Persuasive design: the ultimate guide for better sales

Last Modified: Aug 25th, 2023 - Category: Marketing, UI Design, UX Theory, UX Tutorials
Persuasive design: the ultimate guide for better sales cover image

In the competitive landscape of today’s digital world, persuasive design has become a key concept. It’s not about manipulating users but rather guiding them towards actions that align with their needs and desires. By understanding users and applying specific design principles and techniques, designers can create experiences that resonate with users. In this exploration, we’ll delve into persuasive design, its techniques, theoretical principles, and real-world examples.

What is Persuasive Design?

Persuasive design is a method used in various digital interfaces, like websites and apps, to guide users toward specific actions or decisions. It’s about utilizing certain design elements to influence behavior.

Consider a situation where you are on a website, and you see a large button that prompts you to “Sign Up Now.” The size, color, or placement of that button is intentionally designed to catch your eye and make you want to click. This is a basic example of how persuasive design works.

This approach goes beyond mere aesthetics. It integrates aspects of psychology and human behavior to make a platform more engaging or to encourage particular actions, such as making a purchase or sharing content on social media.

A common application of persuasive design is in e-commerce websites. You might see phrases like “Limited Stock Available” that create a sense of urgency. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to buy the item right away, but it does encourage quicker decision-making.

Persuasive design is not about deception or manipulation. It is a tool to guide choices and make user interactions more efficient. For instance, it can help simplify navigation on a website, leading users intuitively to the information or products they seek.

In educational contexts, like online learning platforms, persuasive design can guide students through courses in a structured manner, keeping them engaged and focused on the learning path.

From making online shopping smoother to aiding in educational efforts, persuasive design is a multifaceted concept that has practical applications in various fields. It involves understanding human tendencies and preferences and using that knowledge to shape user experiences. While interacting with digital platforms, you may notice these subtle design cues that are working to guide your actions. It’s a part of the digital landscape that affects how we interact with technology daily.

Persuasive Design Techniques

Persuasive design is a field that has gained prominence in recent years, but its roots can be traced back to principles of psychology and behavioral science. It revolves around using design to influence human behavior and decision-making.

The concept was popularized by Dr. B.J. Fogg, a behavioral scientist at Stanford University. He introduced the Fogg Behavior Model, which explains how human behavior is influenced by motivation, ability, and prompts. Persuasive design takes these principles and applies them to various design elements to guide users towards taking certain actions.

In the world of design, persuasive techniques are employed to create a more engaging and effective user experience. By understanding how people think and what motivates them, designers can create interfaces that resonate with the user’s needs and desires. This is done through careful consideration of color, layout, imagery, and language.

Persuasive design is about guiding users towards taking certain actions. It’s like a friendly nudge that helps people make decisions without pushing them too hard. In this article, we’ll discuss some techniques that can be used to make designs more persuasive.

Let’s explore some of these persuasive design techniques that can be applied to guide users in a positive and effective manner.

User Engagement

User engagement refers to getting users involved and interested in what you have to offer. By making your design interactive and engaging, you can hold users’ attention longer.

Think of a website that encourages users to click around and explore. By providing them with intriguing content, you can keep them on the site longer, which can eventually lead to them taking the desired action, such as signing up for a newsletter or making a purchase.

Call to Action

A call to action is a prompt that tells users what you want them to do. It’s usually a button or a link that is clearly marked with words like “Buy Now” or “Sign Up.”

The design of this element is crucial, as it needs to stand out without being overbearing. It’s like asking someone politely to do something instead of demanding it. For example, using contrasting colors can make the call to action more visible without being too aggressive.

Emotional Appeal

Emotional appeal means connecting with users on an emotional level. This doesn’t mean you have to make them cry or laugh, but rather creating a feeling of connection.

For example, using images of happy families on a website selling holiday packages can create a warm, inviting atmosphere. It helps users imagine themselves in that happy situation, which might motivate them to book a holiday.

Trust Building

Trust is key in persuading people to take action. If users don’t trust your website, they are unlikely to follow through with a purchase or sign-up.

Building trust can be as simple as using clear language, displaying security badges, or showing customer testimonials. It’s about making users feel safe and confident in their decision to interact with your website.

Social Proof

Social proof is the idea that people will follow the actions of others. By showing that other people have made the same choice, you can persuade users to do the same.

Design for persuasion: Image illustrating Social Proof concept
Social proof is one of the most powerful persuasive design techniques

This can be achieved through customer reviews, ratings, or showcasing how many people have bought a product. It’s a way to tell users that they’re not alone in their decision, and that others have been satisfied with the same choice.


This means to understand what motivates your users and allows you to align your design with their needs, enhancing their connection to the product or service.

By investigating user goals, interests, and preferences, designers can craft experiences that resonate on a deeper level. This includes using colors, imagery, and language that speak to the target audience.

Meeting user expectations creates more fulfilling interactions and can drive positive responses, but it requires empathy and insight into user behavior.


Personalization means tailoring the user experience to individual needs and preferences. By creating a personalized journey, designers can make users feel unique and valued. This is one of the most outstanding characteristics of Quantum UX. The core of personalization is understanding the user’s behavior, needs, and preferences. This doesn’t mean invasive tracking; it’s about recognizing patterns and making educated guesses to enhance the user experience.

