This blog post is an extended introduction of Behavioural Design. You will get a clear idea about what it is, how you can use it in your professional and personal life to influence minds and shape behaviour, and what you could do to learn more about it. Moreover, this blog post is the perfect entry to most other blogposts we published on the SUE Behavioural Design website.
- Behavioural Design is about influence
- Behavioural Design is a Method
- The ethical side of Behavioural Design
- Behavioural Design is about designing choices
- Behavioural Designers think ‘outside-in’.
- Behavioural Designers work with principles from the science of influence
- Behavioural Designers research, prototype and test
- Domains of Behavioural Design
- Start to learn more about Behavioural Design
1. Behavioural Design is about influence
How do you influence minds and shape behaviours? How do you change other people’s, as well as your personal behaviours? How do you help people to make better decisions?
Isn’t it strange that the majority of all of our behaviours and communication aims at influencing other people, and yet at the same time, we have no clue about the principles and laws that govern influence?
Behavioural Design is a systematic understanding of how people think and how they make decisions. This understanding forms the basis of thinking about interventions that lead to behavioural change.
Maybe you want to influence the behaviour of your partner of children. You might want to influence your colleagues or managers. Some people want to develop a healthy habit for themselves or want to live a more sustainable life. Maybe you want to influence customer behaviour, or win elections. No matter what the subject is, you can all think of them as a behavioural design challenge.
So what is Behavioural Design. The most pragmatic definition of Behavioural Design we came up with so far, is the following:
Behavioural Designers combine Psychology, Design, Technology, and Creative Methods to find out why people do the things they do and to figure out through experimentation how to activate them to change their behaviour.
2. Behavioural Design is a method
The best way to think about Behavioural Design is to think of it as the combination of Design Thinking with the Science of Influence.
Design Thinking is the method through which designers solve problems. Designers start with empathy. Through interviews and observations, they try to “fall in love with the problem”: Why do people do what they do and where could we spot opportunities for improvement? This insight phase forms the groundwork for ideation. First, designers come up with as many ideas as possible, and then they prototype the most promising ones. They take the prototypes back to the real world and test them with real people to learn and to observe how the prototype succeed in influencing the targeted behaviour. Design Consultancy Ideo, the godfathers of Design Thinking uses this simple graphic to explain the process:
When you combine the method of Design Thinking with Behavioural Sciences, you will get Design Thinking on Steroids. Because a better understanding of human psychology you will get 1) better insights into why people do what they do 2) better ideas on where to look for solutions 3) better prototypes, because you will have a much sharper understanding of what specific behavioural outcome you’re designing for.
At SUE the essence of what we do is to train the Behavioural Design Method at our Behavioural Design Academy and at In-company training and we run the Behavioural Design Method in Behavioural Design Sprints together with our clients.
More about Design Thinking:
- What is Design Thinking?
- How to create change by design?
- Learn the Behavioural Design Method at the Behavioural Design Academy (or in-company)
- Run a Behavioural Design Sprint
- How to create excitement for a (behavioural) design sprint?
3. The ethical side of Behavioural Design
Behavioural Design is dark wisdom. The difference between positive influence and manipulation is a very fragile line. In the end, we have to be aware that Behavioural Design is about using deliberate action and techniques to influence the behaviour of the other in the direction you want.
The problem is that those who want to design for good, quite often feel bad about using dark forces. Whereas those who use this dark wisdom to manipulate and mislead, are usually much more motivated, advanced and have fewer scruples about the application of it. Think about how extreme-right populists exploit fear and uncertainty, or think about how technology companies exploit our vanities, and our desire for social recognition and belonging to the extent that it leads to (social media) addiction.
The world of interaction design is full of “dark patterns“, which are manipulative ways to present choices to us in such a way that they manipulate us into making a specific decision, whether we want it or not.
At SUE, we are very sensitive to this ethical component. We even encoded it in our mission. The SUE mission is “to unlock the potential of Behavioural Psychology to help people make better decisions in work, life and play”. Our point of departure for designing interventions for Behavioural change always starts with the question “How might we help people to make better choices? Moreover, how could we design products, services and experiences in such a way that they contribute to helping people to achieve their goals or dreams? Our commitment to this mission is sacred, even to the point that we refuse to accept work that doesn’t match with this mission. You can find more about this way of thinking below at “5. Outside-in Thinking“.
