Design for persuasion

Posted on 16/07/2021 by Team Hallam

As humans, we dislike making decisions. Making a rational choice consumes a lot of energy in our brains. Instead, we prefer to build shortcuts in our memory that will help us easily decide without reevaluating the same thing twice.

These shortcuts are called cognitive biases. If we understand these psychological triggers and user behaviours, we can utilise them to help our users in making decisions faster, make a product more engaging and create an enhanced user experience.

Of course, good usability is still essential, but it’s often not enough when we are aiming to design a website that is easy to understand, navigate, and interact with. Just because people can do something does not guarantee that they will – we need to motivate and persuade them to make decisions that lead to conversion.

We’ll go over the following examples of powerful persuasive design patterns:

  • Recognition over recall: to get more valuable data from users
  • Completion of a goal: to reward users by providing a feeling of closure
  • Aesthetic-usability effect: to support and enhance the functionality of the site
  • Social-proof: to help users make a decision easier
  • Appropriate challenges: to enhance the user experience over time

Recognition over Recall

“It’s easier to recognise things we have previously experienced than it is to recall them from memory.”

If we asked people to recall 3 things from memory, it would take them much longer and would consume a lot more brain energy to come up with an answer than if we asked them to select 3 things from a predefined list; that would be a much easier task.

A recognition task allows us to search in our memory for previously experienced cues. That’s why we would normally select a familiar option over an unfamiliar one – even if the less familiar might be the best option for us.

This can be seen in the following example:


Lemonade, an online home insurance company, suggests several predefined categories of high-value items.

This makes it much easier for users to remember which of the items they own that may potentially be worth a lot of money. Without those visual clues, the recollection process might be tricky, causing some users to drop out of the flow and thus decreasing conversion.

Completion of a goal

“We are more likely to take action when complex activities are broken down into smaller tasks.”

The need for closure and completion can drive our users toward action. Leveraging on this need, we can engage and motivate our users to complete a series of tasks, and build their anticipation for a reward after each task completion. During this process, we can set expectations, communicate the overall progress and explain what comes next.

Several digital products have managed to break down complex flows into seamless and quick experiences.

For example:


Take Habito, an online mortgage provider that has managed to split each step of the signup into one dedicated screen, making the complicated process of getting a mortgage online much easier.

Aesthetic-usability effect

“Aesthetically pleasing designs are often perceived as being easier to use.”

An aesthetically pleasing design creates a positive response in people’s brains and leads them to believe the design actually works better. People are more tolerant of minor usability issues when the design of a product or service is aesthetically pleasing.

For example:


Think of Apple products: iPhone, iTunes, or iMovie, they all have their usability flaws. However, we are considerably more tolerant towards them, much more than we would be towards any other less well-designed piece of equipment.

Social proof

“We tend to follow the patterns of similar others in new or unfamiliar situations.”

When we aren’t sure what to do, we look to the behaviour of others to guide our actions – starting first from our peers. If we see a lot of other people doing something, we tend to view it as the correct behaviour.

Examples of social proof can be found in almost every step of a user’s journey, but even more as you get closer to the bottom of a purchase funnel. You will often see a “Most popular” label associated with the more expensive option, and sometimes a few customers testimonials to convince you to finally buy the product or service.


Amazon is the perfect example of this. For instance, when you land on a product page, it’s quite common to find a few social proof elements.

Appropriate challenges

“We delight in challenges, especially ones that strike a balance between overwhelming and boring.”

We need to strike a careful balance between the difficulty curve and the learning curve. If a task is too hard, our users will abandon the effort, but if it is too easy, they will get bored. Both situations will drive them away from our site.

Once our users complete more tasks, however, their skill level improves, making previously difficult tasks feel much easier to complete. Thus, providing appropriate challenges to them at the right time and as their skill level rises, will keep them interested and make them feel in control.


Duolingo, the language learning app, starts with a placement test to make sure you start lessons that are appropriate to your level, and you don’t drop from the first lesson because you are bored.

Final thoughts

Users rarely make decisions following a rational process. They more often make snap judgments based on what they already know and think at the time of decision-making. Thus, they tend to make emotional decisions.

Persuasive design is a powerful tool that involves influencing users towards making a decision that will be mutually beneficial to your company and them. Once we have established trust, presence and familiarity with users, the process can begin.

We can harness the power of persuasion to build effective user experiences that nudge our users towards the completion of their goal, assist them in developing new skills, and ultimately help them get the most from our sites.

If you would like to know more, I recommend reading the following:

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you want to know more.

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