Part [9/12] Review of CXL’s Digital Psychology and Persuasion

Aaron Baker
8 min readSep 21, 2020

During this week’s (week 9) lectures of CXL’s Digital Psychology and Persuasion Mini-degree, we begin learning about creating influential design and Brian Cugleman’s behavioural design training model.

Influence and interactive design

Brian Cugleman presents a framework that illustrates research being done on Human Behavioral Patterns. The framework shows how you can direct attention, how you can advocate for ideas and how you can facilitate action.

The framework is further broken down into more detailed categories. Under ‘Advocate for Ideas’ we can Educate customers, Evoke emotions, support decision making and assure outcomes for our users.

Under the ‘Facilitate Actions’ stage, the framework will show how o provide a path/opportunity, how to trigger responses and how to support progress.

During the design stage, we need to focus on design elements that grab users attention we can use a concept called Pre-attentive programming.

These pre-attentive processes are cues that our subconscious registers and focuses on. we can use these cues to control where users look on a page.

The cues are as follows


When there is a sequence of number clusters you can grab a users attention by having one cluster breaks the pattern.


When there is a pattern of all elements being ‘enclosed’, ie. a border you can grab a users attention by introducing an element that breaks this sequence


When there are elements that are all of the same or similar size you can grab a users attention by showing them an element that is a different size.


When elements are oriented one direction you can grab users attention by introducing an element that is oriented in a different direction.

Additional elements

You can grab users attention by adding an element to the current pattern.


You can grab users attention by making an element a different colour or shade than the rest


When all elements are straight and one is curved

Subtracted elements

When the elements in a pattern consisting of multiple parts you can grab a users attention by subtracting an element


When one element is a different shape than the others.

Digital Psychology & Behavioral Design Training

The reality is that you can take any frame of reference you like and can tear down any page and tell a coherent story about it.

Brian says that some of the user stories that marketers tell will not produce any results

You should follow the concept of philosophy that is that you build on the stories and maybe you will get something out of it. You may improve the results or maybe things won’t work at all. There are some strong strategies that will work based off concepts from psychology that do help

What they do is use these broad /academic strategies and translate those into insights that are more than just an arbitrary story about the page.

They are actually insights into how people think and feel. They give us as marketers a frame of reference that we can use to apply to websites to gain more in-depth insight and bring judgement that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Brian says that we can look at a page from a number of perspectives — and these are the ones that we will be focusing on in the course


  • Anticipation reward
  • Feeling confident
  • Boosting Self-efficacy


  • Triggering the reward system
  • No fight-or-flight
  • Releasing an endorphin response

Industry Lingo

  • Value Prop
  • Trust bling
  • Benefits and features

Psychology is more concerned with how people think and feel — at a conceptual level. There are different theories about what drives behaviour, which influences our emotions and how people interact.

Philosophy of Cuglegaard

Brian talks about the UI toolkit and testing model developed alongside Micheal Asgaard.

Cuglegaard was designed for industrial applications with the fewest, high impact principals. Not suitable for more in-depth applications which require advanced behavioural science approaches

Features of the system

  • Based on industry applications
  • Uses industry terms, rather than behavioural science jargon
  • Based on principals that are easy to identify and apply
  • Tied to common UI, Typically used in conversion rate optimization
  • Easy to learn and apply
  • A decent blend of theory and practice


Topics Covered:

  • What to focus on in design for behaviour change
  • How to contrast superficial versus real metrics
  • How to quickly measure outcomes

AIM (Audience Influence Model)

  • These are the outcomes that you want to focus on in order to influence behaviour change.

Concentrating (aware)

You want to arrest their attention. If you can’t get them to pay attention to you then you’ll find it difficult to influence their behaviour.

Comprehending (informed)

Where we are trying to get people to understand what we do. If you can’t convey what you do, you can’t influence them. We are trying to help people have a mental model of what we do. If they can comprehend the info, they’ll be able to make decisions.

