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UX: Deliberate and Ethical Persuasion

Robert Hoekman Jr, in his book Designing the Obvious lists deliberately and ethically persuading users to perform a specific action as one of the tenants of obvious design. Hoekman’s book gives some examples. One element that he discusses is scarcity. It's a marketing trick as well, to use scarcity to drive sales.

BestBuy does this all the time. They've got computers and TVs on sale, and then they attach, “Limit 1 per customer”, or only, “Limit 5 per store”. Were you planning buying more than one TV? Is there really a scarcity of TVs at BestBuy that they can only have 5 of that particular model at your local store? The answer to both of these questions is usually, “No!” So why do you rush to BestBuy on Saturday morning to buy that TV that you've been thinking about for over 6 months. Because they might run out.

In a similar way, web applications can also create scarcity to influence and persuade a user to perform a certain action. Now this is where Hoekman's point about ethical persuasion comes in. Artifically creating scarcity to drive up demand is bad, and even worse when you're on the web. However if you're working with a product that is actually scarce, why not take advantage of that. For example, airplane seats, hotel rooms and concert tickets, these are all physical things that will run out.

Today I found myself admiring's persuasive techniques to get me to book a hotel for Google I/O 2012. The site used OAuth authentication which allowed me to cross one hurdle, registration. I didn't need to create an account, as my Google account got me in the door. Everywhere the price was listed, was a green reassuring text that said, "FREE CANCELLATION". That reduces any barrier that I might have to making a booking. Then they used metrics that had at their disposal to influence me to book quickly. By showing me how many people were currently looking at that particular hotel on their site, I knew how many people I was competing with. All of a sudden, it was no longer a solitary purchase behind a computer desk, I had to grab that hotel before the guy from Munich took it. Then there was a notice of when the last booking happened at that hotel, that was mere minutes ago. Then as the text turned red, to draw my eye toward there only being 1 room left at that price, and competing with several other people, I just booked the room. If after reading countless reviews after, I wanted to cancel, I could always come back to and cancel, but they didn't let me get away.

I left thinking about their user interface, and how they managed to get me to make a booking at a decent hotel in record time. I didn't labor over pages of TripAdvisor reviews before I made the booking. I stayed entirely within the website. If anyone knows me, that's entirely unlike me. I usually research something to death. But thanks to persuasive design, I saved time, and money by booking my hotel for Google I/O 2012 early. Now all I need to do is get tickets for the conference...

In case you're wondering...

Google I/O 2012 is held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco from June 27-29, 2012. Registration opens at 7am PST on March 27, 2012. Unlike most conferences, Google's development conference sold out last year in 59mins. So people like me are booking hotels before they are actually registered for the conference. They increased the cost of the conference this year to $900. Hopefully that'll be enough to get the moochers out and allow developers to attend. There has been a ridiculous number of non-developers who have attended their developers conferences in the past, only for the free stuff.

And yes, I did look up my hotel after at TripAdvisor for some peace of mind...

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