Cooking with Persuasive Design: Four Ingredients

Last updated on 3 October 2017

As Petrula Vrontikis famously said “practice safe design, use a concept.” She’s right of course, and developing a concept is, in essence, asking a series of questions. For persuasive design, there are four crucial ones:

  1. Why persuade people? (Our goals)
  2. What should people do? (Desired user behavior)
  3. How can we see it? (Measurement)
  4. How will we persuade those people? (Triggers)

It’s Much More than Gamification

As with most design-related things, the most popular part is the most visible; in this case, it’s the triggers. People miss or dismiss what goes on under the surface. “I’d like to add gamification to our website / app / service.”

This kind of thinking represents a skip straight to the fourth question; it’s “unprotected” design.

On the other hand, asking and answering these four questions in sequence, preferably with stakeholders, can provide the basis for a solid persuasion strategy.

Nir Eyal’s HOOK Model

Since writing this post back in 2013, I got to know, and have been working with, Nir Eyal’s HOOK Model. Nir created the model to help people design products and services that people can build habits around using.

To understand habits is to understand the foundations of persuasion.

Because Nir’s HOOK model includes all four of these persuasive design ingredients and more, I’m replacing the old worksheet with this one: Design with HOOK Worksheet.

Design with HOOK Worksheet thumbnail

I created this one as a simple cheat sheet for designing with the HOOK model. For a more complete workbook, see Nir’s original Hooked Supplemental Workbook.

Why Persuade People?

Identify which business goals (or organizational goals) are served by employing persuasion.

All great design begins with “Why,” and this is the first gate through which any strategy should pass. To sense-check this, ask also, “does this goal need to be ‘boosted?'” and “are we not already doing something to ‘boost’ this?”

What Should People Do?

Identify the specific things you want people to do for you. 

Each business goal can be served by users or customers doing specific things (behaviors). For example, a person sharing your product’s webpage on Facebook serves the business goal “create awareness of our product.” Similarly, a person talking to a friend about your product serves the same business goal.

Sense-check this by asking, “does this behavior really serve our goal the way we think it does?”

How Can We See It?

Identify how those specific behaviors can be measured accurately.

Understanding the analytics of your desired behavior not only helps in evaluating your strategy’s effectiveness (is it working?), it may also be a necessary component of some triggering mechanisms. It’s difficult to e.g. reward users for their actions, if those actions are not known.

The sense-check here is technical feasibility, “can we actually measure this?”

How Will We Persuade those People?

Identify the (system of) triggers for the desired behavior.

When people think of persuasive design, they often think of this. Gamification and game mechanics are sets of triggers, but there are many others as well. Stephen Anderson’s “The Art and Science of Seductive Design” gives a great overview of how this all works.

Dr. B.J. Fogg’s “Behavior Model” is a great framework to use to sense-check triggers. His work deals with the mechanisms of behavior change.

Mix Ingredients and Bake

Like a great soup, these four ingredients are only successful if all used together. Start with question one and allow that question’s answer to feed the next question. If any of the questions cannot be answered to satisfaction, then that avenue of persuasion should not be implemented.

Enjoy practicing safe persuasive design!