How I get users to take action

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I recently came across a fantastic signup experience for a new web app, ⌘+SPACE. It’s the perfect example of getting your users to do onerous tasks (like creating an account) that are so important to your business, but seem to create so much friction for users. I know the founders, so I asked them what their success rate was for such a great signup workflow– 5%? 25%? 50%?

Try > 75%. That’s insane.

Today, I want to show you a bulletproof way I’ve found to get users to perform any task, not just creating an account, that’s good for everyone.

Here’s the secret: Make sure your user is always more invested in your product than the effort you’re asking them to expend.

What? Investment? Effort? Did I start reading a newsletter about mashing up exercise regimes with financial analysis? Don’t worry, I’ll explain this in more detail below, and show you how ⌘+SPACE is winning at getting users to create accounts.

Here’s the basic psychology behind our secret formula: If you’re invested in something, you’ll continue to pursue it regardless of what that entails. Think about your hopeless friend who is always finding “The One” and then proceeds to follow that relationship from “good” to “bad idea” to “the entire building is on fire!” Why do they do that? Because they’ve convinced themselves at the beginning that they’ve found their true soulmate. If someone’s your soulmate, that’s a pretty serious commitment, and you don’t want to just throw that away.

For effort, we know that users are loathe to perform actions that, even if they know are good for them, require effort (like creating an account, entering contact info, etc). Hell, as humans we’re so bad at this that we can’t convince ourselves to get regular exercise, despite knowing we’ll feel better and live longer as result. If we can’t even muster the willpower to do that, what chance does your product have to convince someone to sign up, enter in that extra info that makes the app that much more powerful, etc?

So here’s where our secret formula hacks our own psychology. By making sure that we’re always more invested, we can ask, and expect, our users to do almost anything.

Great! All I have to do is make my users invested!… Wait, what does “invested” mean for a product? User investment can come in a variety of ways, so I’ll list just a few here to get started:

  • Emotional investment: I believe this will make my life more fulfilling (best for B2C companies)
  • Pragmatic investment: I believe this will make me more effective at X than I would be otherwise (best for B2B)
  • Co-Action/Perceived Ownership: I worked with Product Awesome to make this incredible thing, so now I own part of it and want to see it succeed
  • Actual, cold-hard cash investment: Damnit, I paid for this and I’m going to use it! (I don’t actually recommend this route that often, but it can work in regulatory and stagnant industries…)


What investment is not:

  • If I just do… – You’ve made your user superficially invested in the app, but only to the next step. You’re not making their life better.
  • This promised me X! – Again, you need an app that creates actual value, not promises
  • Everyone is telling me about it, I guess I should… – You’ve done a great job of building hype, but have not created a lasting investment.

The basic line is that there are many ways to make a user feel invested in your app. And that’s a good thing! You’re improving their life!

Think of your users as having a “Committed to Action” piggy bank. The job of your product is to make lots of deposits (investment) before asking the user to withdraw from it (effort) to do something. You don’t ever want to ask the user to overdraw from their piggy bank.

To see this in action, let’s look at how ⌘+SPACE’s signup process first makes a user invested in their app, then asks them to perform the “hard” action of creating an account:

Click Display Images to see what I’m talking about here

When you first land on ⌘+SPACE’s homepage, you’re greeted with a simple sell – designers can have a portfolio of their work instantly made for them by ⌘+SPACE. At this point, all the effort they ask for is that a designer enter their username for Dribbble (a site where designers can show off what they’re working on with small images), which is appropriate given that the user has little to no investment in their service.

After a potential user enters that info, ⌘+SPACE really ups the user investment in their service. On the very next page, the user is greeted with their portfolio, already beautifully set up and ready to go!

Here’s what I saw after I had filled in just one text field.

It’s only after you’ve had fun customizing your portfolio that you click on Publish, and, surprise, are asked to create an account.

And why wouldn’t you at this point? You’ve already had a portfolio instantly created for you, you’ve invested some of your time customizing it, and now you know you’re just a step away from reaping the rewards by publishing it (and notice the clever wording here – you’re still not signing up, you’re saving your existing investment in the service).

By contrast, here’s what ⌘+SPACE’s workflow would’ve looked like if they’d followed the standard pattern:

  1. Show user example of a portfolio (yawwwwn, who wants to see someone else’s work?)
  2. Ask for lots of info like Dribbble username, email, etc (borrring)
  3. Ask user to create an account as a “final step” to see their portfolio (really, can we get to the point yet?)
  4. FINALLY give the user their portfolio!

Look at all that effort! And it’s not until the 4th step that the user gets any kind of payoff from the process.

Instead, by giving the user a reason to be invested up front, ⌘+SPACE is converting more than 75% of their potential market into actual users.

To review:

  1. Always make sure your user is more invested in your product than the effort you’re asking them to expend.
  2. Users become invested in a product in several ways; Emotions, Pragmatism and Perceived Ownership are the most useful.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts or talk more about this with you; just reply to this email with a few short words!


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