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Persuasion skills offer practical applications in our daily personal lives. If you’ve ever tried to get a reluctant child to clean their room, for example, you’d know the feat can frustrate even the most patient caregiver. To many professions, being persuasive takes on a central role in their ultimate success. Were we to compose a list, it would be populated with the likes of salespeople, attorneys, politicians, and educators. And right up near the top of that list would be marketing and design professionals.

Several years back, I was interviewed by a group of eager first year design students. It was a wide ranging and revealing discussion punctuated with inspiration, passion and perception. Apart from the salvo of warnings I offered in regards to flying solo, one of them asked a question that immediately caused me to sweat out a response. If I were able to travel back in time, what information would I choose to impart on my younger, design-student self. Almost immediately, the thought of hurling through a time-continuum was actually possible, and I’d better have a damned good answer to warrant the journey.

Mandatory knowledge for aspiring graphic designers

The response began with a thirst for history (A History of Graphic Design by Philip Meggs) and structure (Grid Systems in Graphic Design developed by legendary Swiss design pioneer and teacher Josef Müller-Brockmann). The historical component is required reading in design school but worthy of reinforcement, whereas the structural aspects are the foundation behind all good design systems. “(Grids) are used by the typographer, the graphic designer, photographer and exhibition designer for solving visual problems in two or three dimensions.” Müller-Brockmann goes on to describe the correlation between page structure, reading patterns and the fibonacci series of numbers. Mathematical porn for the inner design nerd in us all.

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”
— Desmond Tutu

Marketing and Design Persuasion

Going a step further, however, would require delving into cognitive psychology. Persuasion is a knowledge demand worthy of pursuit (The Power of Persuasion: How We’re Bought and Sold by Robert Levine, The Science of Influence by Kevin Hogan). From a disciplined design perspective, persuasion is largely the goal we set out with and find their way to the finished product. Initiatives are undertaken with the intent of getting attention, communicating a message and/or inspiring action. Give us a moment of your time, convey expertise, buy this product, try our service, etc. In a competitive landscape riddled with noise, marketing and design persuasion may well be one of the most underrated and valuable skills to have in your arsenal.

The Science of Persuasion

Research on human behaviour has been conducted extensively for over 60 years. Behavioural Sciences experts Dr. Robert Cialdini (@RobertCialdini) and Steve Martin (@scienceofyes) identified 6 scientifically validated shortcuts to the decision making that guides human behaviour.

  1. Reciprocity. People feel obliged to give when they receive.
  2. Scarcity. People want more of the things they can have less of.
  3. Authority. People will follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts.
  4. Consistency. Looking for, and asking for, small initial commitments that can be made.
  5. Liking. We like those similar to us, we like people who pay us compliments, and we like people who cooperate with us.
  6. Consensus. People often look the the actions and behaviours of others before determining their own.

Controlling attention

Any magician worth his salt knows how to read an audience. They are adept at controlling attention as can be seen in this TED Talks session with master thief Apollo Robbins. Guaranteed you will replay parts to see how he does it.

SPOILER ALERT: The ending will amaze you.

The bottom line

Persuasion skills go far beyond the professional realms by offering practical applications in our daily lives. In a world of information overload, ethical persuasion is a knowledge that should be in every marketing toolbox. The marketing itself is a broadcast. Injecting the message with creative thinking and an understanding of persuasion principles can turn an ordinary campaign into an extraordinary result.

Michael Nourse

Michael Nourse

Michael Nourse is the founder of Communicreations, a boutique digital marketing agency helping businesses market themselves on the Internet. He is a multidisciplinary designer with complementary strengths in strategic marketing and web development. Michael has made a career out of brand building and telling people what to do — in a good way! Plus, he brews a mean masala chai. Follow him on Twitter @michaelnourse.

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