Learnings from User Experience Week, Day 3: Designing for Behavior Change

Post image for Learnings from User Experience Week, Day 3: Designing for Behavior Change

by Mark Wagner on September 3, 2010

How do we design for the realities of human behavior?

That seemed to be the driving theme in BJ Fogg’s Designing for Behavior Change: Human Nature, Hot Triggers and New Habits workshop in Day 3 at UX Week in San Francisco.

The premise was clear: much of first generation of digital design (websites, applications, and related tools) has focused on providing as much information as possible to audiences in order to encourage them to take action. This is commonly referred to as the information (action) fallacy. And it’s been proven to not work. A lot of evidence shows people don’t consume vast amounts of  information in the way that typical information systems present it.

Another reality advertisers are coming to terms with: most research shows attitudinal change in people doesn’t correlate to changing behavior. People generally say one thing, and then do another. In addition, a lot of advertising focuses on enforcing ambient/passive awareness of messages and brands in traditional channels of communication. These also have been proven to not be terribly efficient or effective, either.

So, what really works?

In digital experiences, we need to rethink our context. We need to learn how to trigger able, motivated people to take action while in the normal flow and environment of their habitual lives. To understand this landscape of behavior change in people is to master this guiding principle of designing systems and tools for user experience:

Put “Hot Triggers” in the the path of (able) motivated people.

Let’s start with the “motivated” person. For instance, it’s easier to place carrots or “triggers” in the paths of able, motivated people than it is to go after unmotivated people first, and persuade them to do something differently.

  • Example: To encourage bicycle commuting, experience designers hand out easy-to-access bike trail maps to people who own bikes (bike owners are “able”) and want to bike to work (they are also “motivated”), but don’t know the best or most effective routes, or simply need that extra incentive or reason to take action. The activity of the hand out, of course, occurs at the right time–when people are considering their biking routine, for example.

Let’s now talk “Hot Triggers.” Hot triggers are devices that entice, instigate or catalyze action or inaction at the appropriate time (my definition). For example, digital tactics used in the correct context, like email and texting, have proven to be effective in this regard. Mostly because the penetration and adoption of these two channels of communication are so ubiquitous (many of our audiences are ABLE to use these channels). Sometimes these very simple tools are overlooked when trying to engage online audiences. Examples:

  • Facebook has mastered email triggers to drive traffic back into the social experience to enhance engagement and encourage ongoing interaction.
  • Facebook also uses simple behavioral devices (the ‘Like’ button) to tip users’ affinities in the direction of digital communities they associate with.
  • Ebay encourages honest online behavior by incorporating rating systems for buyers to comment on and rank sellers.

Apparently simple stuff, right?

There are a lot more dimensions to this concept that I simply cannot cover in one blog post. So I’ll end by asking some questions that, if answered correctly, can put you on the track to designing better, more productive human behavior in any user experience:

  • What behavior do you want to change, or trigger, for your audience?
  • What is the simplest behavior that matters to your audience?
  • How do you trigger the simplest action for them?
  • How do increase your audience’s ability to do something?
  • How do you reward or promise to reward your audience?
  • How can the little touch points over time create shifts in value exchange for your audiences? For you?

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: