user experience

Future Interface Experiences

App Design Paradigms

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Have you ever wondered what it is about an application that makes the user experience familiar and intuitive to us? There are many underlying factors which affect how we use an app, as well as the way we connect with it. A large portion of the apps we use have a basic framework which we seem to connect and interact more intuitively with, otherwise we wouldn’t be using them. These app design paradigms come into play with the way we navigate apps, create content in applications, and organize assets we have within those apps.


Within the apps that have the most wide-spread use, there seems to be a consistency in how the navigation is implemented into the UI; and not only on hand-held devices either. The consistency (or lack thereof) goes unnoticed for the most part. As designers though, it’s our job to figure out what conditions us as humans to interact with the various devices and interfaces that we come across each day, so that we may better our future designs, products, and apps.

Google+ Navigation App Design Paradigms

Left-Oriented Navigation

FacebookGoogle+Path,, and dozens of other services and apps have left-oriented navigation systems. While there could be many factors for this design choice, there’s one reason that makes the most sense, at least in my opinion.

Since the conception of paper, (most) humans have been writing their languages from left-to-right. This was originally intended to protect the ink from being smeared across the pages as it was being written onto the papyrus. While an iPhone display isn’t exactly a piece of Indo-European papyrus, it’s in our culture to teach and be taught to read and organize from left to right.

From an early age this has been instilled in us and through that, our brains have learned to comprehend much, if not all of what we do in the left-to-right manner. By placing the organization system within an application on the left-hand side, we naturally view it as part of the interaction process. There are exceptions to this, as not all apps are designed in the examples I discussed above. However this does present a valid argument for left-oriented navigation within apps.

Left Hand Navigation App Design Paradigms

Bottom-Oriented Navigation

Bottom-oriented navigation is yet another possibility that seems to shine within certain mobile apps. Apps such asTweetbotDropbox, and Instagram all have predominately bottom-oriented navigation. The best argument for bottom-oriented navigation is that when using our mobile devices, the placement of our hands allows our thumb to easily glide along the bottom screen.

This is a welcomed concept to our subconscious, as it is the quickest solution to a problem. This placement also helps being that such movement of our thumbs prevents us from blocking any other content that is on the screen. It’s a logical solution to the development of the mobile platform.

Bottom Oriented Navigation App Design Paradigms

Top-Oriented Navigation

Top-oriented navigation exists, although it seems to be a bit more prominent in desktop apps. I’m yet to come up with a valid argument for that paradigm, with the exception of productivity apps such as Numbers and Pages, where, for organizational sake you start at the top. Though Pocket is one exception. By having the navigation keys up top on a slightly darker background color, it puts more emphasis on the saved content. If you have any argument for this paradigm, I’d love to hear feedback in the comments below.


When going to share, publish, reply, or create something within a mobile application, there is a recurring theme in the vast amount of designs. While the y-axis of this particular paradigm shifts from app to app, the x-axis seems to stay consistent. In a variety of mobile app genres, the button to add, create, or publish content is right-oriented.

Tumblr, Apple’s Clock app, and Trip Cubby all share this UI choice. To make a new Tumblr post, select the button in the lower-right-hand corner; to create a new alarm in the Clock app, select the ‘+’ button in the upper-right-hand corner; the same can be said for creating a new log in Trip Buddy. I believe the reason for this is the same as mentioned above; the fact that a majority of individuals are right-handed and our thumbs naturally fall along the right side of the x-axis.

As with the paradigms mentioned above, there are exceptions. Facebook, both native mobile apps and browser-based versions, have the button for a new post located across the top of the display. Path also takes the complete opposite approach with the post button being located in the lower-left-hand corner. If there are any apps that use a different method, I’d love to see how they implement it into the design.

Right Oriented Creation App Design Paradigms


With designers and developers coming up with new apps each day, there will always be a variety of UIs within their respectable platform. It’s interesting to look at, however, that a large portion of the most downloaded and used apps share the paradigm of designing with the human subconscious in mind. Many developers may not even consciously know themselves, the reason for which they implement these UI choices, but that only goes to show that this paradigm may simply be a product of that which is unseen. The subliminal, if you will.

