Persuasive Technology

Do you want to understand how to change behavior and attitudes of millions with technology? You better start to understand the discipline ‘Persuasive Technology’.

Human technologyChange human behavior with technology
– Did you ever changed your own attitude towards, let’s say, working hours when you got e-mail on your mobile?
– Or, changed your attitude towards your own(ed) music library when you started using ‘always on, worldwide, real-time music services based on your favorite genre, artist or artist?
– Or, did technology made you more engaged and enthusiastic about for example ’sports’ or ‘running’ when you used an ‘online, mobile, always on and connected’ service?

Your actions changed through interaction with technology, not with people. That’s the power of persuasive technology. And often without you being aware of it.
When persuasive technology is designed the right way, it has the ability to influence people and even increase their motiviation to behave like you want.

Interaction DesignersNew challenges for interaction designers
Interaction Designers, are faced with a new challenge: designing interfaces that are persuasive is not the same as designing for usability. Easy to use doesn’t automatically mean it will persuade people to do what you want, like for example change people’s attitude towards your brand, buy your product, vote for you, stop smoking, exercise more, spread your gospel or whatever your business objective might be.

New challenges for marketeers
Marketeers, who know about persuasion for ages, encounter an enormous amount of new possibilities of highly interactive, social, and mobile technologies. The old paradigm of mass advertising doesn’t apply here
So what are the current insights in this exciting new area of persuasion through computers and mobile phones? Below we summarize the research and writings which in our experience have been the most influential on our daily practice as designers of persuasive technology.

CaptologyPersuasive technology as a science
With no doubt the one who has put Persuasion Technology on the map as a scientific discipline is BJ Fogg from Stanford University. He uses the term “Captology” to denote the study of computer mediated persuasion. He takes a scientific approach, conducting experiments, comparing different conditions to see which approach is the most persuasive.
Fogg’s definition of persuasion is “changing people’s behavior”. He states that in order to do this, there has to be ‘motivation’, ‘the ability’ and the right ‘trigger’.

He identified 35 different types of behavioral change and mapped them in what he calls the “Behavior Grid”.  For example you could try to provoke reflexed behavior which needs a different strategy than to change scheduled behavior. The goal is to provide insights and guidelines for each type of behavioral change.

For example, to convince people to spent less energy, you can motivate them by showing their energy consumption compared to others, like Google Powermeter does. The trigger would be that you use Google Powermeter regularly to set the temperature in your house.

The behavior grid project is ongoing, a few cells are filled with examples and guidelines. If you are looking for a method to build persuasive system yourself, it’s one of the best points to start. Check out his websites: and

Lessons from social psychology
From a social psychology perspective, a must read for persuasive technologist is “The Psychology of Persuasion”, by Robert B. Cialdini.  It describes the psychological principles underlying persuasion. These “weapons of influence” are categorized into reciprocation, social proof, linking, scarcity, authority and commitment.
These principles work since we walk around on this planet, and the trick of course is how to translate these to websites and mobile applications. Some are easy to be transferred to the digital domain. For example ‘authority’ can be by created by showing your thought leadership through blogging and references to books, but other principles like reciprocation (“the pressure to return a favor”) are harder to use in a simple way, but can still be very powerfull.

Marketing- and sales guru’s
waiting for your cat to bark
A practical approach to designing for persuasion, we see from sales- en marketing guru’s like the Eisenberg brothers. In their bestseller “Waiting for your cat to bark” they reveal all kinds of knowledge and tricks to increase online business. They are popular keynote speakers and their website tells stories about spectacular increases of conversion rates of their clients.
To do this, they developed their own method called “persuasion architecture”. This method takes into account the different phases in the buying process (e.g. orientation vs decision) different types of products (e.g. luxury vs necessicity) and different types of buyer psychology (e.g methodical vs spontaneous buyers).
An important concept in their approach is micro conversions, in which the conversion goal is divided into many small steps. For example to get a mortgage for your house, you first have to calculate how much money you can borrow, find a suitable mortgage type and so on. The end of each step or microconversion, the system should persuade you to take the next small step. These steps can be spread out over a long period of time, so the trick is you design your system so that you stay in touch and provide the right triggers at the right time.
The Eisenbergs also advocate the use of multivariate testing, where you can live experiment with different designs to determine which idea yields the most conversion. New tools like Google Optimizer make this relatively easy to do.

Its British counterpart “Conversion Rate Experts” take a similar approach. They also present success stories and have their own patented method to make your online sales go through the roof.

What’s next?

Persuasive Technology will be more and more prominent in our lives and in new ways. Especially via mobile phone and hand held devices,  there are great opportunities to discover and design new ways to influence people in the right place and at the right time.
At the same time, people are more and more in control of whom they interact with, so if you don’t provide real added value or create a good experience, your efforts will be useless.