Behaviour change, by design

Glen Jeffreys

Glen Jeffreys has over 15 years’ experience working across commercial, NGO, government and higher-education sectors, he is a digital creative, specialising in ideation, creative development, UX and instructional design. He believes UX is about understanding ‘audience and purpose’. Successful UX design requires a highly collaborative approach spanning the entire project lifespan, from product visioning through to blueprinting, production, testing and launch. Glen is the head of user experience for Deepend Group, an independent, digital communications and innovation consultancy group.

We’re living in an age of unprecedented change. We experience with Oculus Rift, invest with Acorns, consume video through Hyper, tune into Pandora and navigate with Waze.

While a great deal has been written about how disruptive technologies create new markets and value networks, for me the most interesting aspect of these innovations is how they change us personally; creating new habits, interactions and behaviours. As designers, we have a degree of control over this process by shaping the way people interact with the products we create.

We need to understand that as well as designing to complement an identified user behaviour, we can also think about designing to change that behaviour.

Take the ‘ride sharing’ industry for example - it used to be called ‘catching a taxi’. Remember negotiating with drivers before they decided to take the fare? How many times did you find yourself explaining how to get to your street, or (more worryingly) your suburb? When you did manage to get to your destination, you usually ended up paying cash, as the card reader was always on the blink.

Emerging services such as GoCatch, CarNextDoor, Uber and Lyft have changed many aspects of this industry, including our behaviour. We now think nothing of ordering a car from quiet suburban locations or nondescript street corners. Our destination is an afterthought, entered once the car has been confirmed. There are no shift changes to worry about and at the end of the trip we simply step out of the car, without even handing over a metaphorical cent.

The power of design

All of these behaviours were designed. Creative teams thought very carefully about the experience of finding, ordering, using and leaving the car, and crafted their solutions accordingly. Most importantly, the designers behind these services were not constrained by our existing behaviours, they simply invented new ones.

How is this possible? Not so long ago, creating and launching a disruptive innovation required political or industrial connections, years of development time and a boat-load of cash. Now things are different. Pretty much everyone owns a smartphone, connecting us to billions of pages and people across the globe and providing a direct line into convergent information and services.

Many of the barriers that once protected entrenched economies have been rendered obsolete by that sleek touchscreen in your back pocket. Peer-to-peer loan services such as MoneyPlace are bypassing banks. Apps like Robinhood let you trade international shares for free. DriveYello places a delivery fleet at the fingertips of cafes and restaurants. Airbnb has turned the hotel and accommodation industry on its head and Netflix is now bigger than CBS.

Never before have designers been so empowered.

I was recently talking to an Uber driver who had spent the previous decade working in the taxi industry, and I asked him about the key differences he’d noticed between the two worlds. “Politeness,” the driver answered confidently.

The driver explained that ever since he’d started greeting his Uber passengers by name, their behaviour towards him had changed. The driver had noticed more conversations, less abuse and generally a positive spirit among his passengers. By making the experience more personal (one of Uber’s key tenets), the app’s designers had brought about a significant behavioural change within the industry.

Addressing behaviour change during the design process

Design thinking is an ideology many digital professionals will be familiar with. At its heart, design thinking is about getting hands-on, understanding the end user, identifying their wants and needs and defining the problems they face.

In the early stages of a design thinking approach, (ie. empathy and definition), creative teams spend considerable time getting to know and understand the motivations of the audiences they’re designing for. We summarise our findings and define audience behaviours to help us get to the right solution. It’s at this point design teams have to ask themselves a few questions:

Should we design with existing audience behaviours in mind, seeking to improve the User Experience (UX)? Or can we design to change how our audience behaves, transforming the UX and creating something completely new?

Using this approach during the ideation phase of a project can produce wonderfully innovative results. For example, we have been working with the Housing Industry Association to reimagine how builders and tradies find jobs, research information and form professional networks. Rather than designing around how the industry currently works, we’ve defined a series of ideal behaviours and outcomes and are creating products and strategies to achieve them.

Another example is the award-winning Sound Storm iPad app, which we developed with our sister agency, Nomad, and the National Acoustics Laboratories in Sydney. Sound Storm is designed to treat the thousands of children in Australia who suffer from spatial processing disorder (SPD).

In simple terms, SPD is an inability to properly distinguish and concentrate on sounds mixed in with background noise. In noisy environments, a child with SPD will struggle to distinguish or understand a voice that is right in front of them. The National Acoustics Laboratory had developed an effective treatment for SPD, however it was long (over 10 weeks of treatment was necessary) and quite difficult at times. Our challenge was to work out how we could motivate and engage kids to maintain continuous participation throughout this period.

Our solution was to wrap the science around a fun and compelling game, one that combines multiple reward mechanics with a rich and captivating narrative. We completely changed the behaviour of program participants by taking the focus away from the treatment, creating a brand new patient/clinician interaction. The results? Initial studies indicate the vast majority of SPD affected children that complete the remediation program are cured of the disorder.

It’s this type of thinking that inspires me every day. It’s certainly not an easy path to choose - designing for behaviour change is challenging. Success can be difficult to measure and many clients may not want this type of solution.

We’re not all going to come up with game changing ideas like Uber, Airbnb and Wikipedia, and we shouldn’t feel pressured to. Rather, we can think of behaviour change as another option in our design toolbox - something to be discussed and explored during the ideation and prototyping phases of our projects.

So the next time you identify a user behaviour, stop and ask yourself - can I change this for the better? Chances are, you can.

Tags: design thinking, brand strategy

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