A white keyboard, a device (possibly a desktop or tablet), and a pen rests on a surface.
Photo by Georgie Cobbs on Unsplash

Every company wants to make users carry out certain actions on their websites or applications, sometimes not caring about the goal the user has in mind. Sometimes, these actions might not be beneficial to users of the platforms.

As UX designers, our duty is to advocate for our users and help them make decisions for their benefit, even though our boss might not feel the same way.

Now, you might ask, “What if I get fired for not doing what my boss or manager wants me to do?” Let’s see if we can answer that question at the end of the article.

In this article, we’ll be talking about persuasive design, what persuasive design can look like, and how persuasive design can be useful or wrong.

What is Persuasive Design?

Persuasive design refers to the practice of designing or creating products (mostly digital products), with the intention of influencing user actions or behaviours. Persuasive design uses psychological principles and strategies to guide users towards specific actions or outcomes.

Persuasive design can be used for positive purposes, as well as harmful purposes. For instance, a website can use persuasive design to encourage environmental awareness, while another website uses fake social proof to keep users engaged for long periods of time.

What Persuasive Design can Look Like

Most websites employ the use of persuasive design. It can come in different forms as I’ll share below:

  • Scarcity: Think about browsing through items on an online store, and you see something like, “only 3 copies left” for an item. Of course, if it’s something you’re really interested in, you’d want to purchase it immediately before it goes out of stock. That’s a form of persuasive design.
  • Achievement Badges: Some platforms, especially educational platforms, use achievement badges and progress trackers to keep users motivated to return back to the platform.
Some of Duolingo’s Achievement Badges; Longest Streak, Daily Most XP, Perfect Lessons, and Highest League.
Duolingo’s Achievement Badges from Duoling Blog
  • Free Trials: Most subscription-based services use free trials to attract and retain users. They may also present special offers to entice users into subscribing.
  • Social Media Notifications: Some social media platforms employ the use of notifications to encourage users to return to the platform. These notifications create a sense of urgency, and evokes curiosity in users, prompting them to engage with the platform.
  • Autoplay Features: Imagine opening a news website, and a video or audio content starts playing without any prompt from you. That’s a popular strategy designed to make users spend more time on the website.

The Usefulness of Persuasive Design

Like I mentioned earlier, a lot of brands still make use of persuasive design. Infact, designers have come up with ways of subtly adding elements of persuasion to their designs in recent times. Companies and brands who employ the use of persuasive design believe it has a lot of benefits including:

  • More Sales
  • Increased User Retention
  • Enhanced User Engagement
  • Time Management for Users

Wrongness of Persuasive Design

Although persuasive design might have some benefits, critics argue that it can be manipulative, leading users to make decisions that may not be in their best interest. Persuasive design comes with the risks of violating customers’ trust and giving the brand a reputation of dishonesty.

Understandably, the use of persuasive design brings up moral and ethical issues — there is a fine line between deceptive design and using the art of persuasion to create compelling user experiences.- Micheal Craig @toptal.com

Understanding where to draw the line is what differentiates a persuasive designer from a deceptive designer.

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash


Remember the question at the beginning of the article? Well, my answer is: Show your boss or manager the benefits of not using extreme persuasion (deception) in your designs. The best way to do this, is to do an actual design which prioritizes the users, and also do the one your boss wants you to do. Now, during your standup/meeting, compare both designs and explain the potential benefits of going ahead with the one which prioritizes the users.

Give the team potential numbers or targets that could be actualized with the “better” design. A team which sees the potential greater benefits of the design with users’ wellbeing in mind, would definitely not hesitate in going ahead with the design. So, your job is safe, the users are protected, and the company makes sales. Everyone is happy!!

I believe persuasive design can be used for good. We just have to make sure we are designing with the well-being of our users in mind.

Thank you for reading this article! Please let me know your thoughts and opinions about persuasive design. Don’t forget to leave some claps!

Should I Use Persuasive Design? was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.