things that we can see and touch

2. The harder instructions are to read, the more difficult we think they will be to follow

We all know the importance of having legible text on a screen, but did you know that hard to read text is not only a usability no-no, but also makes people perceive any instructions to be harder to follow? Provide the exact same instructions in a legible font, and one of those silly squiggly hard to read fonts, and people will not only find it easier reading the legible font, but they will expect the instructions to be easier to follow as well.

3. We are more likely to do something when it’s broken down into smaller steps

Running a marathon is a pretty daunting prospect. I’ve only ever run half a marathon, and that was hard enough, so I can only imagine how tough it must be to turn around and do it all again! A way to approach a marathon, or any other endurance event come to think of it is to break it down into smaller steps. It’s easier to think about running to the next mile marker, rather than the 18 miles still to go, and the same is true of big, daunting stuff in general. Break things down into smaller steps and people are much more likely to do them. Well-designed checkouts are an example of this (I particularly like the Lego checkout). Many home and car insurance forms are also a good example (such as comparethemarket and gocompare). By asking users to carry out lots of short simple steps, they are much more likely to go through and complete the process.

New York Marathon runners

Think like a marathon runner and break stuff down into smaller steps

4. The closer we get to a goal, the more motivated we are to complete it

Have you ever gotten most of the way through a book and then rather than taking the sensible option and going to sleep, foolishly stayed up to finish reading it? (Yep, I’m so rock and roll) Or gotten halfway through a crappy movie (I’m looking at you Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem) and watched the second half just because you’ve already made it this far. It’s hardly surprising that the closer we get to a goal, the more motivated we are to complete it. This is why it’s better to show the number of steps remaining, rather than the number completed and why it’s often a good idea to front load a process with the easiest steps. Once someone is a good way through a process they are more likely to persevere, so perhaps leave the more challenging stuff for the later stages.

5. The fewer the digits in a price, the smaller we perceive it to be

I’m sure that you know that £9.99 (or $9.99 or €9.99) somehow seems significantly smaller than £10.00, even though it’s just 1p less. This is of course why retailers price items in the way they do. But did you also know that we perceive a price with fewer digits to be smaller? Take for instance the following prices:

  1. £2,500.00
  2. £2500

They are exactly the same amount, but it’s been shown that people perceive the second (i.e. £2500) to be smaller, purely because it has fewer digits.

6. We are hugely influenced by how something is framed

Have you ever wondered why a lot of free museums show a suggested donation, rather than leaving it solely up to the discretion of the donor? It’s because the suggestion provides a frame of reference. Suggesting a donation of £10 makes a £1 donation seem well, a little bit on the stingy side. On the other hand suggesting a donation of £3 makes a £1 donation seem perhaps OK.

The way that something is framed can also have a big difference as to how palatable it is. For example, just £1.50 a day sounds a damn sight more palatable than £547.50 a year. Equally a credit card charge of just 2% sounds a lot more palatable than a credit card charge of £50.00 (a big boo to the travel industry for being just about the only retailers that charge for the privilege of using a credit card). Think about how something might be framed, and how to make propositions that bit more palatable.

Framed pictures on the wall and ceiling

How things are framed can have a huge impact on how we interpret them


7. We are all inherently lazy, and will take the path of least pain

I’ll admit it, I’m lazy. Not bone-idle lazy, but certainly economical with my effort. Don’t blame me – it’s in my genes. We are all inherently lazy and will generally try to take the path of least pain. It’s the way we’ve been programmed by evolution (at least that’s what I tell myself). This explains why when people are given some options, they will invariably go with the one that is likely to require the least effort. Watch the film or read the book? Easy – it’s the film every time.

This is why it’s not only important to accept that people will be lazy, but to embrace that laziness. For example, rather than getting users to set-up an account to carry out a transaction (like a purchase), get them to set it up following the transaction. If there is information that you will need, but not until a later date (such as the car registration number for airport parking), ask for it later on so that the initial task can be as painless as possible.

8. We value something more when it comes from someone of authority

Ever wondered why in a tooth paste advert the dentist waxing lyrical about the latest breakthrough dental product always wears a white coat? It’s because we’re a sucker for believing something when it comes from someone of perceived authority (even if it’s not real authority, like a celebrity!). This is why it’s a good idea to include expert advice, hints and tips or even testimonials. Think about who could provide an authoritative message, and how you might utilise that perceived authority.

Tooth paste advert

We’re a sucker for trusting people in white coats

9. We naturally gravitate towards the middle option

Imagine that you’ve got the unenviable job of choosing holiday insurance. Do you:

  1. Go for the cheapest insurance you can find
  2. Go for a middle of the road policy that covers more, but is a bit pricier
  3. Go for an uber policy that covers for every and any eventuality, but is pricier still

Most of us will choose the middle option. Why? Because it’s the safest one to go for. It’s at neither ends of the scale, and therefore appears to carry less risk. People tend to naturally gravitate towards a middle option, so it can often be a good idea to present the preferred choice (i.e. the option you want people to choose) as the middle one.

10. We are more likely to do something if we understand why

If you have kids, then you’ll probably know that it’s generally a lot more effective to tell children why they should do something, rather than just asking them to do something. Eat your spinach, because it will make you big and strong (apparently). Drink your milk because otherwise you’ll only be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley. Funnily enough this tactic doesn’t just work with kids. We are all more likely to do something if we understand why it’s important. For example, we are more likely to donate to something if we know how the donation will be used. We are more likely to choose an option if we know why it’s important.

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