Recently a member of my interaction design team circulated an article on “persuasion” architecture. He said we should all strive to be persuasion architects. A lively debate ensued.
The basic premise, of what some call persuasion architecture, is that you can design content and interactions that subliminally play into the desires of users. With roots in the dark art of marketing black magic, these techniques include a few common sense best practices combined with lots of questionable tactics.
Take the “Like” button for example – one of the spells that persuasion architects cast upon their victims. It’s based on the premise that users will behave a certain way once they’ve committed to an opinion. If they say they “like” something, they’re more willing to support it, whether they believe it or not.
Hence the absence of a “Dislike” button. If you don’t like something, the only choice you have is to remain silent. The fact of the matter is that no matter how many users ask for a “Dislike” button, it will never exist because those designers want to believe they control thoughts and desires of users.
The e-commerce market is driven by data from page views, clicks, cookies, conversion, and average order value. If persuasion architects can pump those numbers week over week, or even year over year, they celebrate gains as their sole measure of success. What they might not see is the slow erosion of their brand.
I can’t really blame marketing professionals alone. This thinking has deep roots in academia. Take, for example Stanford’s Persuasive Tech Lab. It not only studies how computers can influence people, they believe by understanding the manipulation of behavior, the result will be world peace. No joke, world peace. It’s on their home page. That’s hard to believe considering all the pent up “dislike” in the world today.
I’m more of a believer in the golden rule – treat people like you’d like to be treated. It’s called empathy. I also believe it will yield better results in the long run.
If you design a product, then watch others use it, you will develop a empathic connection with that user. You will also see opportunities to improve the experience. Interface issues will come to the surface, but more important, you will experience that product in a way numbers and data can never portray. You will make a connection with another human, and you’ll understand how they feel, not just see what they did.
By making those feelings and that connection part of a design process, it’s my belief that the product takes a more human quality. I would never claim that leads to world peace, but it sure would make it easier to buy a pair of shoes.