What design paradigms have you noticed within various UIs? Share them, below!

What are the most important emerging user experience themes right now?

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Skeuomorphism (…)
More interfaces are starting to integrate seemingly useless visual cues that we’re accustomed to seeing in real life. The iPhone, for example, is full of them. The “slide-to-unlock” behavior or “on/off switches” in iOS are examples of skeuomorphism.

More applications are being designed for use across different platforms and resolutions. Even staples like the 960 grid system are falling out of use as fluid width and browser-specific styling become more popular.

Shorter web forms
Thankfully, we’re finally graduating past forms with 20 required items. Designers are now picking up that asking for a lot of information up front is terrible for conversion rates and wastes a lot of time. We’re moving toward asking the bare minimum now (email) and slowly asking for more as the relationship grows stronger. Profile-completion sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. are leading the charge here.

Everything is a link
I think we’re starting to see an increase in clickable content. On more developed websites, you can click on nearly everything to gain more information on that object. On Quora, for example, you can click on nearly any image or blue text to learn more about that underlying object. On news websites, you can double-click on a word to look up the definition. Information about nearly anything on the page will be readily available when you want it.

Guided tours
Seemingly complicated applications now come with sequential tooltips that serve as a step-by-step walkthrough. This, in my opinion, is the live, interactive version of the “setup wizard.” Rather than showing you a set of diagrams with some text, applications are now giving you the real application, annotated with overlays, tooltips and buttons to help you move through it. The new ux overhaul by Google has done a great job of this.

Psychology: Many of the themes that we have mentioned above rely on in-depth knowledge of user behavior, user motivations and what influences users. We can see the psychology and behavioral studies are popping up in blogs and books across UX, and that is because UX, as Ronnie mentioned, is at a critical point in our existence. We are looking to be more than just usability experts and are instead needing to be the user behavior experts. Understanding more about Psychology and how we can apply it to UX will help us get there. It is also involved in gamification (what motivates people to act), Data Visualization (how does the brain take in an view information) and many other points mentioned above.

Better. Faster. UXier. — AToMIC Design - Jen Gergen

We believe in making incremental changes based on user testing. But there are some parts of the process we’re just not very good at yet. It’s usually still hard to achieve dramatic, site-wide style changes in an incremental and agile way, and most of us still run into “redesign” projects eventually. It’s sometimes hard to collaborate on the nitty-gritty style details with developers because we group and name things differently, and we store and share our work differently. Even though we want to make and test prototypes, we often don’t get around to it because they either takes a lot of effort, or produce highly questionable results, and it shouldn’t have to be so hard. AToMIC Design is an organizing principle, a workflow, and a library that aim to address these three birds with one stone.

Design Agility for Startups - Neil Wehrle
The relationship of design to the world of startups has recently shifted from a question of necessity to a position of criticality. To succeed in this new environment, designers need to adapt their strengths. In several case studies, Neil Wehrle provides insight into how designers innovate in an early-stage startup environment. Specifically, he shows how the Product Experience group at betaworks works to transform ideas into products then companies.

Sprinkle Some Pixie Dust: User Experience

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The secret to winning fans and pleasing customers might just be simplicity of design. We talked to a trio of user-experience pros about how they create intuitive (and highly successful) products.

Remember back in the day when MP3 players had features like voice recorders, cell phones touted GPS, and no one really thought much about whether their laptop was pretty? In many industries things have changed, insists Jason Putorti, former lead designer at the successful personal finance software company and current co-founder of Votizen.

Thanks in large part to the influence of Apple, “what you’re seeing now is a whole class of companies that is emerging that their core differentiator is not about an algorithm or some particular feat of engineering,” he explained to Instead, what sets companies such as Airbnb or Pinterest apart is their intuitive and user-friendly design.

