ADVICE

What is persuasive technology and why are UX designers using it

SOURCE: Andrei PUNGOVSCHI/AFP
Persuasive technology can sound like a scary thing, but it has plenty of benefits when applied ethically.


By U2B Staff 

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Seeing a “typing…” status from someone on the other end of your WhatsApp chat, getting a push notification that you’ve been tagged in a Facebook post, feeling the buzz of a reminder on your smartwatch to encourage you to get moving after a sedentary day to the movie suggestions that play on your Netflix homepage without any effort on your part…these are just examples of carefully thought out ways UX designers are prompting users to spend time on these platforms or devices.

These subtle interactions are all part of a technique under persuasive technology and persuasive design.

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According to UX Collective, persuasive technology takes the form of apps or websites, and “marries traditional modes of persuasion — using information, incentives, and even coercion — with the new capabilities of devices to change user behaviour.”

Persuasive technology was pioneered by BJ Fogg, the director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, who teaches how websites, software applications and mobile devices can be used to change people’s attitudes and behaviour. A deep understanding of human psychology is necessary for this to occur.

Netflix’s recently released documentary The Social Dilemma has revealed the dark side to persuasive technology by tech giants, sparking concern among many of its addictive nature and its negative impact on our mental health.

While these are valid concerns, there’s also plenty of room for it to be used for less sinister purposes, including promoting desirable habits like increasing your daily footsteps for weight loss, making it a useful area for UX designers to upskill in.

Persuasive technology for UX designers

There are many ways for UX designers to upskill in persuasive technology.

LinkedIn Learning’s ‘The different types of persuasive design’ is an intermediate course by author Chris Nodder who explains how you can integrate persuasive design into your products ethically and responsibly. 

“He explores persuasive design’s roots in the science of behaviour, and shares some examples of effective and acceptable use. In the end, you’ll have a better understanding of how to motivate and persuade your users—without misleading them,” notes LinkedIn Learning.

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If you’re keen to delve into the ethics of persuasive design, Persuasive UX: Ethics of Persuasive Design, is another course on LinkedIn Learning that might be of interest.

There are also related courses being offered by other private organisations, including the Nielsen Norman group, a UX research and consulting firm, which offers a Persuasive and Emotional Design course, which takes learners on a journey on the psychological principles behind persuasive and emotional design, and unpack the strategies for creating “delightful” user interfaces.  

At the end of the day, the ability to use psychology to influence our human behaviour and intentions can seem like a scary thing for UX designers, but when used ethically, it can serve a greater purpose for those who chose to engage in these platforms or devices.