Desiring (motivated)

We want them to want to do something. This is where we fire up the emotions, you can’t have motivation without emotions

Deciding (Intent)

Something that is optional. When someone wants to do something, but they are trying to figure out what is best for them.

Trusting (confident)

This is most acute before action. It does not drive behaviour but trust does stop a behaviour

Acting (short-term)

When someone starts doing the first step towards the behaviour. ex; key behaviour

Maintaining (long-term)

When an action is maintained. This is where you’re able to get people to do key behaviours over time. This is the gold standard.


When people take action but never come back or opt-out. People don’t usually report this, since this is bad for business.

Vanity Stats

Brian says that most CRO specialists are obsessed with the wrong metrics — superficial metrics.


  • Pageviews
  • Signing up, subscribing
  • Downloading
  • Retweeting
  • Voting, liking, plussing (Google +)
  • marking content as offensive
  • Posting/answering
  • Questions
  • Commenting
  • Forwarding, sharing
  • Tagging
  • Bookmarking

We really should be focused on Real Human Impact

  • Comprehending
  • Desiring
  • Deciding
  • Acting

There is a whole debate on, what do we optimize for and how do we measure these?

  • Well, it’s because it is expensive. You actually have to go out and survey customers to see what people are thinking. Do what you can to try and get this information. If you are able to do this, you’ll get deeper insights to see what is working.
  • Do you have to follow the order presented?
  • The reality is that practitioners will go for whatever that works. They can come in any order, what matters is if you get the result

Dark patterns

Anything that is in our interest, but not in the interest of our audience

Backfire Risk

  • Lose — lose
  • You’ve used psychology in a bad way. Ex: a website that discredited themselves — social media marketer with a low social media following.

Attrition rates

  • Essentially anything that we can create has the potential to create behaviour change will only continue to work as long as they are engaged with us they focus purely on engagement strategies. Ddifferent memory and nudging techniques

Forming habits

When nonsense knowledge gets into the mainstream, you get nonsense products. Ex: 21 days habit apps don’t work because it really It takes closer to 2 months to complete.

When habits are being formed, as everyday action is completed that action becomes more and more natural. It becomes more and more unconscious

Flash test survey questions

Behavioural User Interface Devices: Descriptors

Descriptive components are Behavioral UI Devices that help users understand what is being presented. For instance, here was Charles and he was on a website that had him convinced that this company could cure his, baldness.

“Oh… Oh, okay, no way! Charles says to himself, “apparently, it’s normal to lose about 100 strands of hair each day and that we have just over 100,000 strands on our heads, so we shouldn’t be concerned. BUT wait! If you’re losing 200 or more a day, it may be a sign of future baldness!”

And then it will go onto say that “In order to make sure that you hold onto your full head of hair, you can do so with this brand new device and if you say ‘no today’ you’ll never have the chance to use it” So then it turns out that the device is actually just some secret light, I don’t know something crazy like that. Since that Charles thinks “ that’s just a light! How can this be true? This must be bullsh*t” Charles ends up declining the one-time offer. But then, in the end, he discovers that the light did in fact work and he’s missed out.

So here you have a case where the user was very motivated, but they couldn’t understand it so they eventually gave up. Now see, the website did have information to inform readers on how and why the light works. It may have made convinced Charles that the light would work, and he would never be bald, but Charles didn’t get it. And that’s the problem right there.

As humans, we have this ability to base all of the things we learn in the present to be tied to ideas or concepts that we’ve learnt in the past. And we do this with everything. So it doesn’t matter what you learn today; call it a lesson, a concept or a schema. If you’re presented with this fresh never heard of (to you) information and you’ve never learned anything in the past that is even remotely related to it. It makes it very difficult for you to understand today.

Final thoughts

Great lessons this week. I really appreciated how we went back and repurposed some of our previous learnings. It made the theory mixed with the practical applications taught this week that made it easier to grasp and gave me new perspectives on old ideas. I rate this weeks content a 4.5/5! I found that I learned the most this session and know that my foundational knowledge will contribute to my learning for the weeks ahead.

See you next week!