Getting People to Do Stuff – 7 Motivational Drivers Related to UX

January 30, 2014 by UX-RADIO


Are you good with people? Do you know how to get them to do stuff? Are you using tips and techniques you picked up from others or experimented with? If so, I bet that sometimes your strategies work and other times they don’t.

Dr. Susan Weinschenk has over 30 years of experience as a behavioral psychologist and she specializes in applying psychology and brain science to understand and predict human behavior. Today we’re discussing her latest book titled “How to Get People To Do Stuff and we talk about the 7 motivational drivers that relate to user experience.


  • 4:10 Motivational Driver #1 Need to Belong
  • 8:29 Making your product or service a Habit
  • 11:44 Changing people’s behavior through the Power of Stories
  • 16:48 Rewards with reinforcement and Carrots & Sticks
  • 19:10 Instincts – food, sex and danger
  • 22:03 Stimulating the natural Desire for Mastery


What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the author? What inspired you from this episode? What did you learn? What resources were most helpful? Please add a comment and share your thoughts with us!


Narrator: Does user centered design at the forefront of ubiquitous computing, big data and dynamic visualization excite you? As the leader in predictive marketing analytics, according to Forrester Research, MarketShare is a fast growing start up building a world class user experience team of interaction designers, front enddevelopers, visualization experts and user researchers.

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Welcome to UX-Radio, the podcast that generates collaborative discussion about information architecture, user experience and design. Here’s your host, Lara Fedoroff.

Lara: Hi, this is Lara. Thank you for tuning in to UX-Radio.

Today I’m talking with Dr. Susan Weinschenk. She has over thirty years of experience as a behavioral psychologist. She’s also an author, speaker and consultant in the psychology of experiences.

She specializes in applying psychology and brain science tounderstand and predict human behavior. Susan recently launched a series of courses on This is an online training website with thousands of courses from photography to yoga all the way to user experience.

Susan’s courses are based on her books. For example like Designing for Engagement and 100 Hundred Things Every Designer Needs to know about People. Today we’re discussion her latest book titled, How to get People to Do Stuff and we talk about the seven motivational drivers that relate to user experience. Here’s Susan.

How to Get People to Do StuffSusan: So we’ve been doing a combination of classes and some of it is going back to like the foundational UX methods and processes because UX is growing and there’s so many new people now interested in, maybe not even becoming a UX professional, but in bringing user experience into their project.

What we’re finding is there’s a need for… There are a lot of people who don’t really understand, “What is user testing?” “What is information architecture?” “What is a task analysis?”

And so some of what we’re doing now with the Udemy courses is going all the way back and kind of starting with the basics because there is, I think, such a large audience that needs that. And then of course we’re doing what I think of as “the fun new stuff”. So I’ve been doing courses based on my books.

So I have a course called Designing for Engagement which comes from my book 100 Hundred Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. So it’s kind of a combination of the basic stuff plus the new stuff that we’re teaching now.

Lara: That’s fantastic. And so your latest book is How to get People to Do Stuff.

Susan: Right.

Lara: I love that title.

Susan: Good.

Lara: It’s really interesting. And you kind of go through seven different motivational drivers.

Susan: Right; it’s based around the idea that if you want to get people to do stuff, and we all want to get people to do stuff right? Whether we want our clients to listen to our latest proposal, whether we want our colleagues to come to a meeting, whether we want our kids to do theirhomework – I mean our days are filled with trying to get people to do stuff. Yet I think that a lot of times we don’t think about, “How are we going to do that?” For this particular person or this particular group and I want them to do this particular thing, what’s the best way to do that? There is actually a science right?

So if you understand what motivates people, what get’s them to do things, you can actually pick, given this group and this thing I want them to do, here’s the method that would be best for me to use to encourage them to do that. That’s really what the book is about.

Lara: Why don’t we go through some of those and relate it directly to UX. So the first one is the need to belong.

Susan: Right.

Lara: So it’s making connections and sharing with each other. So how do you think that relates to UX?

Susan: Well we know that people really want to feel that they belong.They want to feel that they belong to…they actually belong to multiplegroups. We have our neighborhood, we have the people we work with, we have our family and it’s really important. People will do a lot to feel like they belong. And some of the new research that’s coming out onthis is so subtle and so powerful.

So I’m going to give you an example. There’s a researcher named Gregory Walton and what he found was that if you phrase things in terms of nouns rather than verbs – so his initial research he asked people – he had people call and do a survey before an election. He would call and he would say, “Are you going to vote in tomorrow’selection?”

