UX and service design processes depict how users will feel whilst using a product. But how do you design for a behaviour change?

How do you persuade someone trying to drink less? Or support someone who wants to make healthy food choices? Or motivate to conserve energy by turning off their Wi-Fi modem at night? How do you create a "persuasive" technology or process?

So, what is it? Persuasive System Design (PSD) is the discipline to intentionally design a system (software, product, process, service) in a way to enable an attitude or behaviour change, or both. Psychological theories tell how to increase user acceptance of new systems. PSD tells how to design the system to help a user's goals. Computer scientists developed the PSD model. This article discusses seven easy but effective PSD strategies.

Why should you care? PSD does not need to change the way you are working with your current design approach (design thinking/ double diamond). It provides you with strategies. Anyone can implement these, whether system designers or developers. PSD provides you with a plan to fine-tune the design process to target user/customer behaviour. PSD offers a competitive advantage that's why Facebook, Google, and Amazon are utilising PSD.

Here are some easily implementable ones for you:

  • Reduction - reducing complex behaviour into a simple task
  • Rehearsal - enabling users to practice a behaviour
  • Liking - creating attractive systems to generate affection
  • Rewards - rewarding target behaviours of users
  • Social Learning - watching others do something encourages users
  • Social Comparison– comparing with others motivates users
  • Endorsement - providing endorsements from respected sources provide credibility


Reduction reduces complex behaviour into a simple task. It then helps a user to perform steps that lead up to a target behaviour.

Example: Consider a smoking cessation application, where the users want help in being convinced to reduce or stop smoking. An interactive button shows the user how much money they will save from smoking one less time a day. Next, with visualised data, the user is shown the impact on the environment. The user may have read from advertisements or health statistics all the same information. But the process of clicking one button to see the effects creates engagement and autonomy. The calculated savings does not make the user do extra tasks in their heads. Instead, it provides savings based on the number of smokes the user wants to reduce per day.

When to implement: When users are not thinking but need to see a result of an action.


Rehearsal is a persuasive strategy where an interactive system provides the user with the option to practice a specific behaviour. This practice later enables users to change their behaviour. Rehearsal creates an initial action by making it easy. Once the user keeps performing the easy task, it turns into a routine.

Example 1: Consider a game for pilots to practice their skills. They have to control their flights through extreme weather. There could be additional challenges of failure of autopilot, failure of communication, etc. Playing this game in a virtual world will reduce the shock response on a pilot’s central nervous system during a real-world situation if that occurs.

Example 2: Imagine you are designing for a healthy eating habit. An interactive game where you scroll and skip between images of unhealthy food and choose healthy ones. This game subtly changes the users thought process. It rehearses users on how to choose between food. Practising this in a virtual game creates the neurological pathways in the brain of the user, to make this decision faster, in real life.

When to implement: When users need to react and interact in challenging situations.


Creating attractiveness increases liking, which influences persuasion. Liking as a principle belonged to Dr Cialdini’s influence model.

Example: Consider a computer application that aims at encouraging children to take care of their pets. This website uses pictures of adorable animals. The photos need to be visually appealing, to create a liking. The likeness of the images will increase the influence of the product and its use.

When to implement: When users need to empathise with a case or a cause. Empathy needs to happen before the users make a decision. Creating attractiveness increases liking, which influences persuasion. Liking as a principle belonged to Dr Cialdini’s influence model.


Rewarding certain target behaviours of users facilitates the practice of that behaviour. This encouragement over a long time builds attitudinal or behavioural changes.

Example: Consider a fitness program. A heart rate monitor provides users with a virtual trophy if they follow their fitness program. There are daily goals and rewards. Then there are weekly rewards for managing their weekly performance. The rewards could be virtual, e.g., equivalent to using advanced features of the app or other virtual utilities online.

When to implement: When users need to feel motivated to do a tedious task or a task they know they should do but do not feel like doing.

Social Learning

Users are more motivated to perform a target action if they can use a system to observe others doing the same operation.

Example: A shared fitness journal influences other users to be aware and embark on a plan of being fit. YouTube provides a great example of social learning where people share their journeys. A fitness product can embed such a shared fitness journal that users could follow and be influenced to start exercising.

When to implement: For those users who do not adopt new ideas until they see others doing it.

Social Comparison

Users have a higher motivation to perform a target behaviour if they can compare their performance with the performance of others.

Example: Providing users with a function to share the information on how much energy they have been able to save, by turning off their Wi-Fi modems at nights in a system will then create other users to adopt the similar behaviour, such as turning off their modems or turn of other energy-saving options. The system could design and provide users with various ways of saving energy, e.g., by baking multiple things at the same time, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, etc.

When to implement: When users are unaware of the impact of target behaviour; this could be an incremental step of the previous strategy called social learning.


Users have a higher motivation to use a product or service when they see endorsements from respected resources. This endorsement builds credibility to use the system and motivates users.

Example: Consider customers of a mental wellbeing application. Customers will build trust with the product if they know that this product has an endorsement from a psychologist with a PhD degree. This endorsement generates reputation and increases confidence to continue to use the product longer.

When to implement: When users are looking for credibility about the product that you are offering.

Want to know more?

Persuasive Technology is a conference held annually (highly recommended if you’re interested). Want to know the rest of the strategies?