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June 2007 Contents

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UPA 2007


Persuasive Design and Usability

What is our role as Usability Professionals?

By Silvia Zimmermann

Silvia Zimmermann is Managing Director at Usability.ch in Zurich, Switzerland (www.usability.ch). She is UPA Director of Organizational Outreach and UPA Treasurer.
Email: silvia.zimmermann@usability.ch

I first came across Persuasive Design back in 2003 when I read the book Persuasive Technology - using Computers to Change What We Think and Do [1]. In his book, B. J. Fogg defines persuasive technology "as any interactive computing system designed to change people's attitudes and behaviors". This definition immediately grabbed my attention. Changing people's attitudes and behaviors for the good could help us to make this world a better place. And turning this world into a better one is one of the key drivers for most of the usability people I know. Most of them don't advocate usability for the money; they want to help make things and consequently life easier.

As Usability people we usually tend to focus on making things easier to use. To allow for good usability and an excellent user experience we integrate user centered design methods and standardized usability processes into our daily work. We are used to doing this; we advocate for it day after day; we even try to persuade our clients and the people around us to do the same because we have a strong belief in it. And without question, making things easier to use is an honorable thing to do, because it generally enhances the overall user experience. However, we as Usability Professionals have the potential to reach beyond! And I invite you to do so.

This year's November 2007 World Usability Day will focus on healthcare and so did partly the Persuasive Technology 2007 conference which I attended in April this year at Standford. Having healthcare in mind, we as Usability Professionals primarily think of usable medical devices and software and how we could improve them to make them more efficient and easier to use. But persuasive design in this area focuses on how technology could be used to motivate people to change their behavior, for instance by increasing their physical activity, by preventing them from smoking, or by changing their eating behavior.

NIKE and Apple for instance introduced NIKE+ to the market which is used to motivate you to increase your physical activity, for example, they turned your iPod into some sort of personal trainer for you. All you have to do to get started is to put a sensor into your NIKE+ compatible shoes and to download the latest iPod software.

NIKE+  sensor
NIKE+ sensor (image source: www.nike.com)

As soon as the sensor is connected to your iPod, the NIKE+ sensor tracks your running speed, the distance and time of your workout and your calories burned. So you listen to your favorite music while running and your personal trainer - the iPod - provides you with regular feedback during your workout. Does it work? Well, it works for me and I was wondering why an iPod device is able to persuade me to be more physically active.

My NIKE+  Site
My NIKE+ Site

A short evaluation of my own behavior let me come to the conclusion that not only the persuasive design elements of the Nike+ website persuaded me but also the usability of the different devices involved. The good thing about the persuasive design implemented is that the device reminds me to continue with my workout. Here in Europe I see Nike+ people all over the place and I somehow feel proud to be part of this running community. Besides, my iPod also provides me with feedback and congratulates me when I have achieved my goals. However, the most important factor for me is that both the devices and the iPod-software are very easy to use. And I'm sure that I wouldn't use Nike+ at all if I would have experienced any usability defects in the first place.

So usability for me is like an enabler for persuasive design and this puts Usability Professionals like us in a very strong position. As usability people we already do a wonderful job by making devices, products and websites easier to use. But we also have the potential to reach beyond. I hence invite you to look at how we could use the usable things we design to empower people to change their attitudes and behaviors to improve their overall life experience.


[1] B.J. Fogg, Pesuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2003; ISBN 1-55860-643-2.

For information about Nike+, see: http://nikeplus.nike.com/nikeplus/index.jhtml


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