So some of the time he worded it that way but some of the time he said, “Are you going to be a voter in tomorrow’s election?” So sometimes was in verb “to vote” and sometimes was in noun “be a voter”. And eleven percent more people voted when he asked them the question as “be a voter” – when he used a noun.

Then he tested it with all other kinds of things besides voting and his theory is that when you use a noun – when you say to people, “Will you be a voter? Will you be a member? Will you be a donor? rather than, “Will you vote? Will you donate? Will you join?”; when youphrase it as a noun you are invoking this idea that, “I’m becoming part of a group.” It’s not just an action that I’m going to take as an individual but, “I’m part of of this group. So the group would donate and I’m a donor so I’m part of the group.”

So something as subtle as how you phrase things can motivate people, can encourage that sense of needing to belong and that will then get people to take action that they might not otherwise take. So if you were designing – in fact I apply this a lot. I was working with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists which is a group of atomic scientists and it’s a nonprofit group, and they had on their homepage “donate now”.They depend on donations because they’re nonprofit. And I said, “No, no, no; it’s got to say ‘Be a donor'”. So that’s a very simple change that I think applies to a lot of websites right? “Join”; no, “Be a Member”. So that’s one example of the need to belong.

Lara: That’s great. So why do you think that we have that innate desire to belong? Where do you think that comes from?

Susan: Well there are a lot of theories about that. I think a lot of the things I talk about in the book, like the need to belong, certainly likeinstincts and many of the other chapters, it’s part of our biology. I mean basically you can’t separate our psychology from our biology. I mean there are things that go on in our mind but it’s really going on in our brain and our brain is our biology. There are constant chemicals and neurotransmitters that are being released all the time and these things greatly influence our behavior.

And so it’s just part of being an animal and we’re very social animals and that’s part of it. So part of it is probably evolutionary and biology and then there’s, I’m sure, a component of it’s that is cultural andlearned because we are part of a society. But either way, whether it is learned or whether it is part of our biology, it’s so deeply ingrained inus. These are all things that happen unconsciously. This is not a conscious thought, “Oh, it’s a noun not a verb and therefore I will react.” You know it’s all unconscious and it’s just the way we are.

Lara: Right. A friend of mine, Angel Anderson, did a presentation on why we share and it reminds me a lot of what you’re talking about. It’s what drives us to make that connection and to share certain things with each other; with some elite groups and then with some larger public groups.

Susan: Right.

Lara: So going on to the next one for habits, which is your second driver for motivation; talk a little bit about habits as far as it relates to user experience.

Susan: Well we have this idea that habits are really difficult to form and in the book I show how they’re not hard to form. And I think one of the things in UX design, one of the things often in what we’re designing, is we want people to make our product or service a habit. We want them to come back again and again. I mean if you think about if you have a website that is one of your favorite websites to make a certain kind of purchase.

For instance you know if you use Zappo’s a lot to buy shoes, then what happens is that when you’re thinking, “Oh, maybe I should get a new pair of boots for this trip I’m going on” you just go to Zappo’s. You don’t even really thing about it right? I mean the same thing withAmazon a lot. For a lot of people Amazon is a total habit. In fact, it used to be they go there for books but now they just go, you know, “I need to buy something. I go there.”

We all have our favorite websites and products and services andbrands that we go to and a lot of that is habit. We have formed a habit of using that product, service or website. And so I think as UX people we want people to make our product a habit. So then you have to ask, “Okay, how do you get habitual?”

And basically what you have to do is you have to understand the existing habits they have – the person has – and then you tie into one of those existing habits. This is one reason of course why user research is so important right, knowing who your customers are and who your users are so that you can start to understand “What are the habits they’ve already formed? They are already doing this. They are already going to that website.

Now I’m just going to connect into that and make it really easy to go from that one to mine.” Make it really easy for them to take that action and then take the next action. Connect those habits together and then it will be easy for them to make my website habitual.

Lara: Yeah. I think if we could do a better job of articulating the value of user research and showing those habits with the analytics and knowing exactly who your users are to clients then they would be more willing to add it in the budget and add time for it. I think a lot oftimes it gets skipped and that’s really unfortunate. But it’s essential.

Susan: I think there is a renewed interest. I mean I was talking to one of the people at my company because all of a sudden we had like three requests in a row for user research. It was like, “Oh, maybe thisis coming…” It goes in waves right? There are times when people are really interested in it and then no one seems to want to do it. I think we’re now in a time when people kind of want to do user research. We’ve been getting a lot of requests for it so that is great news.

