Behavioural design is the application of behavioural science to the design of a product or service. In many cases designers are already applying some of these concepts to their work. It may be that they aren’t fully aware of the prior research, frameworks and methodologies, and that’s OK. But when the products and services we create require a guided change within the user, an understanding of behavioural science becomes an invaluable tool. Here are a few resources that provide a primer into this intriguing world of behavioural design.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
If you haven’t read this book then you’ve definitely seen it on a ton of book lists, and with good reason too. It is a pioneering book in the field of social psychology. In the book Kahneman shares his experience with a variety of human studies conducted over the course of his career and introduces us to the central concept of the book, a dichotomy between two modes of thought: “System 1”, which is fast, instinctive, and emotional and “System 2”, which is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.
As designers this is a really important concept to begin to apply to our work. It helps build our understanding of the different mindsets users might be in at any given time. Take the user journey of Instagram, for example. The sign up process and perhaps posting the first post is very much System 2 thinking: slow, considered, lots of decisions to make; such as choosing a username, setting a password, and getting the edit just right on the image. Very soon though, after much habitual use, posting on Instagram can become a System 1 process: fast, and with little thought put into it; this is especially true of how people post to Stories.
Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler
This book felt like a good one to follow-on from Thinking, Fast and Slow. The authors present us with examples of how experiments have affected human behaviour and give great examples for how we might use that to better the lives of others.
In one well-known example, food in a canteen was repositioned to nudge people towards healthier options. In the book, this experiment introduces the concept of “libertarian paternalism”; this idea seeks to influence choices in a way that will make choosers better off, as judged by themselves. This concept can seem quite basic to us now, especially given that we can readily see this playing out in supermarkets today, where shelves near the tills are now much more likely to hold snacks from Graze than they are from Cadbury’s.
I can think of many apps and services that believe they’re designing towards “libertarian paternalism” but have a questionable moral standpoint. These apps tend to do more damage than good. The question for designers is how far across the line of influence should we step and how certain can we be that when we do so it’s beneficial for users?
The Power of Habit
I loved this book because it looked at the subject of habits from both a personal and group level, such as the habits of a business.
When speaking with clients about digital transformation, I often come back to this book and the idea of keystone habits. The idea is that by focusing an organisation on something that everyone can get behind and adopting it as a new habit, it can have a knock-on effect that transforms the entire operation. In one example Duhigg tells the story of Alcoa’s newly appointed CEO Paul O’Neill. O’Neill decided that he would relentlessly focus on improving worker safety across the company. Much to the confusion of shareholders, who were accustomed to hearing words like efficiency and cost-reduction. It turned out that a focus on safety created a dramatic change across the organisation. This one new habit empowered everyone in the organisation, no matter their position, to raise safety concerns and work towards addressing the problem. The result was better communication between workers and management, greater efficiency, and most importantly a safer place to work.
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
Hooked was actually the first book I picked up on this subject. Before I knew behavioural economics was a thing. The examples in the book are grounded in concepts of Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nudge, and The Power of Habit. It’s a more approachable book due to its more direct connection with how these concepts apply to digital products and services.
Hooked introduces a model called The Hook Model, a 4-step cyclical process that explains the necessary elements for forming a habit with a product or service. It’s a reworking of Charles Duhigg’s The Habit Loop; adapted to be easily applied to digital products and with the addition of “Investment”; the idea that if a user has invested time into a product they’re more likely to return to it and further cement their habit. This is why products often come with a trial period that is carefully designed to end when you’ve established a new habit with it. For example, Notion’s free plan ends when you’ve used 1000 blocks, which for them makes more sense than measuring time.
The Habit Loop, Charles Duhigg vs The Hook Model, Nir Eyal
The Hook Model uncovers how many of the apps we use today apply concepts like variable rewards and triggers to drive habitual use, and in some cases addiction and dependence. For me, this model presents designers with both an opportunity and great responsibility. So often we see business models predicated on the assumption that users will be devoting their attention on a daily basis. But driving habitual use of any product can easily become detrimental to the user, so tread lightly.
B J Fogg
B J Fogg is a behaviour scientist who directs research at Stanford Behaviour Design Lab. He runs a programme called Tiny Habits that helps people adopt new behaviours and also teaches them how behaviour change works. At the core of Tiny Habits is the idea is that by starting ridiculously small and building from there, we can have more success at meeting our desired goals.
As a personal experiment—I guess you could call it an “immersive research piece”—I recommend signing up to the five-day course and trying it for yourself. If you’re thinking about building a product that has an element of behaviour change, such as helping a new user to adopt a new habit, then it could be worthwhile taking cues from this programme. It’s also soon to be a book, out December 31st 2019—appropriately timed for “new year, new me” and all that.
Fogg Behaviour Model
B J Fogg
Another one from B J Fogg. The Fogg Behaviour Model is the framework that underpins successful behaviour change and is the basis of the Tiny Habits programme. The idea is that new behaviours stick when there is sufficient motivation and ability. Take going for a jog, most people are able to do this easily, they just struggle with the motivation. So to help a person change their behaviour from someone who rarely jogs to someone who frequently jogs, we must look at ways to either increase their motivation or make the task itself even easier. For example, to increase the motivation someone might turn a jog into a social commitment, such as agreeing to do it with a friend. To make the behaviour even easier we can look at the barriers that impede ability. For example, instead of needing to fish out the running gear each time, it could be placed by the bed at night so it’s ready in the morning. When this example is applied to the Tiny Habits programme, day one might be to simply wear running shoes. No running, just wearing the shoes. The idea being that with one less barrier in place, this small, easy to achieve habit will grow into a daily run.
With this model it’s possible to quickly assess the probability that a user will adopt a new behaviour and if not, then seek to address the issue, whether it’s one of motivation or ability. I recommend spending time with it, getting used to drawing it on whiteboards again and again. Of course, this model works best when applied with insights derived from qualitative research. It’s no use staring at the diagram expecting the answers to fall out. But once a research study has been conducted reviewing findings against this model and mapping them out on the diagram will bring you much closer to how you can achieve real behaviour change in your users.