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Persuasive Web Design: How to Persuade the User with Usability, Copy and More

- Friday, January 14, 2011 |

Is usability a persuasive element in UX Design? To what degree does usability account for an online business' success? What guidelines exist in design for creating usable and captivating interfaces? This post provides a few useful answers to the questions above, answers that will be useful as general guidelines for one to keep in mind whether working on larger web projects or smaller ones. 

Have your UX cake, and eat it too! November wallpaper from @smashingmagazine #ux #usability #design #cake
Photo by: Witflow, an UX & Usability Studio from Poland

1. Persuade Through Usability

Good usability is more than fluid navigation and a good implementation of information architecture principles. Every aspect of web design and development adds up to ensure high usability of the final web product. Whether you're concerned with choosing the best web technologies or the right font face for that shiny button, you are ultimately concerned with the usability of the website.

If the goal is to improve the usability of a website, the means and methods for doing so span across the entire process, from analysis to design, from testing to evaluation. All usability methods can be considered and implemented while working on the web product; none of them should be considered as separate steps that can be performed optionally and in isolation from the team's work to design, develop and launch the product. A good resource that explains how usability methods can be applied in all aspects and stages of web design is this book - Usability for the Web: Designing Web Sites that Work (Interactive Technologies)(aff.), where the author uses the term "pervasive usability" to explain this idea.

Above all, testing the site's usability after it's launched demonstrates ill-placed trust in the magic of testing that is isolated from the context of iterative development. Before we continue, let's be clear about something: usability is NOT something that you can add to a website as an afterthought, usability is your product's ability to perform well because of several things you did while working on it.

Last year we saw a rising interest for web apps that collect information about the user's behavior and reaction to websites or web apps that provide different user testing models. Some web apps require a simple line of code be inserted in every page that needs to be tested, others - just entering your company's url. The pricing plans could be appealing to everyone - from freelancers and UX professionals to design agencies and start-ups, but the bottom line is - testing should be part of the method you use for building websites. Test usability as you go along through design and development.

Screenshot: Optimizely | A-B Testing Application that allows you to edit land pages and get real-time results

2. Persuade by Reaching Actual Goals

Usability correlates in a significant degree to loyalty, as shown in this article. This is because usability methods are always goal oriented. You have the business goals on one side, the user's goals on the other, and you balance them out. If the business goal to sell products is not balanced with the user's goal to find information related to the product, then we have a problem: the site's usability is poor. The first guideline for persuasive websites is to provide information (solutions, content, answers) in a usable format considering the main business goals of the website.

Highly creative designers and developers will always challenge accepted and popular standards as well as conventions in design by using creative unexpected techniques to get the same desired results. They will use unconventional navigation options, integrate refreshing animated elements (as opposed to unnecessary, distracting effects) and draw in users through interfaces that cleverly use white space. Usability is a guideline for creating persuasive websites, but the methods for achieving usability may be unconventional.

Unconventional navigation: Cooper

3. Persuade Through Consistency

It is surprising what usable interfaces can do, even when there is a minimal amount of copy for users to read and be persuaded by. Most users are able to identify and describe usability problems after using a web product for the first time. It only takes them a few seconds to "feel" it and a few minutes to become familiar with the site's structure and functionality. Whether it's a one page design or a content-rich website, users will have formed an impression before reading much of the text. Still, copy is another guideline for persuasive websites.

But wait, when did good copy become the cleverly worded part of the content? It is definitely more than that. Persuasive copy is produced through consistent style, clarity and dialog throughout all media channels. The style on your website needs to be consistent with the style used in writing e-mails, getting back to people, social media channels and blogs. Sometimes being concise and enticing works - because you only focus on a specific goal - other times you would rather create more lengthy high quality content and encourage a different level of engagement. Style is effective through consistency. People can latch on, absorb and relate to something that is consistent. That's why you should use copywriting guidelines to ensure that the content you create is persuasive. 

4. Build for the Future of Your Business

There are items that are more often overlooked because (a) they are not specifically included in the project scope, (b) nobody takes responsibility for them or (c) everybody thinks they can handle these things later on. Long term business goals are part of what may get overlooked because of the previous reasons. A website's goals span over years and converge with the business goals when all of the goals are well represented and fully achieved through the products and services provided by the business. When building a website, communication is driven by recent/current tasks and priorities; strongly connected to the first version of the web product being developed. Still, the web design studio and the client should spend more time discussing the future goals for the client's website, products, services. Meeting the user's needs and expectations is a challenging task to get the design team thinking, but fitting that in with the client project requirements and budget limitations might become a problem overshadowing the business goals on the long run.

There is a way out of this situation by choosing a web design studio that can handle the work and eventually help the business expand in the future. A web design studio needs to think beyond design and development and also think about the consistency of the brand and its business goals. Even if the budget is tight, reviewing and testing should not be overlooked. The price of testing and going through more design iterations is significantly lower than the price of diminishing the website's ability to fully realize its potential.

Future Focus white papers
Photo by: Krishnad

Endnote: The relationship between the user and the interface can be as powerful as a one-to-one relationship, where people use arguments, examples and none-verbal language to persuade and influence. It's a matter of consistency in communication, efficient methods to reach real goals and usability. This is how web sites and web products become persuasive in the eyes of the users.

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Garold Split commented on 02-Feb-2011 10:09 AM
Great thoughts. I think it’s important for readers of this not to get hung up on ‘Usability vs. Motivation’. There is a distinction, although it seems like your main point is that there shouldn’t be. Motivation, I think, is the true end result of usability. If a user is motivated, then not only are the goals of usability achieved, but surpassed.

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