Lara: That is; that is great. So for the Power of Stories, that’s the next motivator. I’m just going to touch on each of these because of course everybody can go out and buy the book and read all about it. The Power of Stories is a little more obvious to me. You want to tell a goodstory, you want to walk them through this delightful journey within your site but how do you see the power of stories relating to UX?

Susan: Well in two ways; one is what you mentioned and yes, I think most of us realize how important stories are although I don’t think most people realize there is research that shows that we …our brains process information best in story format.

So that’s one reason why stories are so powerful. But in the book actually, one of the more interesting things in that chapter, is not about how to use stories to engage people but how important it is to understand the self stories that people are telling themselves about their own behavior and how you can change someone’s behavior by introducing what I call a “crack” in their self story.

So people have a desire and a drive and a need to be consistent in their own self stories. I actually use the phrase in the book “selfpersonas”. You know we know about personas in UX but what we may not realize is that people have personas about who they are, unconscious collections, that I tell myself of who I am that then directmy behavior. But if you can get people to take one small action, one small step, that is actually outside of that self story that they tell themselves, you create a crack in their self story.

The example I use is I used to be a PC person, like no Apple products. Like, “Apple products; well that’s for the arty people and I’m not arty. I’m geeky. I wouldn’t have Apple products.” So that was my self persona as a PC person. But what happened was I purchased aniPod way back when, when they first came out and without realizing what I had done I had created a crack in my self persona.

And then when it came time to buy a phone it was like, “Oh, maybe I’ll check out the iPhone.” Then when it came time to buy a new laptop I was like, “Maybe I should look at…” And now… And I didn’t even realize this was going on until my husband walked into my home office one day and he looked at me. I was sitting there, I was listening to music on my iPod, I was checking something on my iPhone, I had my Mac laptop open, I think there was Apple TV in the background, I had an iPad and he looked at me and he said, “When did this all happenanyway?” It was like, oh my gosh! You know I had done a total conversion.

So if we understand, back to that user research idea, if weunderstand, “What are the self stories that our customers and our users are telling themselves” and if we want them to do somethingdifferent, we can figure that out. We can figure out one little thing, one little action we are going to get them to take. One little thing we are going to get them to sign up for at the website.

A very small service that we are going to get them to purchase. But that will then open the door for a much larger purchase later on.

So don’t ask people to do too much initially. Ask them for something really little to start.

Lara: You’ve mentioned research a couple different times. So I was curious, do you guys perform any of the research yourselves? Or do you just draw upon other studies?

Susan: Oh you mean the scientific research?

Lara: Yes.

Susan: I’d love to. I’d love to do some research. And I have in the past done some of my own research but these days, the research that is coming out, there is so much of it and it is such great stuff that basically I’ve decided that one of my roles would be to keep up on itas much as possible and then be an interpreter of it.

Because if you’ve ever read those research papers, they are like, “What? What?”

But that’s something I actually like to do. I’m one of the strange people that likes to read research papers. So I mainly am following other people’s research.

Lara: That is fantastic. As much as we can point to data and the testing within the research to see what people are reacting to. To understanding the noun versus the verb. Or understanding the blue versus red which is one of the videos on your website and how people react differently to those colors.

I think it is fascinating. And I think again you can’t separate the psychology from the interaction — from the human computer interaction.

Susan: Right.

Lara: Let’s move on now to carrots and sticks. This one is a fun one and I would love you to apply that to user experience.

Susan: Well I just came from a book tour talk in Las Vegas. So the casinos know all about reward. And they actually are using a variable ratio schedule of re-enforcement.

So there is a big technical term and I’m not going to explain it all here. But just to say that there is a science behind how to provide rewards if you want people to take certain action.

Sometimes I think we are using that and we don’t even realize what we are doing and we don’t realize that there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.

So for instance, a website like Dropbox which is for cloud storage, if you get a friend to join then you get extra storage.

Well that is using reinforcement, that is using a reward. And that’s actually using a fixed ratio schedule. And I’m sure, I’m pretty sure they don’t know that. And a fixed ratio schedule works in some cases and doesn’t work in others.

So in the book I talk about the different kind of schedules of reward.

So if you are going to use rewards, you need to understand how to do it. Should you give a reward every time? Should you only give it some of the time? Should it be based on the number of times someone does something? Or should it be based on a time interval? These are all decisions that you need to make.