Sensorial Design

Persuasive design is not only limited to visual design, but we can make use of all the principles of Sensory or Sensorial UX, the branch of UX that uses all senses in order to captivate users through many different stimuli. For example, a video advertisement will obviously include visual cues, but it will also include aural (auditive) cues, from voice to music to onomatopoeic sounds.

Persuasive design techniques: Sensory / Sensorial UX
Persuasive design techniques: Cosmetic products utilize a variety of sensory stimuli, such as visual, olfactory, and proprioceptive senses.

Design for Persuasion Using Cognitive Biases

Designing for persuasion is about applying specific principles and techniques to influence user behavior. Cognitive biases play a role here, as understanding them allows designers to craft more effective and persuasive designs. By being aware of these biases, designers can create experiences that resonate with users, guiding their behavior in subtle ways.

Scarcity Principle

The scarcity principle utilizes the fear of missing out. By presenting products or offers as limited, it creates a sense of urgency, persuading users to take action quickly.

This method taps into a basic human desire to have something exclusive or rare. It can be applied in various ways, such as limited-time offers or exclusive membership access.

The effectiveness of the scarcity principle in design is well-documented, but it requires careful application. Misusing it can lead to mistrust if users feel manipulated.

This principle or bias is often tied to the Urgency Bias, but it’s not exactly the same. While both Scarcity and Urgency cognitive biases can lead to quick decision-making, the key difference lies in what triggers them. Scarcity is driven by the limited availability of something, creating a desire to obtain it before it’s gone. In contrast, Urgency is motivated by a time constraint, pushing us to act quickly before the opportunity passes. Both are powerful tools in marketing and can also be observed in various aspects of daily life.


Reciprocity involves offering something to the user first, such as a free trial or valuable content. This encourages them to give something back in return.

This principle builds on the idea of mutual exchange, forming a bond between the user and the product. By providing value upfront, designers can foster goodwill and loyalty.

When used ethically and authentically, reciprocity can enhance the user experience, but it also demands transparency and honesty to maintain trust.

Reward System

Reward systems, like loyalty programs or gamification, motivate users by providing incentives that encourage them to engage and return.

By tailoring rewards to user preferences, designers can create experiences that are enjoyable and foster a sense of achievement. This can include badges, points, or personalized content.

Such systems require careful planning and consistency to ensure they are meaningful and aligned with user expectations. This creates a more engaging and rewarding experience overall.


Leveraging authority means using expert opinions, endorsements, or certifications to build credibility and trust.

This can include showcasing authoritative figures, credentials, or affiliations with respected organizations. By aligning with recognized authorities, designers can enhance users’ confidence in the product or service.

persuasive design biases: image illustrating Authority principle
Screen capture from our home page to illustrate the Authority principle: by displaying some of our clients, other clients will trust us more.

However, leveraging authority must be done with integrity and authenticity, as misuse can lead to skepticism and damage trust.

Urgency Cognitive Bias

The urgency cognitive bias is a psychological phenomenon that plays a role in how we make decisions. It’s something that most of us encounter in everyday life, even if we’re not always aware of it.

Imagine you’re shopping online and see a banner that says “Only 5 items left!” or “Sale ends in 1 hour!” These statements create a sense of urgency. You may feel a sudden need to make a purchase before the opportunity slips away. This reaction is not accidental; it’s a carefully crafted strategy employed by marketers and sellers to prompt quick decision-making.

The urgency cognitive bias is based on our natural desire to avoid missing out on something valuable or beneficial. When we perceive that time is running out or that a resource is becoming scarce, we may act more impulsively.

Persuasive and Emotional Design applied to UI Design

Persuasive design is often tied to emotional design, and sometimes they both are confused for the same thing. However, make no mistake: they’re not the same, and each one has very specific considerations, which may overlap at times. This being said, they both share elements in common, and one of the most common elements they share are those related to UI Design and how you can effectively apply these techniques to both persuasive and emotional design.

Visual Hierarchy

Visual hierarchy and attention-driven design guides users to the most important elements of the design. By strategically using size, color, and contrast, designers can create a flow that leads to the desired actions. The underlying goal is to help users find what they are looking for effortlessly. Visual hierarchy also helps in maintaining a consistent and clean design, where each element has its place and significance.


Usability is about making the design user-friendly. It’s about creating an intuitive experience that guides the user seamlessly towards their goals. Beyond simplicity, usability involves ensuring that the user feels competent and efficient in their interactions with the interface. This includes providing feedback, clear instructions, and a logical flow that makes the user feel at ease and in control.


Responsiveness ensures that the design works well across all devices, an essential consideration in today’s multi-device world. This is not just about scaling a design down to fit different screen sizes but involves a thoughtful approach to how each element behaves and interacts on various devices. The layout, images, text, and other elements must adjust to provide the best experience for every screen size, maintaining consistency and functionality.


Through the understanding and application of persuasive design techniques, designers can create experiences that not only meet functional needs but also inspire, engage, and guide users towards desired actions. By being user-centered and applying these principles thoughtfully, persuasive design becomes a tool for creating meaningful and effective interactions in the digital landscape.

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