More about the ethical side of Behavioural Design:
- How to influence those in power
- Why Nir Eyal is a bit of a hypocrite
- How to win wars by influencing people’s behaviour?
4. Behavioural Design is about designing choices
Multiple levels of influence
In a certain sense, the term “Behavioural Design” is a little bit misleading. Behavioural change is the outcome we aim for when we design an intervention. When we want to achieve this outcome, we need to design on multiple levels at the same time:
- The design of attention: How do you make sure something catches people’s attention?
- The triggering of curiosity: How do you get people to invest time and mental energy to learn more about what you want from them?
- The change of perception: how do you get something to stand out as the attractive option between other choices? How do you design the desired perception?
- The design of experience: How do you get someone to have a positive feeling? How can you reduce stress or uncertainty?
- The triggering of behaviour: How do you trigger the desired behaviour? How can you increase the chance of success that people act upon your trigger
- The change of habits: How can you get people to sustain the behaviour? Most behaviours require much more than a one-time action. Think about saving, living healthy, exercising, recycling, collaborating, etc.
Thinking fast and slow
This simple list of influence levels teaches us that Behavioural Design is all about how we design choices and how we present those choices. Behavioural Design has everything to do with human decision-making and how the brain works.
The cornerstone of thinking about human-decision making is the masterpiece “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Kahneman and Tversky. This book – awarded with the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002 – is the fascinating journey of the collaboration between two Israeli psychologists and their discoveries of how the mind works. This book is the ultimate work on thinking about thinking.
Kahneman and Tversky discovered that about 98% of our thinking is automatic and unconscious. Our brain is making most of the decisions for us, by taking shortcuts – which they call heuristics -, with the goal of not having to invoke the 2% bandwidth of our slow, rational brain.
In a way, influencing behaviour comes down to helping people to decide without having to think. Because the more we need to think about something, the more stress we get, the less we end up making choices.
Since 2018, we now have a second psychologist in the ranks of noble prize winners. Richard Thaler built upon the work of Kahneman and Tversky and zoomed in on how to make use of System 1-System2 thinking to nudge people into better decision making on wealth, health and happiness.
Our hard-wired tendency to persuade
Our biggest fallacy, when it comes to our attempts to influence minds and shape behaviours, is that we always tend to persuade the other with rational arguments. The problem with persuasion is two-fold:
- Persuasion evokes System 2-thinking, and we don’t like that. When you try to persuade someone, you want them to think about your argument. Thinking complicates things.
- System 2 is the little slave of System 1: we only accept rational arguments or facts, when they are in line with how we already think about matters. You can only persuade someone who’s already convinced.
The real challenge is to make decision making extremely easy.
More about designing choices:
- Kahneman Fast and Slow Thinking explained
- System 1 and 2 quick guide
- Rediscovering the Unconsciousness
- Nudging explained
5. Behavioural Designers think ‘outside-in’.
The most common mistake we make when we try to influence minds and shape behaviour, is to think inside-out. We take the benefits our product or service as our point of departure, and we try to figure out how we could pitch those benefits in such a way that people would realize the value of what we have to offer.
Behavioural Designer work the other way around. We take the human behind the customer as our focal point, and we try to figure out what this human needs to be successful, which anxieties, doubts, prejudices or bad habits he hold that stand in the way of embracing the desired behaviour, or which pains or frustrations we could solve for him.
The Influence Framework
We developed the Influence Framework as a tool to do outside-in thinking systematically,. This model brings all the forces to the surface that influence the behaviour of the people for whom we need to design interventions.
The Influence Framework consists of five questions we need to answer to understand why people do what they do and how to get them to act:
- Job-To-Be-Done: What is the underlying goal for which people would have to embrace the new behaviour? How might we align the desired behaviour with goals that matter to them?
- Pains: What are possible frustrations and pains in their current behaviour, for which we need to come up with a solution?
- Gains: What are the benefits we have, compared with their current solutions?
- Anxieties: What are anxieties, doubts, prejudices or other barriers that prevent someone from embracing the new behaviour?
- Habits: Which habits keep them locked in their current behaviour?
Finding the answers to these questions will provide you with a blueprint of where to spot opportunities for behavioural change.
In this video, you can find a brief explainer of the Influence Framework.
