You probably have a great product. You’ve done your usability deeds and you have a few core customers who regularly use your product. However, it just doesn’t stick out from the competition. It has a high bounce rate, only few users return, users abandon your website faster than you would like and, in general, users never get far enough to experience all that your product has to offer.

Building persuasive user experiences is like a relationship and you need to treat it like one. So, what do you want? A one-night stand or a lasting partnership?

There are three common challenges when engaging users with a product:

  1. Sign-up challenge: seducing your users
    People seem interested in your software, but aren’t motivated enough to give it a try. Communicate effectively and use persuasive design principles like scarcity, completion, tunneling, the endowment effect and social proof to move intention to action.
  2. First-time use challenge: falling in love with your product
    People are giving your software a try, but don’t know what to do or how to get started. Better onboarding and motivational mechanisms from game mechanics can help get people started and discover all your product has to offer.
  3. Ongoing engagement challenge: staying in love
    People understand the idea of your product and use it, but they’re leaving you before you’d like. Mastery, habits, communities, sandboxes and flow will lead to true intrinsic motivation and ongoing engagement.

Your approach to engaging users should be appropriately adjusted to the relationship you have with them. We will examine the three stages of a user relationship and what tools are appropriate to use for each challenge.

Sign-Up Challenge: Seducing Your Users

When we design our own products, we are often too familiar with their inner workings to be good at selling them. Designers and developers tend to focus on all the features, attributes and technical problems solved, all of which they have been preoccupied with for as long as they can remember.

When convincing users to try out your product, focusing on its features is a bad place to start.


To sell your product, you should focus on the perceived benefits from your customers’ perspective. Instead of falling into the common trap of describing what your product can do, explain what customers can do with your product. Don’t sell the product, but what your users can do with it. People don’t buy products, they buy better versions of themselves, accomplished through using the product. This should be your value proposition.


The more value and relevance your message conveys, the better. Focus on what the user is going to gain by using your product, rather than what they have to part with. Focus on how your product will help users achieve what they want rather than how much it costs or how long it will take to sign up.

A good way to start thinking from the perspective of your users – to step into their shoes – is to ask: what’s in it for them? Explain why it is important for potential customers to spend their precious time on your product. Explain how will it help users succeed. A good way is to actually talk to people.


Aristotle’s thoughts on effective communication are over 2,000 years old, but they’re still regarded as the basis of rhetoric today. His theories on public speaking are easily applied to digital user experiences.

Some of his basic heuristics (rules of thumb) are his three persuasive appeals: how we must consider at least three different aspects of an argument to persuade our audience.

Aristotle’s three appeals were:

  1. Logos: appealing to logic
    Appealing to logos is typically done by using facts and statistics, quotations from experts, and informed opinions.
  2. Pathos: appealing to emotion
    Appealing to pathos is typically done by using emotional outbursts, stories about emotional events, or using picturesque and vivid language.
  3. Ethos: appealing to ethics, morals and character
    Appealing to ethos is typically done by showing practical knowledge, showing moral character (areté), or showing good intentions and goodwill.

When introducing your product, consider covering all three persuasive appeals. Are you using convincing facts, telling exciting stories about how you have helped others, and are you showing off your track record? Let’s examine how the three persuasive appeals can help you improve your user experience.

This perspective is directly compared to web design, and we have already discussed how we can avoid newbies dropping out before even trying out the service by constraining and simplifying an experience, and how we can enable and motivate behavior through use of extrinsic motivation. This will help newbies become regulars.

Intrinsic Motivation

But how do we make regulars become enthusiasts? How do we facilitate mastery?

The key is tapping into the existing intrinsic motivation of your users. In other words: if your product or service does not provide real value to your users in itself, there is no way you can make them love your product.

You can successfully apply persuasive principles to your design to let your users experience more quickly how great your product is. But if your product isn’t great and doesn’t provide real value for your users, there is no way you will be able to retain them in the longer term without using force.

If your product doesn’t provide real value, applying persuasive principles will only help it fail faster. Seduction and persuasion need to be honest to work in the longer run. Sooner or later, your users will find out if you are an impostor. Business and user goals need to match. Otherwise, all you will get is a one-night stand. Your job is to find the sweet spot in the middle.

Find out what motivate your users; what they really want. The best you can do to play on intrinsic motivation is to facilitate it. Once you start aiming toward solving the needs of your users, do your best to facilitate their intentions into behaviors and habits.

At the outset, using external rewards and punishments seem like a more effective way to motivate individuals into acceptable behaviors. However, the danger of relying on extrinsic motivators to encourage certain behavior, is the ease in which they can be administered.

Without a clear trigger and sufficient motivation, there will be no behavior. However, for companies building digital products, the greatest return on investment generally comes from increasing a product’s ease of use.

Increasing motivation is expensive and time-consuming. Influencing behavior by reducing the effort required to perform an action is usually more effective than increasing someone’s desire to do it. Make your product so simple that users already know how to use it.


Consider the context of your users and design appropriate challenges and experiences which suit it. That is, design for changes over time. This is a radical break from the the standard usability approach, where everything is concentrated around making things as easy as possible. By designing for changes over time, you also concentrate on making things harder to do as users progress, to suit their growing skill level.


Building persuasive user experiences is like a relationship and you need to treat it like one. If your intentions aren’t honest and in good faith from the start, then, sooner or later, your users are going to find out. And if you aren’t honest in your efforts, then eventually your users will abandon you.

The key to a successful relationship with your users is to align the intentions of your users with your own. User goals and business goals need to match. Usability naturally places the user at the center; persuasion doesn’t. Therein lies the danger of traversing the path of persuasion to begin with: forgetting about the user.

It’s vital to tap into the existing motivation of your users, the motivation that comes from inside and out: intrinsic motivation. Explore activities users find motivating in themselves – activities and goals which are their own end. Focus more on building learning engines that support an experience over time than on single experiences which lead to dead ends.

Intrinsic motivation lies within the user. Its amplification can be facilitated by persuasive design patterns. Persuasive design patterns can be used to convince users to sign up for your product and start using it, but you can only facilitate intrinsic motivation for true, engaged, ongoing use.