"If you’re looking at a marketplace where just making it possible is a big deal then people will use [a product] regardless of the user experience," he says, but "when you get into more mature markets—eCommerce is obviously a good example—all the innovations have been around design, around experience, around how can we make users more excited." Need another example? Just look at Mint, which created $170 million in value in about two years. "A lot of people believed that Mint was by and large just a good looking skin on top of Yodlee, which was the aggregation software running in the back end," says Putorti, who calls user-friendly design the "magic pixie dust that made Mint so successful."

This shift towards an experience market and the dominance of design, Putorti insists, is something entrepreneurs in many sectors need to get their heads around. “A lot of CEOs out there, they have an idea in the shower and then they go in the office and are like, ‘yeah, let’s build that!’ That’s wrong on so many levels to a designer,” says Putorti.

Bryan Jowers, co-founder of Giftiki agrees, elaborating on a famous comment by VC David McClure:

"There are three roles that need to be filled within the startup: the hustler, the designer and the engineer. A decade ago, five years ago you only really had the engineer. Then you started to get the hustler because you had to have the guy that was willing to execute everything down the road," he said. "Now you’re seeing the designer have a seat at the table because, in order for consumer Internet plays really to be successful today, the user experience has to be baked into the product. It can’t just be added on top."

"You can’t make a really technical, amazing product and then try to figure out how the design and the entire UX fits it. I think that’s really important for founders starting out," he said. "They have to realize that design is just as important if not more than the technology that makes it actually happen."

So if you’re convinced, as Putorti puts it, that these days “design is not putting a coat of paint onto an interface” and that empathy with the customer trumps an entrepreneur’s eureka moment, but you yourself don’t have any design training, how do you proceed?

"Any founder can really learn about this stuff. Design is about understanding human needs, having empathy with their problems, starting from that perspective and believing that’s the right way to build products. That’s something that anybody can learn," says Putorti, suggesting a number of books for entrepreneurs looking to brush up on the basics of design.

But, be warned, hiring someone to design your product may not be as simple. “Someone who handles the full stack of design—they’re often called unicorns—they’re scarce and usually employed and busy, so it takes being pitched like an investor and seeing something that captivates them to get their attention,” says Putorti. What sort of pitch will nab you the best design talent? Shaun Lind, visual designer at Giftiki and founder of design firm Public School, explains:

"We want to have a seat at the table. Especially with these interactive companies and these new products, design is something that really takes a creative mind to dig into and figure out how the user is going to use it, how you can make it unique and something that’s beautiful but also effective and just fun for people," he says. "Things like that gets designers really pumped up."

How to Design a Great User Experience

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While simply expressed, each of these ideas is profound. We could make each an article, but we’ll give a short explanation instead. Fill in any missing details with examples from your own experience.

