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Persuasion: Applying the Elaboration Likelihood Model to Design

by sa • July 17, 2013
Persuasion is part of every aspect of our lives. Politicians want our vote, businesses want us to buy their products, and people want us to like them. Even altruistic nonprofits want us to change our behaviors around environmental issues and public safety, or give them our money to help fight hunger and disease (the nerve!).

This reality is no different for websites and other digital properties. Persuasion is a necessary component of good design, ensuring that users will engage with your product in the way you intended, leading to the outcome you intended.

Understanding persuasion will highlight the importance of developing strong messages, help you better incorporate and refine effective persuasive techniques into your design, and allow you to explain to others (potential clients, peers) how and why your design is effective at persuading users.

The really nice elephant in the room

Persuasion has a bad reputation—the word itself often evokes thoughts of being swindled or pressured to do something we really don’t want to do. But persuasion isn’t inherently negative—it’s just a process of influence, for better or worse. With some help from Richard Perloff’s The Dynamics of Persuasion, here are five ways of understanding persuasion:

  • Persuasion is communication. At its core, persuasion needs a strong, clear message sent from one party to another.
  • Persuasion is an attempt to influence. Understanding your audience and what makes them tick makes your attempt more likely to succeed—though the outcome is never guaranteed.
  • Persuasion involves more than words. Aesthetics, interactions, ease of use, and other factors can make a website or application more persuasive to potential users.
  • Persuasion is not coercion. It is up to individuals to form or change their own attitudes. Utilizing dark patterns or purposely tricking a user into doing something they wouldn’t otherwise do is not persuasion. It’s being an asshole.
  • Persuasion can reinforce attitudes. Your audience has opinions that need to be strengthened from time to time. If you don’t preach to the choir, someone else will, and eventually your faithful followers will be led astray.
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