we need to look at more than psychology for good persuasive design. Here’s why:
- Psychology isn’t the only field that contributes to persuasive design.
Many fields offer theories and insights that can help us design for persuasion. For instance, rhetoric has been around longer than psychology and offers great ideas, especially for persuasive content. One of my favorite ideas is Aristotle’s emotional appeals–appealing to people through logic (logos), through our credibility (ethos), and through emotion (pathos). Today it’s hard to deny that an approach including all of those appeals usually works.
- Researchers are usually good at research, not design solutions.
Psychology focuses heavily on scientific research, which is great. This research helps us understand empirically what works or doesn’t work about a solution and why. But in my experience researchers are best at finding problems, observing experiments, analyzing data, and explaining what happened in an experiment. They often are not skilled at devising design solutions–at envisioning the impact of making certain changes, at coming up with creative ideas, at imagining the possibilities, at integrating several considerations into a holistic design.
- A design solution should not be based only on general psychological principles.
I once encountered a cognitive psychologist who tried to convince clients they could “manipulate online behavior” to whatever they wanted using research-based psychological principles alone. Aside from my problems with viewing design as manipulation, I had problems with the way the psychological principles were touted. The principles included positive reinforcement supported by examples such as a video clip of Twiggy, the waterskiing squirrel. (The squirrel learned to waterski by getting treats, or positive reinforcement.) People are more sophisticated than animals or subjects in a Pavlovian experiment. Persuasive designs need to respect that sophistication.
Reasonable concern. Still, there are a number of very clear behavioral studies which seem to imply some clear relationships to online interactions.