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Behavioral Design 101

In a previous post, I provided 3 tips for applying design thinking to your process, even if you’re not a practicing UX designer. So, let’s say you’ve done homework and you’ve come to a full understanding of who your target audience is, what their primary goals/motivations are and what they’re limitations might be.

Great! We can now start the design process!

Absolutely, you can now make informed design decisions based on user needs. However, more than likely if you’re building an application, you’re also going to need to account for some business goals as well. And, of course, those goals are going to involve trying to get someone to do something - use a product, buy a service, go somewhere, etc. In other words, some sort of behavior.  So, in order to design for behaviors, one needs to understand how behaviors work.

Uh oh, is this another post about psychology?

Sure is. But once again I’m here to help. In this post, I’ll provide some easy-to-remember key principles rooted in psychology that can help everyone work toward putting together an application that actually gets used.

The formula for behaviors: B=MAT

A framework that I like to start with for analyzing the likelihood of a behavior happening is the Fogg Behavioral Model. Created by BJ Fogg, who founded and helms the Stanford Behavior Design Lab, the model proposes that three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur - Motivation, Ability and a Trigger.

I like to use this formula as a diagnostic tool to determine the viability of an application or a particular feature. Does the user have sufficient motivation to use the application? Does the user have adequate ability - ie, is it available and easy to use? Finally, is there a clear trigger to prompt the user to try it or use it? This formula can also be used to diagnose anything that might be underperforming. Product not selling or application not being used? Chances are, at least one of these elements is missing. 

Turning a behavior into a habit

Building off of the concepts first brought forth by Fogg, entrepreneur and Stanford alumnus Nir Eyal developed a 4-part framework called the “Hook” model that he believes are the key to getting someone to not only perform a single behavior once, but come back to an application again and again. In addition to an adequate trigger, and ease of use, Eyal recommends providing a variable reward at the end to award the user for their behavior as well as providing an opportunity to invest in the product.

At play here are a couple of key psychological drivers. Neuroscience has taught us that variable rewards have an ever greater pull on our brains than predictable rewards. If you’ve ever found yourself endlessly scrolling through a Twitter feed, you’ve experienced the intense pull of a variable reward. The second driver is investment, which is rooted in the “Ikea Effect” (yes, it’s a real thing). Science has taught us that humans irrationally add value to things they put effort into.

In review…

Above all, recognize that the mere presence of something - say, an application, a website or a product on a shelf - does not instill a behavior on its own. “Build it and they will come” is a movie fantasy - 

If you want to create a new behavior, or instill more repeat use, you need to understand and leverage the science of how behaviors occur.

Then, use one of these frameworks to investigate the feasibility of your product being used. I’d recommend starting with the basics of the Fogg model. If you can clearly identify motivation, ability and a trigger to get your users started, you’re on the right path. Then, move on to the Hooked model for extra credit to see if you can design something that is so engaging, you’re users want to stick with it and use it again and again.

Brad KnutsonComment