  1. Nail the basics
    The core scenarios—the primary reasons people use your Windows® program—are far more important than the fringe scenarios—things people might do but probably won’t. Nail the basics! (And if you do, users will overlook fringe problems.)
  2. Design experiences, not features
    Design experiences from beginning to end, not just individual features. And maintain your standards throughout the entire product experience. For example, if your program’s setup is hard to use and is buggy, users will assume your program is hard to use and buggy too. Why should they assume otherwise?
  3. Be great at something
    Think about how real users (not the marketing or PR departments) will describe your program. Identify your target users and make sure they can say “I love this program! It does A, B, and C super well!” If users can’t say that about your program, what’s the point? Today, “good enough” is no longer good enough—make your users love it.
  4. Don’t be all things to all people
    Your program is going to be more successful by delighting its target users than attempting to satisfy everyone. Remember that it is literally impossible to focus on everything.
  5. Make the hard decisions
    Do you really need that feature, command, or option? If so, do it well. If not, cut it! Don’t avoid difficult decisions by making everything optional or configurable.
  6. Make the experience like a friendly conversation
    Think of your UI as a conversation between you and your target users. Suppose you’re looking over a user’s shoulder and he or she asks, “What do I do here?” Think about the explanation you would give…the steps, their order, the language you’d use, and the way you explain things. Also think about what you wouldn’t say. That’s what your UI should be—like a conversation between friends—rather than something arcane that users have to decipher.
  7. Do the right thing by default
    Sure, you can pile on options to allow users to change things, but why? Choose safe, secure, convenient default values. Also, make the default experience the right experience for your target users. Don’t assume that they will configure their way out of a bad initial experience. They won’t.
  8. Make it just work
    People want to use your program, not configure it or learn a bunch of things. Choose an initial configuration, make it obvious how to do the most common and important tasks, and get your program working right away.
  9. Ask questions carefully
    Avoid asking unessential questions using modal dialogs—prefer modeless alternatives. Better yet, the current context can reveal the user’s intent, often eliminating the need to ask at all. If you must ask a question in your UI, express it in terms of users’ goals and tasks, not in terms of technology. Provide options that users understand (again, phrased in terms of goals and tasks, not technology) and clearly differentiate. Make sure to provide enough information for users to make informed decisions.
  10. Make it a pleasure to use
    Make sure your program serves its purpose well. Have the right set of features and put the features in the right places. Pay attention to detail, and make sure everything is polished. Don’t assume that users won’t notice small things. They will.
  11. Make it a pleasure to see
    Use the standard Windows look, including standard window framesfontssystem colorscommon controls and dialog boxes, and standard layout. Avoid custom UI and use branding with restraint. Use standard Windows iconsgraphics, andanimations whenever possible (and legal!) For your own graphics and icons, use a professional designer. (If you can’t afford one, use a few simple graphics—or even none at all.) 
    And don’t assume that providing skins will compensate for an unexciting look. Most users won’t bother with them and having one great look makes a much better impression than having dozens of not-so-great ones.
  12. Make it responsive
    Your program’s responsiveness is crucial to its overall experience—users find unnecessarily slow and unresponsive programs unusable. For every feature where performance is an issue, first understand your users’ goals and expectations, then choose the lightest weight design that achieves these goals. Generally, tasks that can take longer than 10 seconds need more informative feedback and the ability to cancel. Keep in mind that users’ perception of speed is just as important as the actual speed, and the perception of speed is primarily determined by how quickly a program becomes responsive.
  13. Keep it simple
    Strive for the simplest design that does the job well. Expand the design beyond that only as required. Don’t have three ways to do something when one will do. Eliminate or reduce all that unnecessary junk!
  14. Avoid bad experiences
    Easier said than done, but users’ overall perception of your program is more often determined by the quality of the bad experiences than of the good ones.
  15. Design for common problems
    Is your design great—until the user makes a mistake or the network connection is lost? Anticipate and design for common problems, user mistakes, and other errors. Consider things like the network being slow or unavailable, devices being not installed or unavailable, and users giving incorrect input or skipping steps. At each step in your program, ask yourself: What are the worst likely things that could happen? Then see how well your program behaves when they do happen. Make sure allerror messages clearly explain the problem and give an actionable solution.
  16. Don’t be annoying
    Most likely, anything users routinely dismiss without performing any action should be redesigned or removed. This is especially true for anything users see repeatedly, such as error messages, warningsconfirmations, and notifications. Never interrupt something users care about with something they don’t care about. Never cover something beautiful with something ugly. Use sound with extreme restraint. UI related to security and legal issues (for example, consent or license terms) are possible exceptions.
  17. Reduce effort, knowledge, and thought
    To reduce the effort, knowledge, and thought required to use your program:
    • Explicit is better than implicit. Put the information users need to know directly on the screen. Carefully craft themain instruction on windows and pages to clearly communicate the purpose of the UI.
    • Automatic is better than manual. Try to help users by doing things automatically whenever practical and desirable. A simple test: Close your program, then restart it and perform the most common task. How much manual effort can you eliminate?
    • Concise is better than verbose. Put it on the screen, but concisely. Get right to the point! Design text for scanning, not immersive reading. Use Help links for helpful, supplemental, but not essential information.
    • Constrained is better than unconstrained. When choosing controls, the control constrained to valid input is usually the best choice.
    • Enabled is better than disabled. Disabled controls are often confusing, so use them only when users can easily deduce why the control is disabled. Otherwise, remove the control if it doesn’t apply or leave it enabled and give helpful feedback.
    • Remembered is better than forgotten. Except for situations that involve security and privacy, it’s better to remember users’ previous input and actions and make them easy to do again than to make users start over each time.
    • Feedback is better than being clueless. Give clear feedback to indicate whether a task is being done or has failed. Don’t make the user guess.
  18. Follow the guidelines
    Of course! Consider UX Guide to be the minimum quality and consistency bar for Windows-based programs. Use it to follow best practices, make routine decisions, and to just make your job easier. Focus your creative energy on the important things—whatever your program is all about—not the routine. Don’t create that weird program that nobody can figure out how to use. Follow the guidelines and make your experience stand out while fitting in.
  19. Test your UI
    You won’t know if you’ve got it right until you’ve tested your program with real target users with a usability study. Most likely, you’ll be (unpleasantly) surprised by the results. Be glad to have your UI criticized—that’s required for you to do your best work. And be sure to collect feedback after your program ships.

