Influencing Behavior

sticky notes on board


Usually, when I tell someone, “I’m a designer,” their first reaction is about the visual aspects of design. They reply, “I wish I could draw,” or you must be good at drawing?” However, I find the psychology behind the design is more impactful and exciting than its appearance. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a believer in the value of strong aesthetics. But nothing is more fulfilling than understanding human behavior and being able to anticipate, influence, and persuade user behavior. I feel visuals improve when tied to methods of persuasion. Below, are six methods of persuasion I’ve seen to influence user behavior.

#1. Use: Reinforcement

One of my guilty pleasures used to be the iPhone game Game of Thrones Ascent. It utilized the law of reinforcement by rewarding users for returning daily by awarding items that are useful in gameplay. The item you receive increases in value each day. If you come back to play seven days in a row, you get a high-value reward only available in the game by paying real money. Miss a day and you’re back to square one. This reinforcement law kept me coming back if only to see what the reward would be. 

#2. Use: Repetition

With the rising popularity of on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu, and Prime video, people tend to binge-watch shows they are interested in. However, on Sundays at 8:00 pm central, I’m in front of my TV to view The Walking Dead. This concept may be old in the TV realm, but it’s becoming applicable in other mediums. For example, YouTube’s search algorithm favors creators who upload on a regular cadence. Say on Sundays at 8:00 pm. Subscribers know and can anticipate the uploading of new content and thus driving traffic to YouTube at a specific time. With this pattern, Youtube can suggest content and place ads based on the subject matter of the creator’s channel.

#3. Use: Gestalt

One of the most exciting principles of design and my personal favorite is the Gestalt principle. It says when we humans come across complex elements, we see the whole before we see the individual parts. Gestalt works because our minds want to complete the incomplete. Otherwise, known as closure. Designers can use this principle to direct users to behave in a desired fashion. For example, Most sites, for the sake of ease, take the bare minimum info to sign up for an account. To get you to enter more information about yourself afterward, Linkedin added a completeness score. Let’s say yours is 60% complete. The closure law says you’re more likely to enter more information to get that 60% closer to 100% than you would if not presented a percentage at all. Furthermore, attaching the message, “adding your education will raise your percent to X%” gives the user insight into what the action will result in.

Another law under gestalt principles is the law of similarity. It says that a group of objects of the same color, size, and shape people view as a set. So if we create an object that doesn’t fit this criterion, it is considered to be different. We can use this for something like a call to action, making it more visually apparent. Thus more critical, actionable and clickable.

#4. Use: Scarcity (FOMO)

Not only does scarcity create a sense of urgency to the user, but it often adds perceived value. It’s the old supply and demand theory. If demand is high and supplies are low, the value of the item goes up. Let’s look at how uses the fear of missing out (FOMO) principle. I recently found a hard to find a bottle of cologne on for a fair price. I wasn’t technically in the market for a new bottle but tempted by the fact that they had stock available. Adding to the temptation to purchase was a little note at the bottom of the price — only three left in stock. I made the purchase. The scarcity of the item combined with the low quantities moved me to purchase right then. I might not have made this purchase so hastily if I thought I could come back at any time and buy. Retailers use this method of persuasion often with sales that “only lasts for the weekend” and Black Friday deals.

#5. Use: Mystery

As a kid, I collected professional sports cards-football and basketball mostly. Each pack brought a sense of excitement. You never knew which players your package contained. These card companies all approached packaging the same way by putting the most popular, and most valuable, cards on the front of the packaging. I remember opening each pack hoping that Michael Jordan or Jerry Rice would be in THIS pack. That potential of scoring one of these cards kept me buying card packs.

Similarly, email marketers use mystery to boost click-through rates. By hiding the value of their coupon or discount, users have to click to see what their amount could be. I believe this increases the likelihood of users browsing to see what they could get for the discount they were offered — thus raising the effectiveness of the campaign.

#6. Use: The Path Of Least Resistance

In a recent article, it said we are wired to take the path of least resistance. The first thing that comes to mind for me is websites that want you to complete a questionnaire. Would you be more likely to complete the task if most of the form was already filled out for you?

Like Netflix asking your opinion on a film, you just watched with pre-filled choices. By making the process of rating and reviewing a show one or two clicks, Netflix removes the mystery of how much effort it takes to review a program. Thus, making the path less resistant. 

In Closing:

The techniques above are my go-to when I need to persuade users. What are your favorite methods of persuasion? Please leave a comment and let me know.

The problem with the designs of most engineers is that they are too logical. We have to accept human behavior the way it is, not the way we would wish it to be.” ― Donald A. Norman,