This small case study outlines the process of developing persuasive technologies. The aim of this project is to persuade heavy computer users to stretch for 30 seconds a day. It adopts BJ Fogg’s (2009) methodology, outlined in Creating Persuasive Technologies: An Eight-Step Design Process. There is no need to employ the services of specialized managers, designers or sophisticated design processes. In reality, a one-man team can prototype a system to 70%-80% completion, which can then be handed off to the user interface and back-end developers.

The Method

The persuasive technology development process will be adapted directly from BJ Fogg’s (2009) paper, Creating Persuasive Technologies: An Eight-Step Design Process. Fogg’s (2009) model (Figure 1) is followed closely, providing a practical application of Human Computer Interaction (HCI). The eight-step process includes the best practices for early stages of persuasive technology design. Each of the steps are generally followed in sequence; at times, two steps can run in parallel, at other times, previous steps need to be re-thought and re-worked before proceeding. Fogg (2009) intended flexibility in the process, with each step representing a milestone, rather than a rigid step-by-step process. Adapting the sequence to the circumstances, according to Fogg, ‘… is a valid part of the design process’ (Fogg 2009, p. 2).

Figure 1: Eight steps in early-stage persuasive design model.

(Adapted from: Fogg, 2009, p. 3)

Step 1: The Target Behavior

'... Researchers have revealed the negative effects associated with extended computer use, manifest in musculoskeletal discomfort and disorders (MSDs), such as muscle pain and tendonitis' (Chen et al. 2014, p. 25).

Benefits of stretching to computer users include:

While the benefits of stretching are generally known, it is challenging to get computer users to regularly stretch, even for a short time each day (Chen et al 2014).

Step 2: The Audience

The target audience are computer users, preferably moderate to heavy users.

Step 3: What Prevents the Audience Achieving Target Behavior?

In view of the health benefits of stretching, an obvious question is, 'why don't computer users stretch?'. Finding the answer to this question is the foundation to the initial prototype design. This is a particularly well researched question. A search of the literature provided the general answers to why people do not exercise. Table 1 provides a summary of the available solutions.

Table 1: Barriers To Physical Activity

Item Barrier Reference
1.1 Time constraints due to school work, other interests, and family activities were three of the four barriers considered most important. Awadalla et al. 2010; Allison, Dwyer & Makin, 1999; Chinn et al. 1999; Booth et al. 1997; Zunft et al. 1999
1.2 Accessibility, opportunities, and aesthetic attributes had significant associations with physical activity. Weather and safety showed less-strong relationships. Humpel, Owen & Leslie 2002
1.3 Females cited consistently higher levels of perceived barriers than males. Allison, Dwyer & Makin, 1999
1.4 Lack of Motivation, lack of money Chin et al. 1999; Booth et al. 1997
1.5 Among those aged 60 to 78 years, injury or poor health were the most frequently cited barriers to activity. The youngest age group cited child care responsibilities. Booth et al. 1997

Table 1 provides insight into the reasons why computer users don't stretch. We now need to determine which psychological strategy to overcome these potential barriers. It is suggested by Fogg (2009) to consider the following categories, as the solution involves at least one element, a combination of two or a combination of all three.

Based on these psychological strategies, this project will concentrate on ‘triggers’ and ‘ability’. This decision is based on the assumption that if a computer user is willing to peruse stretching information on-line, then motivation is already present.

Step 4: The Choice of Technology

The completion of the previous three steps often determine the technology channel to choose, namely: the target behavior, the audience, and what is preventing the audience from adopting the behavior. Table 2 is used as a guide on which technology channels support particular psychological strategies. This is not a comprehensive list, there are many other possible technology channels which have not been categorized.

Table 2: Behavior Change Elements Enhanced by Technology Channels

Behavior Technology Channel Comment
To share a message with at least one friend Email, online video, or social networks These channels make sharing easy
Donating to a political party The web will need to be part of the solution Enables financial transactions
Increasing motivation Online video, social networks and video games
Making a behavior simpler, which increases ability Installed software and specialized devices
Triggering behavior SMS text message Mobile phone is nearly always with people, ensuring that they will notice the trigger
(Source: Fogg 2009, Fogg 2009b)

If time and other resources were not restricted, the optimal technology channel may be a mobile app integrated with wearable sensors, ie. iwatch, Amiigo or similar device containing hardware sensors. The advantage of using a mobile device is that the end user usually has the device with them at all times. However, this demonstrated will use web and email technology. Email will serve as a trigger, a responsive web page will provide the ability through clear descriptions and video.

  1. Signup page using Mailchimp email message services.
  2. Short email messages sent on a daily basis.
  3. Email providing link back to the stretching demonstration web page, which contains a demonstration Youtube video.