I think the other thing about rewards, is to understand that it’s powerful but only in certain situations.

So some of the other things that we were talking about and some of the other ideas I have in the book are much more powerful than reward.

So I would include rewards in my tool-kit but in terms of UX, I would definitely work more with need to belong, with stories, with instincts and with the idea of mastery.

Those are going to be much more powerful in the UX world most of the time than rewards are.

Lara: Well let’s go into that. Let’s go into instincts a little bit.

Susan: Yeah, I talk in some of my previous books about the brain and I talk about the old brain. And the old brain is the part of the brain that is constantly scanning the environment and saying, “Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Will it kill me?”

And these are our instincts. And this is definitely biology and it keeps us safe. That’s why we are still here because we have these strong, automatic reactions to food, to sex or anything that implies sex like a picture of a really attractive person. Or danger.

And I think this whole idea of danger is one that — we know about it, we know that we are fascinated by images of something dangerous happening. But I don’t think we understand how much fear really motivates people to take action.

It grabs attention, and it motivates them to take action.

So if you want to encourage people to do something, you’ll get their attention and you’ll move them to action if you can use one of these things — if you can use food or sex or fear.

Now you’ve got to be careful how you use these. I had one client tell me he was reading this part of one of my books and he was really excited. So they were redesigning their homepage and here was his idea — they manufacture industrial cranes.

So he was thinking, we’ll have a woman in a bikini, because that’s the sex part, and she’ll be holding a plate of cupcakes because that is the food part. And then there will be a crane above her head like holdingsomething really heavy like a piano and it is about to drop on her head — and that will be the danger part.

He really meant this. He sent me an email and I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve created a monster.” So I had to write back and go, “No, no, no. I think you are misinterpreting.”

So don’t use them all like that. But certainly we have to understand that if we have messaging about fear, about fear of loss . For instance, people are much more motivated by messages, wording and picturesthat intimate that they are going to lose something than they are going to gain something.

Lara: For instance, creating a sense of urgency and then the way you are writing something.

Susan: Right, and you create that urgency by making people afraid that if they don’t take action now then they aren’t going to get it at all.

So that would be the fear of loss — “I’ve got to do it now, the opportunity is disappearing.”

And that’s the old brain going, “Oh gosh, you don’t want to miss out. You’ve got to do it now, you are going to lose.”

Lara: So going into mastery which is the next motivator, you talk about the desire for mastery and how we have this need to learn either newskills or to gain more knowledge.

So describe how that would work.

Susan: Yeah, I am really excited about this whole idea of applying the desire of mastery.

I think it is something that we don’t necessarily consciously plan into our products and services. And I think it is very powerful.

So yes, as you said, we have this desire to get better at stuff — to learn new skills, to learn new knowledge. We are curious about things.

So if you can stimulate that natural desire for mastery, people will bevery motivated to use your product, to use your service.

So how do you do that? How do you stimulate that desire?

We know that there are some things that encourage this desire for mastery. For instance, autonomy — giving people control. Giving people control about how they do something and in what order.

If you look at the incredible rise of all these online learning websites — and and And they are really exploding now and as you give people more autonomy about what course they are going to take, and it is chunked into little pieces so they can do it at their own pace. And there are different levels of pricing so they can choose how involved to get — that is giving them autonomy, and that is going to stimulate this desire for mastery.

Also if you show people progress, if you give them feedback — “Ohlook, you’ve completed 3 out of the 20 lessons already.” That keepspeople saying, “Oh I’ve got 3, there are only 17 more to go. That’s not too bad, I can do it.”

So that progress gives people, increases that desire for mastery. So I think this is something that you definitely want to think about. Even if I’m selling software, is there a way I can chunk it, I can package it so that people have a sense of — “We could use this, we could buy this one first and get to know it really well and get really good at it. Oh we mastered that, maybe we should get the next module.”

It sounds kind of silly that someone would make software purchases like that but that’s kind of what is going on.

Lara: So when I was reading this one, it just made me think about people’s natural passion and what is driving that for them.

So I think that when you look at that and then you have the tool, if the tool is designed right, you can have that really amazing experience.

Susan: Yeah, and I think is so much connected to knowing your audience because if there is something I’m particularly interested in and I have a passion for, I’m going to want tools to nurture that. I’mgoing to really want tools that make me more of a master at that thing — whatever it is, if it’s graphic design or some new tool that is going to mean I’m an expert graphic designer.