iPad vs. iPhone: A User Experience Study

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Our 2-year-olds can use it. It’s a brilliant entertainment device. But what sort of business potential does the iPad offer? Several companies have shown interest in mobile payment systems from startups like Square to mega-corporations like Visa. But what is the iPad’s user experience in a real-world, business environment?

By now, one thing we know is that the iPad is not simply a larger iPhone, nor is it a smaller computer. Developers have been quick to port their apps from the iPhone to the iPad to ensure they don’t miss out on this trend, but there are big differences in the underlying specs and form factor of the iPad that make this a fundamentally different user experience.

Lucky for us, Bolt | Peters likes researching UX, and we thought this topic deserved a little investigation. So we conducted an observation of 14 customers over three months at our neighborhood coffee shop, Sightglass, that just happened to be an early user of Square on both the iPhone and the iPad. We observed and recorded those customers’ mobile payment interactions with the Square app, and interviewed select customers. Our first study was in December 2009 (with the iPhone) with a follow-up in April 2010 (with the iPad).

Two important business considerations came from our studies: (1) speed kills (in a good way), and (2) shared is the new private. If you’re thinking that nothing statistically valid can come from observing such a small sample of interactions, the Internet is chock full of data supporting that behavior repeats over a very small sample, and that we can safely extract patterns to much larger audiences, as long as we’re not talking about opinions. We were definitely not observing people’s opinions about the iPad or iPhone; we are strictly interested in how they accomplish the simple task of paying for coffee.

Speed Kills

In our observations of mobile payment transactions at Sightglass, the time it took to complete a purchase using Square on the iPad was more than twice as fast as using Square on the iPhone. In one direct comparison, it took 20.5 seconds to complete a purchase with the iPad, but 44.1 seconds on an iPhone 3G.

As slaves to our digital devices, we find that the physical world is constantly competing for our attention. Seconds matter here. This hasn’t been an issue with computing until very recently; usability scientists in the 90‘s claimed 8 to 15 seconds was the maximum time someone would wait for an interaction using a desktop computer (see Shackel’s Acceptability Paradigm). But with any kind of portable device, seconds mean the difference between a seamless user experience and pocketing the device to pay with cash or talk to a stranger.

Watch video of our study:

A 100% increase in speed is a huge deal. It means the merchant was effortlessly ringing up customers one after another with fewer clicks and less down time on the iPad. There was more time to prepare other customers’ drinks and less time spent hunched over a handheld device waiting for the transaction to complete. Keep in mind that for Sightglass, a boutique coffee kiosk, the iPhone as a point-of-sale system was still superior to accepting cash only; they had no other cash register.