Step 5: Examples Of Using Persuasion In This Context

Finding examples of successful persuasive technology interventions is difficult as projects are sparse and resulting conversion rates are often unpublished. Educated guessing is the recommended approach in this situation (Fogg 2009).

Much insight can be gained from professionals working in the exercise field. Many of the books about exercise and stretching provide examples which focus on persuading physical exercise. Much can be learned from studying the best practices of professionals in this industry.

Fogg (2009) recommends including the following examples:

[A] design team should examine at least nine examples in total: three that achieve a similar behaviour, three that reach a similar audience, and three that use the same technology channel as the design team’s (p. 5).

Table 3: Examples of Achieving Similar Behaviors.

Item Example Reference
3.1 Budilovsky, J., & Adamson, E. (2003). The Complete Idiot's Guide® to Yoga Illustrated. Penguin.
3.2 Martin, S. (2009). 15 Minute Stretching Workout. Penguin.
3.3 Rodgers, B., & Douglas, S. (2003). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Running. Penguin.
3.4 Chabut, L. (2011). Stretching for Dummies. John Wiley & Sons.
3.5 Stewart, B., Edwards, D., & Warner, J. (2013). Paleo Fitness: A Primal Training and Nutrition Program to Get Lean, Strong and Healthy. Ulysses Press.

Table 4: Examples of Reaching a Similar Audience.

Item Example Reference
4.1 Computeractive 2014, Why is My Computer so Slow + 210 More Tech Problems Sloved,
4.2 Wilson, K. (2014). Using Office 365. Springer.

Table 5: Examples of Using Same Technology.

Item Example Reference

Message styles

Step 6: Imitating Successful Examples

It is now time to examine the successful examples from Tables 3, 4 and 5, to determine the reasons why they are effective. As the common themes for success are identified, they can then be adapted to the project at hand. Designers often want to develop something new, however, for the sake of efficiency, imitating successful examples is the recommended course of action (Fogg 2009). We do not need to reinvent the wheel.

Table 6: Design Element’s Primary Purpose, Using Examples From Tables 3, 4 and 5.

Item Design Element Strategy Used To Achieve Behavior Change.
3.1-3.5 An exercise schedule, a photo of each individual exercise and a description of the exercise, covered every angle to make the process sound easy, discussed benefits of stretching, provided a self-evaluation worksheet and specific stretches for when at work, added a spiritual dimension, short, concise, added a FAQ after each section. Increased ability using photos and clear short descriptions.
4.1,4.2 Short concise chunks of information, clearly written and well illustrated. Bold colors and extensive use of whitespace. Increased ability with clear content descriptions and appropriate illustrations.
5.1-5.3 Heavy focus on medical based knowledge, examples of newsletter messages, options of weekly and daily emails, facebook and twitter like buttons, privacy policy, about us link, bright colored photos of healthy people having fun, use of video, simple form. Increased triggers by offering daily and weekly email deliveries; Increased ability by using a simple form; Increased motivation by including social link buttons and the use of video.

The development of interfaces elements is subject to the designers interpretation. Below is the sign-up page, email message and stretching instructions web page, based on the key design principles identified in Table 6. Other designers may have interpreted and designed these differently. These are not the final designs. The aim hear is to use these interfaces as props for further testing.

Sign-up Page

The screenshot (Figure 2) shows the sign-up page. It incorporates design principles identified in Table 6. These include: 1) Short concise chunks of information, 2) Clearly written descriptions, 3) Bold colors and extensive use of whitespace, 4) Examples of newsletter messages, 5) Privacy policy, 6) Simple form.

Figure 2: Screenshots Showing Website on 320px (phone), 768px (tablet) and 1140px (wide desktop) Screens.

320 px width 768 px width 1140 px width

Visit the live page.

Email Message

Email reminders to stretch are sent to subscribers at the same time each day. These email messages are simple text messages with a link back to a website. They highlight the short amount of time required to do the stretching exercise. Daily emails are setup using MailChimp 'Automation' feature. The message is deliberately short, directing end-users to return to the website, where the video can be displayed correctly (often videos embedded in email messages do not display correctly).

Figure 3: Screenshots Showing email messages on 320px (phone), 768px (desktop) Screens.

320 px width 768 px width

Daily Stretching Instructions

Daily emails include a link back to the stretching instructions page (Figure 4). It incorporates the following design principles identified in Table 6. These include: 1) Short concise chunks of information, 2) Clearly written instructions, 3) Bold colors and extensive use of whitespace, 4) Motivational video, 5) Privacy and persuasive technology policy.

