web maker


An e-book on how to design persuasive digital experiences using behavioural psychology.

This was a joint writing project with my wife, Sehrish.

Not only did it give me a chance to dig deep into the intersection of cognitive science and today's state of web/mobile design, but it was also a personal project to learn about drip email marketing, audience building, and long-form writing.

Influenced by "Influence"

The idea for the project surfaced after Sehrish would recount lessons she was learning in her evening class on Consumer Behaviour. The class used Dr. Robert Cialdini's classic book, "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" as a textbook and the more she told me about the book, the more I got intrigued. After finally picking up the book, I couldn't put it down. I saw so many overlaps between its teachings of social psychology and what I was learning about designing products for people.

After a few of Sehrish's blog posts about her learnings became well-received, we decided this might be a great opportunity to work together on a stretch goal that made use of both of our interests.

E-mail marketing 101

I had read and learned a lot about the power of email content marketing from the likes of Nathan Barry, Amy Hoy, and Ramit Sethi, so I figured this would be as good a project as any to try my hand at it.

I created a free e-mail mini-course on social psychology in digital design using MailChimp and started sharing it with design communities I was a part of online.

I was happy with the number of sign-ups and some early feedback led me to believe we were on the right track.


Six months after starting the project, with long hours in research, writing, editing, and re-writing, and with bated breath, we finally launched! We sent a launch email out to our mailing list and posted it on Product Hunt. The latter attracted more than 70 upvotes - a rarity amongst books on the site.

We used Gumroad to handle the distribution and payments and Mailchimp to send our mailing list loyalty discounts, notifications of launch, and thank you's.


Since announcing the book project in May 2015 till the end of November 2016, the book has generated sales of more than $600 from 67 sales. Considering that this was from a mailing list of around 120 people, a conversion rate of more than 50% doesn't seem so bad! Not to mention, the biggest expense was the time that we put into it.

It should be noted, however, that most of the sales came during the two month window of the actual launch and marketing push for the book. And during the times when we weren't doing outreach, the sales plummeted.

Apart from the quantitative results, here are some positive thoughts and reviews we received about it:

“We all want to design beautiful products, but it is more important to design engaging experiences that guide people towards specific results. Ali and Sehrish do a great job of explaining the main principles of influence and how you can apply them to your designs. If you want better conversions, engagement, and client/customer happiness, then this is the book to read.”

“What I loved about the book was that it was written for the layman without overly simplifying the concepts. Loved the examples and how they weave the story together.”

“I just picked up Design of Influence... just started reading it and I'm already hooked.”


Overall, I'm pleased with accomplishing what seemed like an overwhelming challenge of writing a book about a topic I admittedly didn't know much about a year prior.

I was able to partner with a co-writer for a long duration (admittedly, it helped that I was married to her!); I learned the mechanics of starting and growing a mailing list from scratch; I handled every piece of the self-publishing process, including creating the book cover, building the landing page, and setting up an email-based automated compaign for the free mini-course.

But at the same time, we've learned some important takeaways. Many of them the hard way. In case you've ever thinking of going down this route of self-publishing a book, you may want to consider the following:

1) A Table of Contents is a lifesaver! Don't wait till later stages to make one. In fact, I would say this should be one of the first things you do. Creating a TOC helped us pace ourselves and understand which individual pieces we needed to put together for the book, even if from a high-level.

2) Write a little bit everyday, even if you're going to end up entirely scrapping your day's worth of writing. Developing a momentum of daily writing will help more in the long-term and prevent a big crunch of endless all-nighters closer to your deadline. Which brings me to ...

3) Give yourself a deadline! If you're afraid you won't stick to it, here's a surefire way of committing to one: announce your deadline publicly.

4) If you're writing an e-book, make sure to take into account different formats and mobile-readiness from the beginning. If you don't, it'll be much harder to gracefully convert your PDF or Doc files into ePub and/or .mobi. In this day and age, people want to be able to read on whatever device that's most convenient for them.

5) Look for a number of ways to spread the word about your book from writing guest posts on other blogs to having free giveaways. Cheat-sheets, templates, or a sample chapter are popular examples of free, helpful gifts you can hand out to people in return for their email address. Win-win.

Most of all, be realistic with your goals, be consistent in your efforts, tackle a well-defined and scoped idea, put yourself out there, ignore any skeptics, and have fun! I look forward to reading your works.