We all have heard by now that the iPad’s 1GHz processor is light years ahead of the current iPhone, although this has changed now that Apple has gotten back all its "stolen" 4G iPhones and released them to the public. And while it seems obvious, this speed in the iPad makes for more than just a casually better user experiences and positive outcomes for business prospects. It’s the first time that seconds are a fundamental part of user experience in almost a decade of personal computing.

Shared is the New Private

The form factor and physical affordances of the iPad also change the nature of the game. The iPad is not pocket sized, it has a large screen (1024 x 768 at 132ppi), and it naturally lays flat on the table as opposed to resting upright or being tucked away in your hand. All of these factors place the iPad squarely in the realm of a shareable computing device.

iPad Viewing Angle

Notice how easy it is to view content on iPad. The screen can easily be viewed by 3-4 users sitting around in a circle or gazing over the shoulder. An iPhone with its 480x320 screen would be squinted at by neighbors, or would simply be passed around and handled individually.

And as a shared device, the iPad invites social interaction.

This actually proves to be somewhat of a pain point in the user experience of Square on the iPad, as customers are drawn to interacting with (or at least observing) their payment transactions. Yet iPad users today are now largely removed from the transaction, apart from providing their credit card as a form of payment.

After that, the merchant drives the interaction. Since the iPad Square app doesn’t require customer signatures anymore, we observed merchants skipping over the (optional) tipping screen time and again. When asked about this, merchants said it was too awkward to ask aloud, “And would you like to add a tip to that?” One time the transaction proceeded so quickly that a customer commented at the end, “This is great! But where do I tip?”

Part of the reason for this shift in experience is that Sightglass’ iPad is more like a cash register than a hand-held mobile device. This is made possible, in part, by a custom wooden holder that was specially designed for Sightglass. The holder keeps the iPad upright and angled in such a way that it’s readable and easy to interact with by people standing at the counter. Plus it swivels and hides all the ugly cords and stuff.

Take a look at the side-by-side comparison of a mobile payment transaction on the iPhone versus the iPad, paying attention to all the open space surrounding the iPad.

Side-by-side comparison of iPhone and iPad use

It’s interesting that customers want to engage with merchants during payment, but don’t quite know what their role is supposed to be. Around normal cash registers, customers would never step behind the table and complete their own transaction. With the iPhone Square app, customers were required to complete their own transaction. And now with the iPad, do the customers step up and add their own tip—entering the private space of the merchant and cash register—or stay clear of the transaction altogether?

We observed one telling interaction that illustrated how the affordances of the iPad-cum-cash-register can lead to some awkwardness. In this case, the merchant swiped the customer’s card (per usual) but immediately stepped away from the iPad to prepare another customer’s drink. This left the payment process in limbo, and made the paying customer wonder what would happens next.

After a moment or two, the customer glanced down at the iPad and noticed that the transaction had paused on the screen asking for a tip. He looked around, hesitated, and then gingerly reached over and pressed the $1 tip button. He did the same on the next screen, where he entered an email address for a receipt, only stepping closer to use the iPad keyboard. Throughout this episode, his body language spoke of his social curiosity for the iPad mixed with the social taboo of entering the domain of the merchant.

Now, this is just one example of how the physical affordances and social invitation of the iPad can lead to awkward user experiences, especially for customers involved in mobile payment transactions. At the same time, customers were not involved in most of the transactions at Sightglass, making the user experience for the merchant quick, painless, and efficient.

5 Ways to Be Persuasive in Your UX Work

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In your work as a UX professional, do you ever find that you need to convince people that the team should follow a user-centered design process? Do you need to convince stakeholders they should do user research? Do you try to get user experience thinking inserted earlier in the project lifecycle? Perhaps you need to sell yourself or your company? I certainly do. In fact, I find that there are many of these persuasive moments in the practice of user experience design. To be successful as a UX professional, you need to know how to be persuasive.