Figure 4: Screenshots Showing Stretching Instructions on 768px (tablet) and 1140px (wide desktop) Screens.

768 px width 1140 px width

Visit the live page.

Step 7: Testing and Iteration

Up to this point, the design team has comprised of a single member, the author. To test and iterate the design now requires input from participants. This means participants would need to subscribe to the program and then suggest improvements. As the goal of this project is to get computer users to stretch, the results would focus on whether the participants actually followed the video instructions and stretched. Based on the end-user experience, the system is then modified to reflect participant feedback.

The use of small iterative testing is seldom reported in the development of software, websites or in Mobile Health (mHealth) interventions. The development of persuasive technology is an iterative prototyping process not a scientific experiment. It allows the observation of how the target audience reacts to the messages.

Its important not to set high expectations during the testing phase. For example, a realistic goal would be to plan 10 rapid trials and learn along the way. Testing does not always result in the desired result, however, the design team will continue learning, gaining insight into what will possibly work in the next test (Fogg 2009). Fogg asserts that ‘…Every successful online service I’ve examined in the last few years has become successful through starting small and iterating quickly’ (2009 p. 6).

Step 8: Expanding On Success

When the system has been tested and refined to maximize its persuasive potential, the system can then be expanded. For example, it may be possible to expand it to a three month stretching program, it can including simple diet tips, a separate program can be developed for men and women, etc. Determining the direction of expansion is based on the project goals (Fogg 2009).

Table 7: Three ways in which messages can scale.

Target Audience Expansion Directions
New audiences New types of users who are less adoptive.
Users who are tougher cases See how the intervention works with this new audience.
Expand the scope of distribution Reaching a wider audience with the intervention.
(Adapted from: Fogg 2009, p. 6)


Developing persuasive systems is not difficult. Its possible for a single person to develop 50%-70% of a web based system before eliciting participant input. There is no need to employ the services of specialized managers, designers or sophisticated design processes. The main skill here is being able to work out why existing persuasive systems work, then being able to translate these principles to a technology based system. Testing participants is also a desired skill. In reality, a one-man team can prototype a system to 70%-80% completion, which can then be handed off to the user interface and back-end developers.

Allison, K. R., Dwyer, J. J., & Makin, S. (1999). Perceived barriers to physical activity among high school students. Preventive medicine, 28(6), 608-615.

Awadalla, N. J., Aboelyazed, A. E., Hassanein, M. A., Khalil, S. N., Aftab, R., Gaballa, I. I., & Mahfouz, A. A. Assessment of physical inactivity and perceived barriers to physical activity among health college students, south-western Saudi Arabia. EMHJ, 20(10).

Booth, M. L., Bauman, A., Owen, N., & Gore, C. J. (1997). Physical activity preferences, preferred sources of assistance, and perceived barriers to increased activity among physically inactive Australians. Preventive medicine, 26(1), 131-137.

Budilovsky, J., & Adamson, E. (2003). The Complete Idiot's Guide® to Yoga Illustrated. Penguin.

Chen, Y. X., Chiang, S. S., Chih, S. Y., Liao, W. C., Lin, S. Y., Yang, S. H., ... & Hung, Y. P. (2014). Opportunities for Persuasive Technology to Motivate Heavy Computer Users for Stretching Exercise. In Persuasive Technology (pp. 25-30). Springer International Publishing.

Chinn, D. J., White, M., Harland, J., Drinkwater, C., & Raybould, S. (1999). Barriers to physical activity and socioeconomic position: implications for health promotion. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 53(3), 191.

Fogg, B. J. (2009, April). Creating persuasive technologies: an eight-step design process. In Persuasive (p. 44).

Fogg, B 2009b, ‘The new rules of persuasion, viewed 12 December 2013, <>.

Humpel, N., Owen, N., & Leslie, E. (2002). Environmental factors associated with adults’ participation in physical activity: a review. American journal of preventive medicine, 22(3), 188-199.

Marangoni, A. H. (2010). Effects of intermittent stretching exercises at work on musculoskeletal pain associated with the use of a personal computer and the influence of media on outcomes. Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation, 36(1), 27-37.

Martin, S. (2009). 15 Minute Stretching Workout. Penguin.

Stanford Behavior Wizard Team 2013, PurpleSpan Behaviour Preview, viewed 12 December 2013, <>.

Zunft, H. J. F., Friebe, D., Seppelt, B., Widhalm, K., de Winter, A. M. R., Vaz de Almeida, M. D., ... & Gibney, M. (1999). Perceived benefits and barriers to physical activity in a nationally representative sample in the European Union. Public Health Nutrition, 2(1a), 153-160.