Book Summary For Designers: Pre-Suasion

Pre-suasion focuses on how to influence and persuade people by understanding the unconscious mind and how it works.

The key idea is that by preparing people’s minds for a message before delivering it, you can make that message more persuasive. Cialdini calls this “pre-suasion.”

Cialdini argues that how we frame information and the context we provide has a strong influence on people’s decisions.

There are several techniques or “privileged moments” that can be leveraged for pre-suasion:

Focusing attention

Highlighting a specific aspect of something makes it more salient in people’s minds. Focusing people’s attention on a particular feature of a product or idea makes it more persuasive.

One experiment demonstrates that waiters’ tips increased when they introduced themselves by name before taking orders.

Giving their name focused customers’ attention on the individual waiter, making them more inclined to tip more.

Studies show that people rate things more positively when their attention is drawn to select features first.

For example, people rated food as tastier when attention was first drawn to the aroma.

Another study showing people contributed more money to a charity when statistics were presented as a single identifiable victim rather than a large group of victims.

Focusing on a single person made the need feel more salient.


Connecting something to positive associations or emotions makes it more appealing. Using nostalgic cues or associating a product with prestige or status are effective ways to create positive associations.

Research showing scarce cookies or chocolates are favored over abundant ones, even when people don’t taste or eat them.

Just the perception of scarcity increases desirability.

Experiments where participants were exposed to certain imagery or words related to the elderly, then walked slower leaving the study.

This shows how associations can influence behavior.


The rule of reciprocity means we feel obligated to give back to those who have given to us. Providing something with no strings attached can make people more willing to comply with a request.

One research shows that waiters received larger tips when they gave customers a small gift like a mint with the check.

This triggered reciprocity and a desire to give back.

An experiment indicates that people were more likely to buy raffle tickets from someone who first gave them a can of soda.

Receiving a gift established a sense of indebtedness that made people more willing to comply with the request to buy raffle tickets.


The scarcity principle holds that opportunities seem more valuable when they are less available. Highlighting how little time or how few resources are left to take advantage of something makes it more compelling.

One study shows that rare gemstones or stamps are valued higher than identical but more common versions.

Scarcity makes objects seem more valuable due to the fear of missing out on an opportunity.

Research reveals that rare or limited products are more desirable.

For example, cookies were rated more favorably when they were said to be the last ones left in an almost-empty jar vs. a full jar. Scarcity increased perceived value.

The book emphasizes how being aware of the unconscious influences on our decisions can help us make better choices and how we can ethically use these insights to be more persuasive in our communications.

How to apply the principles for freelance designer

Here are some ways to apply each pre-suasion technique as a freelance designer:

Focusing attention
  • Highlight specific design elements or features in your portfolio to draw attention to your strengths. For example, focus on showcasing typography skills or visual hierarchy layouts if those are strengths. This makes you more persuasive to clients looking for those specific skills.
  • When negotiating with clients, focus their attention on your relevant strengths, experience, and accomplishments to set the context for why your terms are reasonable.
  • Associate your brand with prestige by highlighting any awards or accomplishments. Associate with creativity by showing behind-the-scenes sketches or work in progress shots. Create positive associations that carry over to your services.
  • When speaking to clients, establish positive associations by emphasizing the value you’ll provide and the partnership you want to build. Frame negotiations around a “win-win” rather than adversarial.
  • Offer free initial consultations or reduced fees for early clients. This establishes reciprocity and makes people feel compelled to hire you or refer you to others. Even if they don’t hire you right away, they may feel indebted to you in the future.
  • On sales conversation, look for ways to reciprocate, such as offering a discount or throwing in additional deliverables without being asked. This can make clients feel obligated to meet you in the middle.
  • Note limited availability at certain times or for certain types of projects. Highlight how in-demand your services are to create urgency and make your work seem more valuable due to perceived scarcity. But be authentic — don’t create fake scarcity just for persuasion.
  • While you don’t want to create false scarcity, you can mention other clients or projects you’re currently working with to subtlety show demand for your services. This helps justify your rates or terms.

Applying pre-suasion ethically means being genuine and emphasizing true strengths and value.

The techniques are meant as a complement to the substance of your offerings, not a replacement.

Again, the key is to be authentic and deliver real value.

Pre-suasion is not about manipulating clients but coming to an agreement where both parties feel satisfied.

How can Freelance Designers benefit from this book?

Here are some key ways you can benefit from reading Pre-suasion as a freelance designer:

  1. Learn how to ethically frame your offerings to make them more compelling to clients. Applying pre-suasion techniques can help you stand out and win more projects.
  2. Understand how clients think and what influences their decisions. Recognizing how pre-suasion works can help you anticipate client objections or concerns and address them effectively.
  3. Enhance your negotiation skills by recognizing psychological triggers and how to leverage them fairly. You can reach win-win outcomes more easily by understanding what motivates the other party.
  4. Strengthen your marketing and sales processes using pre-suasion techniques like focusing attention on your key strengths or building positive associations. While the content of your messages still matters most, how you frame the context can increase persuasiveness.
  5. Gain a better understanding of human behavior and decision making. The insights in Pre-suasion reveal how our minds can be guided in subtle but powerful ways. Recognizing these influences can lead to wiser choices in both your business and personal life.

Overall, the book provides a useful framework for how persuasion works and how to apply it legitimately.

While Cialdini’s examples are not always focused on design, the key lessons around pre-suasion and influencing attention, associations, reciprocity, and scarcity apply broadly to any business or industry.

Find out more about the book here.

Paul G.

Paul G.

Premium Brand Designer for High-Ticket Coaches, Influencers & Celebrities. Public Speaker, Brand Identity Design Coach. @pguetan
Paul G.

Paul G.

Premium Brand Designer for High-Ticket Coaches, Influencers & Celebrities. Public Speaker, Brand Identity Design Coach. @pguetan

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