Being good at persuading people is particularly important in our profession, for a variety of reasons. First, many business stakeholders and partners do not understand what UX design is all about. They don’t understand the basis for many UX design principles or how a user-centered design process leads to intuitive design solutions. Second, because they all interact with an increasing number of user interfaces, they develop their own opinions about what works and what doesn’t. It is the UX professional’s job to persuade stakeholders and decision makers that their personal biases and opinions might not always suggest the best design solutions.

Recognizing the importance of persuasive skills, I was very intrigued when a speaker at a recent conference recommended the book 27 Powers of Persuasion by Chris St. Hilaire. I immediately read the book and several others on the psychology of persuasion and have since tried to apply the lessons I learned in my work. While the psychology of persuasion is universal—people use it to sell things, get their way at home, and in so many other ways—I have found that there are certain persuasive skills that are particularly applicable to the practice of UX design. While they may seem like common sense, if you take the time to review them, practice them, and remind yourself to use them, they’ll come more naturally in the heat of an argument or when you’re in an important meeting.

1. Be Likable

“Persuading others is much easier if they like you.”

In the literature, this is a common theme: persuading others is much easier if they like you. If you can develop a personal connection with the folks on your team, they will be less defensive and more likely to work with you. How do you make yourself likable?

First, start with the basics of etiquette. Smile. Make eye contact and offer a firm handshake. If someone asks you how you are, answer, but make sure to ask about how he or she is doing, too. Complement people, thank them for taking time out of their day to meet with you, and find something you may share in common outside of work. These are little things, but if you remind yourself to do them, you will be in a better position to persuade people when you need to.

Second, find something that you like about the people you work with. Under the stress of deadlines and in a fast-paced work environment, it is easy to focus on annoying habits or personal styles that you dislike. But, if you focus on those things, it will affect your demeanor in a negative way. Find something positive about other people you work with and your interactions with them will organically become more positive—and you will be in a better position to persuade them.

I had this experience with a CEO I was working with on a project. The CEO was very direct, dismissed some of the finer details that we were considering on a project, and used obscure metaphors to try to make his points about design. When I was younger, I might have thought that CEO was crazy and didn’t know what he was talking about in relation to design. But, instead, I focused on the positive aspects of his behavior. I appreciated that he was trying to challenge us to think outside the box and innovate rather than getting caught up in the details. I chose to like that aspect of his approach and leveraged it to develop a successful, long-term business relationship with him.

Finally, don’t be afraid to be different. I used to believe in the old mantra that you should dress to match the people you’re trying to persuade. Lessons in the books on persuasion, though, suggested that if you present yourself as being the same as the people you’re trying to persuade, you’ll give them the impression that you’re not offering anything new. Be yourself, and you are likely to be more comfortable, more likable, and in a better position put others at ease.

2. Be the User Experience Geek

“Another key aspect of successful persuasion … is establishing your credibility. … Having the ability to explain and rationalize design decisions helps establish your credibility….”

Another key aspect of successful persuasion cited in the literature is establishing your credibility. In the profession of user experience, this means you have to show people that you understand the science of human factors, cognitive psychology, and design. Having the ability to explain and rationalize design decisions helps establish your credibility and separates you from others who bring their own personal biases and opinions to an argument.

Language is important in this regard. You should be able to make reference to the actual design principles that are guiding your viewpoint. Refer to decision architecture and the power of social influence. Talk about specific research protocols such as the repertory grid, lotus blossom technique, or design studio rather than research, brainstorming, or workshops. Anything that has a principle associated with it is good—for example, Gestalt principles, the Scarcity Principle, or the Four Plus or Minus Two Principle. Developing a vocabulary around the foundations of our profession will position you as someone who knows what they are talking about.

That being said, your tone and delivery of these principles is critical. You don’t want to sound demeaning or confrontational. Many of the books on persuasion suggest that the best way to deliver this type of expertise is in a helpful, educational way. Position your message in a way that helps to educate a group so they can make good decisions—not to show yourself off as a know-it-all.

