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Last updated on 4/29/20

Design for Social Dynamics and Trust

We're constantly inundated by options, choices, and alerts. What do we do? Where do we go? Where do we start? We turn to authorities, experts, and even our friends.

Designing for social proof

Users look for validation through social proof, which the Nielsen Norman Group defines as "a psychological phenomenon where people reference the behavior of others to guide their own behavior." People want to know what their peers think. Social proof can be integrated into designs in simple ways by incorporating:

  • reviews

  • testimonials

  • comments

  • number of likes

  • number of shares

  • press coverage

Social proof is used to help build confidence with users. Think about the times you have visited a website for the first time and you looked for these things in order to get a sense of the site's "legitimacy."

Screenshot of 2 reviews for a bracelet on Etsy that got 5 stars.
On Etsy.com reviews can help a shopper determine if they want to buy a product tonight. Some reviews include photos of the person, but the default setting is an avatar.

In the era of social networks, it's easier than ever before to buy products or services because they often come recommended from a friend. This both helps validate and justify what you're buying, while also establishing a sense of trust.

The science of persuasion

Design is an industry that pulls inspiration from many different fields. Dr. Robert Cialdini is famous for his work on persuasion. His best-selling book, Influence: Science and Practice, examines the psychology of influence and the factors that cause people to say "yes" to requests from others. 

Cialdini argues that there is a science to how people are persuaded. The reality is that not everyone will look at all the information presented to them. You can use shortcuts for the following principles in order to guide users:

  1. Reciprocity – there's an obligation to give when you receive

  2. Scarcity – people want more of the things that they have less of

  3. Authority – people follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts

  4. Consistency – adherence to the same principles across platforms

  5. Liking – people prefer to say yes to the people they like

  6. Consensus – people will look to the actions of others to decide what to do themselves

The video below explores these factors that influence us to say yes. They are tools to help persuade people, which in the world of design can mean getting someone to subscribe to your newsletter, creating an account on your platform, adopting your service, buying a concert ticket before it sells out, or telling all their friends about your product.

Science of Persuasion narrated by Dr. Robert Cialdini (author of Influence and Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade) and Steve Martin, CMCT (co-author of YES  and The Small Big). [11:50 min]

Using these principles of persuasion ethically can help persuade someone to do something. Keep in mind that small adjustments to how you approach a problem can often have a large impact. Start thinking from the users' perspective. You can always test ideas to see which are the most effective.

Let's recap!

  • Human relationships help inform the choices people make and help establish a sense of trust.

  • "Social proof" is a way of showcasing the value of a product through things like testimonials and reviews, which are often highlighted on websites. 

  • The work of Dr. Robert Cialdini examines how psychology can be used for influence and persuasion in ethical ways.

  • You can conduct tests to see which methods are most effective at reaching your user base.

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