More about outside-in thinking:
- Three Cardinal Sins against Customer-Centricity in Finance
- Clayton Christensen explaining Job-to-be-done Thinking (the famous Milkshake example)
6. Behavioural Designers work with principles from the science of influence
The next step in the Behavioural Design Method is about turning a deep understanding of the forces that explain people’s behaviours, into ideas for behavioural change. These are two different games. Whereas the Influence Framework uncovers the unconsciousness of people, is this part about applying principles from the science of influence to come up with solutions on how to change behaviour.
We use a variety of principles, but the basic framework is this elegant and simple formula of Prof. BJ Fogg:
Behaviour = Motivation x Ability x Trigger.
When we try to come up with ideas and interventions for behavioural change, we try to find answers to three simple questions:
- Trigger: What’s the perfect time and place to prompt a desired behaviour?
- Ability: How might we make the desired behaviour easier (or the undesired behaviour more difficult)?
- Motivation: How might we boost motivation for the desired behaviour?
The purpose of these three questions is to help system 1 to decide without having to think.
You could plot every known persuasion principle in the literature onto these three axes. The persuasion principles by Robert Cialdini (authority, scarcity, social proof, liking, reciprocity, commitment), can be understood as techniques to boost motivation. Lot’s of usability-principles are ability principles: default options, choice reduction, simplicity, affordance, all aim at making the desired behaviour easy.
More about principles from the science of influence:
7. Behavioural Designers research, prototype and test
The Psycho-logic is a different kind of logic
The more familiar you get with how the brain works and how influence works, the more you become aware of the fact that human behaviour obeys to a different kind of logic than formal logic. Rory Sutherland calls this “psycho-logic” in his brilliant book Alchemy.
The way people make decisions is highly context-sensitive. These decisions are full of stories they tell themselves and full of irrational beliefs they hold. Furthermore, even the slightest difference in how something is framed can have a dramatic effect on how people perceive the meaning. When an English native speaker says he or she thinks something is “interesting”, it usually means precisely the opposite. Whereas a non-native Dutch audience would think they “interesting” means what they think it means.
The importance of doing the research yourself
That’s why research and prototyping are so important. Before you come up with an idea for behavioural change, you first need to fall in love with the problem. You observe or interview humans and try to put yourself in their shoes. You’ll be surprised about how many thoughts and beliefs you hold, are actually projections of your limited world view onto the world of the target audience you want to influence.
Prototyping and testing is all about trying to find out which variation of your intervention has the highest potential to design perception, attention, curiosity, experience, behaviour or habit. Even with the clearest of insights, you can still come up with an intervention that ultimately misses its desired effect. What you thought your intervention was supposed to trigger, sometimes triggers the exact opposite.
More about prototyping and testing:
- How behavioural science and data science should collaborate
- How to create excitement for a (behavioural) design sprint?
8. Domains of Behavioural Design
The number of applications for Behavioural Design Thinking is endless. Because in the end, most of the things we do as humans aim at influencing the behaviour of others. You can apply it from managing teams to the design of products. Or from getting people to buy products, to changing the way they perceive a service or experience. And from the design of financial habits, personal habits and healthy habits, till the raising of children.
At SUE, we’re particularly fascinated by six specific domains for behavioural change:
- customer behaviour (product, marketing, sales)
- citizen behaviour (government / society)
- financial behaviour (financial independence)
- voter behaviour (politics and government)
- self-improvement (personal development)
- team-behavior (organizational design)
Most of our blogs and our weekly newsletter “Behavioural Design Digest” is about one of these topics.
9. Start to learn more about Behavioural Design
Now you have a deeper understanding about what Behavioural Design and how you can apply the Behavioural Design Method to influence minds and shape behaviour, there’s a couple of next steps you can take to learn more about the method:
- Subscribe to our weekly newsletter Behavioural Design Digest, in which we take a closer look at how influence works in daily life.
- Subscribe to one of the upcoming editions of our Behavioural Design Academy masterclasses and learn the Behavioural Design Method step by step.
- Organize an in-company training for your team and learn the method while applying it to a critical business challenge for your organization.
- Hire SUE to run a Behavioural Design Sprint to research, prototype and test ideas to improve the success of your product or service
- Book SUE for a keynote or workshop (contact us)
- Check or frequently asked questions and discover answers to questions you didn’t even know you had.