3. Bring Your Empathy with You

“By their nature, UX professionals are empathetic toward users. To be persuasive, you need to apply this same empathy to team members who you are working with.”

By their nature, UX professionals are empathetic toward users. To be persuasive, you need to apply this same empathy to team members who you are working with. Recognize that everyone is motivated by something different. If you don’t and instead try to argue directly against other people’s perspective or agenda, they will perceive you as not working toward the good of the group, and you will have a difficult time generating consensus. There are a couple of tricks in the books on persuasive psychology that can help with this.

First, acknowledge others’ point of view, take the emotion out of your side of the argument, and present the usability or user experience perspective. In 27 Powers of Persuasion, Chris St. Hilaire suggests that just using the word perspective is important. By referring to the user experience perspective, you are implicitly acknowledging that there are other perspectives—all of which should be considered equally. Again, tone is important. You should not suggest that the user experience perspective is the most important perspective. Rather, it should be one of many important perspectives that it’s necessary to consider during a discussion to achieve the best group decision.

Second, ask questions to make sure you understand what is motivating a different opinion. If you jump to a quick judgment about a design idea or a process someone else proposes, you might miss the rationale behind that idea and an opportunity to build on something for the good of the group. This is hard to do in the heat of an argument, but asking questions should come naturally to UX researchers.

Third, if you are considering a specific decision, try presenting a user experience rationale for both sides of an argument. By doing this, not only are you acknowledging the different perspectives, you are empowering others to weigh the pros and cons and giving them a choice.

4. There Is No I in User-Centered Design Team—Okay, Maybe Just One I

“Your real goal should be getting your perspective heard, then generating consensus and making smart decisions that take all perspectives into account.”

While the principles of persuasion I’ve discussed so far may appear to be techniques to get your way, your real goal should be getting your perspective heard, then generating consensus and making smart decisions that take all perspectives into account. Literature on the psychology of persuasion offers the idea that people naturally want to be united. If there is disagreement in a room about particular issues, people generally gravitate toward those who unite the group, not those who steadfastly try to push their own agenda. If a group can perceive you as a uniting person, who is most interested in the success of the group as a whole, you will be more likely to influence the group to hear your side of the story.

One way to play a uniting role is to remind people of the ultimate goal. For example, in a meeting, if you restate the goals of the meeting, or in an email, if you reiterate the top-level goals of a project, others will see you as someone who is interested in the best interests of the group.

Language is also important in this regard. As much as possible, try to say we rather than I. Even for outside consultants or agencies, referring to a project team collectively can help you define your unifying role and position you to be more likely to persuade.

5. When All Else Fails, Go Subconscious

“If you don’t agree with an idea that someone has proposed, don’t argue directly against it. Instead, offer another idea.”

The most interesting aspects of my reading on persuasiveness were the tips and tricks that you can leverage to persuade subconsciously. A few of those most relevant to UX design include the following:

  • Yes, and…. Even if you disagree with a point someone else has made, acknowledge their point with Yes, then follow that up by stating your rationale and idea. The act of saying Yes makes others less defensive and more apt to hear your side.
  • Copy physiological and verbal cues. If another person has certain mannerisms or patterns of speech, copying them will make them subconsciously feel more connected to you, and you will seem more likable and persuasive to them. Of course, you should not do this mockingly or jokingly. But done subtly, it can be effective.
  • Don’t say No, say Let’s try this. If you don’t agree with an idea that someone has proposed, don’t argue directly against it. Instead, offer another idea. By adding more ideas to the mix, you are giving people an opportunity to compare their idea to yours, without actually saying no to them and alienating them.

Books on persuasive skills present a variety of other techniques. Find the ones that are most natural and work best for you.


“If you understand the basics of persuasion…, you can improve your overall effectiveness and increase the impact you have in your work.”

To be successful in your work as a UX professional, you have to be good at persuasion. This does not mean being manipulative or demeaning. If you understand the basics of persuasion and constantly monitor and refine your persuasive skills, you can improve your overall effectiveness and increase the impact you have in your work.