UX and psychological persuasion in design (Part 2)

by Jack Josephy on 21 October 2015

In Part 1 of this series, I aimed to define exactly how UX and psychological persuasion in design relate to each other. One of the outcomes of that was that while UX is focused on making a task easier, psychological persuasion focuses instead on influencing a user's motivation. With that in mind, it's time to look at some of the ways that your motivation might be affected by design.

A big underlying theme is that while we like to think that our brains are intelligent and work in complex ways, many of our methods of thinking have more primitive roots; functions we've evolved to deal with hunting, being wary of predators, and keeping track of our natural environment all play a role in how we process information. That's a powerful thing to take advantage of in visual design.

I'll be using the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) framework I discussed previously to go through some of the ways that designers try to get users' Attention and Interest.

UX design looks at how users interact with a service, while psychological persuasion looks more closely at the 'why'.


The first stage in getting users to move along the ideal AIDA journey involves getting their attention. There are a few tricks that designers can use to accomplish this:


We evolved to recognise contrasting objects in our environment, especially due to colour. It helps us to spot what's out of the ordinary, whether that's a brightly coloured strawberry, or a yellow and black wasp. Designers can take advantage of that, using colour, shape, size, and white space to draw our eyes to important content and calls to action.


Fig. 1 - A bright orange call-to-action button stands out from the rest of the design.

Directional cues

Our brains naturally seek out paths and directional cues. In design terms this can manifests in a variety of ways, from following human eyes and arrows, to page skip icons pointing below the fold.

Directional Cues 1.png Directional Cues 2.png

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  Fig. 3-5 - Examples of directional cues being used to direct viewer attention.


Our eyes are naturally good at picking up on movement: the moment anything moves in a still landscape, we can focus on it straight away. This has its advantages for those looking to catch something to eat (or who may be trying to avoid being eaten), but it also provides designers with a beneficial tool for getting attention: animation.


Fig. 6 - Animation provides a way of presenting simple information and grabbing user attention.

Animation naturally draws the user's sight, but it's important not to get too excessive, or to design poor animation. As this article puts it succinctly, your UI isn't a Disney movie. Google's material design principles provide a good starting point to consider how animation can behave realistically, without annoying users.

Visual Imagery

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Vision is the main sense your users work with when visiting websites or using apps, and as such powerful imagery can make a big impact. With one image you can tell a story, or portray a lifestyle. The latter is particularly powerful if the images contain people. We have evolved to be social animals, and seeing other people attracts our attention.

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Fig. 7 - Strong visuals can make an immediate impact and portray brand image quickly


Once a designer has a user's attention, the next stage to consider is increasing user interest. Of course, good content that resonates a clear benefit will appeal to the rational side of the user's brain, but designers can also implement some of the following methods.


Little pleasures often delight us, whether that's finding some money on the street, or having a little fun in what could be an otherwise mundane process. Adding little bits of charm to a site or app can get users more interested in your services.

This principle is taken to the extreme by Ling's Cars. On paper, it's a site that's very difficult to navigate, but its quirkiness brings with it a lot of charm, peaking user interest.

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Fig. 8 - Ling's Cars' website is confusing to navigate, but also addictive and fun to look through

Anchors and framing

Our brains are always looking for context; we want some background information to help us in making decisions. This desire to get the 'Goldilocks' option is frequently exploited by companies in advertising and pricing e.g. medium-sized products often give the business the best margin, and the small and large options are often there to give false context.

It's a sales tactic that designers can take advantage of as well. Many companies juxtapose service packages to speed-up decision making. This method is also sometimes used in how we frame headlines and important copy around key facts that provide context.

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Fig. 9 - Citing headline facts is one way of suggesting context (i.e. the user can be one of many to find a flatmate quickly)

 Context 2.png

Fig. 10 - Juxtaposing all the options is one way of helping to provide context so users can make decisions more quickly

Social proof

We're inherently social animals, and as such we generally try to fit in with the crowd. If most people in a group are doing one action, we feel more reassured if we go along with it, rather than take action against the 'herd'. It's the reason why most businesses list testimonials, case studies, and ratings on their site.

Social Proof 1.pngSocial Proof 2.png

Fig. 11-12 - Social proof like testimonials and reviews help gain people's interest

Concluding remarks

These are just some of the tricks designers can use to exploit heuristics, the mental short cuts our brains employ to process information and make decisions. Check out our blog later this week for Part 3, where I'll look at what methods designers use to push users through the last stages of the AIDA model: increasing user Desire until they're ready to take Action.


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