Aristotle can make you a more persuasive designer

To state that Aristotle’s 2000-year-old theories are still relevant to modern media may seem like an overstretch – but they are still considered a cornerstone of modern persuasion. This is especially true when it comes to web design, graphic design, advertising and UI design.

Aristotle’s three pillars of persuasion are:

  • Ethos, the credibility of the speaker
  • Pathos, the emotional appeal
  • Logos, the logic of the argument

In design terms, this encompasses:

  • the professionalism of a brand (ethos)
  • the connection people have with a brand, whether it is through the quality of the website design or the strong social engagement that the brand uses (pathos)
  • the quality and trustworthiness of the information used on a website, in marketing materials and in a campaign (logos)

How to implement the persuasion triad:

Ethos / Credibility

With a few basic adjustments, anyone can increase the perceived credibility and trustworthiness of a brand. The easiest way is to increase the quality of your site, marketing materials and brand assets. Whether it is by hiring someone with a skill set different to your own, or by buying assets from stock sources. Designers and business owners know that an investment in quality leads to more business. Behavioural psychology also supports this, concluding that when something looks good and works well, people are more likely to trust the product and purchase more1.
Well-designed sites that use great images and are easy to navigate, increase the association between a customer's personal brand and your own brand. This, in turn, increases purchases.2

  • Invest in key assets. Buy key assets from good stock and make sure the message communicated is strong and relevant to your brand. This spans everything from the image on your landing page, to the paper stock you print your assets onto. Professionalism is in the details.3
  • Own your brand. This includes everything from buying the URL, to using a domain specific email, logo and brand elements throughout. Not only does brand consistency bolster your business, but it also shows customers that you are reliable and well-founded.

JOHO's Bean has the perfect mix of high-res photography, video and animation. They present a website that is slick, easy to use and sells the story of a coffee bean's journey. The quality of their brand reflects the quality of the product.

Designed by Wild.

Interacting with Pathos

By engaging with your customers, peers and businesses you are directly bonding with people. The best way to bond is to appeal to people’s emotions, whether it is through the campaign language or social media interactions. Using personal brand shots on Instagram and personal conversations on Facebook, always keep the message the same. The old sales motto is still a core to many marketing professionals' campaigns:

People buy from people they know, like, and trust

We are in the age where brands are no longer a detached entity. With the rise of social media, brand transparency, personality and relatability sell. The brands that do this best include Nike and Oreo.

Brand transparency, personality and relatability sells

Influence your Pathos by:

  • Collating your image. Be aware of how everything and every way you engage with people affects your perceived value. This can be your social, online and offline presence including links to social media on your web pages, marketing materials, email, and brand engagement.
  • Get emotive. Use emotive language when talking and promoting your brand, giving people the personal insights has more longevity and is more powerful than just launching a finished campaign4.
  • Show your personality. Use social media to show the personality behind your brand. The options are vast, but the consensus is that whether it be Twitter for short engagement with your industry and connecting with your customers, or Instagram for the behind the scene shots.

Nike’s #maketherules campaign is still going strong, even a number of years after it was launched and was the winner for Best use of Social Media for Sports in 2012. Nike engaged with their customers across all the social media platforms to great success. Transforming the engagement style to suit the different social platform but maintaining the style of them all.

Produced by Razorfish.

Information fuels Logos

Facts sell. By appealing to people's rational side, a great argument backed up with figures can increase value, and make the content more rational to consumers. By using statistics, expert opinions and citation to an argument makes what you are saying appear more reliable and trustworthy5.

In terms of design this can include:

  • Concentrate on the bottom line. Looking at ROI’s, followers count on social media and campaign success. If you have a large twitter following or a huge increase in engagement on a recent campaign you worked on, shout about it loud and proud. Celebrate your hard work.
  • Testimonials sell a service. Ask clients that use your product to give you a testimonial. The more personal to the service the better, and always try and include a full name and title instead of ‘General Executive at a Company’.
  • Case studies. In-depth case, studies tell the story of the work and show the results in detail. Giving a human angle to the results of a campaign makes it more relatable and helps a new client picture themselves with the same success.
  • Clear the way to your brand. Optimise your SEO and create new content on your site. Feed Google’s need for Logos and you will be ranked well. The easier it is for clients to find you, the more engagement and business you will receive.

In my opinion, The Hechinger report case study by Upstatement is the best case study write-up I’ve seen. Full of in-depth analysis, break down of the work into key definable areas and a strong story throughout.

Made by Upstatement. Read it in full.

Try out the few ways to appeal to the triad of persuasion. As a triad, the most successful communications use all three in one message. By establishing the facts, connecting on a human level and making it easy to engage with, you will have the perfect message.

Can you think of any other ways that Pathos, Logos, Ethos can be increased? Add them to the comments section below and I’ll add them in above.


1 Norman, D. Emotion and design: Attractive things work better. (2002).
2 Cho, E. Kim, Y.K. The Effects of Website Designs, Self-Congruity, and Flow on Behavioral Intention. 2012
3 Raita, E. Oulasvirta, A. Too good to be bad: Favorable product expectations boost subjective usability ratings 2011
4 Harris, L. Rae, A. Social networks: the future of marketing for small business (2009)
5 See, a citation gives more reliability to what is written.

Form for thought - A blog about design psychology and design thinking for graphic designers, web designers, ui designers, ux and illustrators. Looking into the psychology of colour, user behaviour and advertising psychology.