If you message it that way, I’m much more likely to sign up.

Lara: And when they get to that elite group at the top, they feel really accomplished and very pleased with going back to the need to belong — now they are belonging to this elite group.

Susan: Yeah, you bring up this great point which is, the seven drivers of motivation, they don’t work in isolation, they feed on each other. So you can combine the desire for mastery with the need to belong.

So I want to become part of this elite group that is really expert at this particular tool.

Lara: In a bikini with a sandwich.

Susan: [laughter] No, no, not in a bikini with a sandwich.

Lara: Alright, now we are going to go to tricks of the mind. This one was really interesting to me, how you talked about cognitive illusions.

Explain that to the audience a little bit.

Lara: Yeah, it is actually one of the longest chapters in the book because there are so many different ideas in here.

But basically is our brains are weird. Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, does such a wonderful job of talking about two kinds of thinking — system one thinking and system two thinking. thinking-fast-slow-video

So system one thinking is easy and effortless and intuitive. I don’t even have to work at it. So if I show you a photo and I say, “What are you looking at?” You look at the photo, “Oh I see a woman and it looks like she is on vacation.”

This is not hard. Whereas if I give you a multiplication problem to do, now I really have to think. So effortful and concentrated thinking – that’s system two thinking and Daniel Kahneman’s brilliant idea in talking about this is that system one thinking, that easy intuitivethinking, that is our normal state of mind. We go around doing this quick, intuitive, not thinking very hard most of the time.

And that’s a good thing, that gets us through our day. But it can be problematic. So you can do things to switch people from one to the other — that’s what I think is so interesting.

Based on for instance the font you use, you can now switch someonefrom their normal system one thinking into a system two thinking.

So there is just a lot of really interesting things in that chapter. But Iguess the two most important points would be, watch out because system one thinking will cause errors sometimes that quick intuitive people will make mistakes.

And there are sometimes when you can purposely get people to switch into the more effortful system of thinking if you need them to.

Lara: How do you get them to switch into that?

Susan: Well you are walking around with this quick, intuitive thinkingand not thinking very much at all.

If you encounter something that is difficult to think about, like a multiplication problem or a font that is hard to read, essentially yoursystem one thinking goes, “Oh this is too hard.” And gives up and says to system two take it, take it from here.”

So then the system two thinking will jump in.

So if you want people to think hard, you’ve got to kind of surprise them with something difficult. Give them a multiplication problem. I hate saying this, but give them a font that is hard to read.

Can you imagine someone in usability and UX saying that?

Lara: It makes me cringe.

Susan: It is. But the research is very clear on this.

If I need you to pay attention, I have to do something to make your system one thinking give up.

Lara: Almost a disruption.

Susan: That’s right. Where your system one goes, “Oh, oh, oh. Things are not easy and normal here, I better pay attention.”

Lara: Well I am so glad that we had a chance to talk today. It has been wonderful.

Susan: Yeah it has been fun.

Lara: And share with everybody how they can find out more about you?

Susan: The best way is to go to my website which is– So

And they can find me on Twitter, @TheBrainLady which would be another way to keep in touch.

Lara: Great, and all of your books are listed on your site.

Susan: Of course I’m going to suggest that they read my books. They are all listed at the site, you can buy them from there through Amazonor Barnes and Noble, they are available there.

And also maybe check out some of these Udemy courses.

Lara: That would be fabulous. And you also have a blog on your site which I think is really fascinating.

Susan: I do, you can get to the blog right from the website. It is one of my favorite things to do, I write about all of this stuff. I have videos there, so if you are interested in learning more, that would be a great place to start.

Lara: Is that where you are going to continue going, just broadening the scope of those courses?

Susan: Yeah. We are going to keep doing the courses, we keep doing our consulting.

Right now I’ve been writing a book almost every year. And this is thefirst time I don’t have a book going. But I’m really happy right now to let the books I have take off and work on the Udemy courses.

Lara: We’ll be sure to put a link on as well.

Susan: Great, thank you.

Lara: Thank you so much.

Narrator: UX-Radio is produced by Lara Fedoroff. If you want more UX-Radio, you can subscribe to our free podcast on iTunes. Or go to where you’ll find podcasts, resources and more.



Susan has written 5 books on user experience and user-centered design. Her two most recent books are: 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, and Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?

 Susan is a highly rated speaker and workshop leader. She is the founder and President of the User Experience Institute, and runs a popular blog:

You can find more about Susan here: