People are creatures of habit and this can introduce challenges should you want them to adopt a new behaviour. We all start forming and evolving our behaviours from the time we are born, and each of us will respond to different stimuli in our own unique way. Some of us can’t start their day without our morning coffee whereas others will reach for a cigarette as a first port of call. Some can’t fall asleep without a book in their hands and others like to leave their T.V. switched on. These behavioural differences are a big part of what makes us human.
As researchers and designers, we invest a lot of time and energy in helping businesses humanise their tools, services, systems, and processes. We do this so that these things are both useful to people and usable. But lately I’ve been wondering, we may design a tool, service, system, or process that is useful and usable, but does that mean people will actually use it? What if people already have a different way of doing that very same thing? What if they don’t currently do that thing at all? What if it seems difficult to them? How can you motivate a person to do something that is good for them, when the less healthy option requires a smaller amount of effort?
To relate it back to business, how would you get people to adopt a new process you’ve implemented, such as filing their emails on a daily basis? How do you get them to stop printing in colour, or switch from using an old piece of software to a new piece of software?
I think of the obstacles that these questions present as behaviour barriers, and I believe that if we want to have a bigger impact on the lives of the people that we seek to understand and design for, we need to get better at helping people overcome them.
What is Behavior Design?
According to him, behaviour is simply the combination of three forces at the same time: Triggers, Ability, and Motivation. He summarizes this really nicely with an equation: Behaviour = Trigger + Ability + Motivation, or B=TAM for short.
He says that once you’ve identified a behaviour you want to change, you need to answer these three questions:
- Are they being sufficiently triggered?
- Do they have the ability to do this?
- Do they have the motivation?
If any of the answers to these questions is ‘no’, then you are likely to encounter a roadblock to the desired behaviour change. The process of figuring out how to turn these ‘no’ answers into ‘yes’ answers is the process of behaviour design.
A quick introduction to Triggers, Ability, and Motivation.
BJ Fogg believes successful triggers have three characteristics:
- We need to notice the trigger
- We associate the trigger with the target behaviour
- The trigger happens when we are motivated and able
Every day people are using and responding to technology-based triggers e.g. replying to emails, sending texts, tweeting, nudging and poking people on Facebook, liking an update, commenting on a post, and making phone calls.
Ability, simply put, is making things easy for people to do. User-Centred Designers are great at this, and are dedicated to finding ways to turn the insights gleaned during their research activities into stuff that is easy to use.
“Technologies that make something easier to do, are more likely to get people to do that thing. An obvious example is the one-click shopping at Amazon; by making it easier to do, people are more likely to buy more stuff. Simplicity matters. Simplicity changes behaviours.”
BJ Fogg says that three core motivators exist, each with two sides:
- Sensation (pleasure – pain)
- Anticipation (hope – fear)
- Social cohesion (acceptance – rejection)
Defining the behaviour.
BJ Fogg has also established that there is a pattern to the different ways that these three forces come together in different situations, and this pattern is defined by:
- The type of behaviour you want to change, and
- The frequency at which you want that change to occur.
The Behavior Grid
So, now we have seen some really exciting behavior design tools, how do you start with the business of doing behaviour design?
The business of doing Behaviour Design.
I recently explored the idea of being a behaviour designer here at Optimal Usability. After identifying a behaviour that we wanted to change, I applied the behaviour equation (B=TAM, remember?) and conducted an experiment on the Optimal Usability guinea-pigs (our Auckland and Wellington teams) to see if I could use the model to help them adopt a new behaviour. Here’s a brief summary of the process I followed:
Establishing the target behaviour change
|Tips||What I did|
1. Choose a behaviour you want to change
|Don’t sweat this one too much. All you need is a specific behaviour that you would like to change.||We wanted to become better at celebrating the smaller, everyday successes within the company.|
2. Identify what type of behaviour it is
|The Behaviour Grid offers 15 different types of behaviour that are defined by:
||Using the grid I identified that I wanted to create a Green Path behaviour change i.e. a lasting change for a new behaviour.|
3. Establish the baby steps
|Break down the targeted behaviour change into smaller, more achievable steps||The identified steps were:
4. Target the first baby step and design for this
|Targeted behaviour change: tell each other just one thing about what we have done each day.||It was decided to do this via an internal social-media platform that allowed people to post a ‘status update’, similar to Facebook.|
|Tips||What I did|
5. Design the Trigger
|Make sure that:
The Behaviour Wizard provides further guidance specific to designing for Green Path behaviours and overcoming the challenge of getting people to commit to the change on an ongoing basis. To help people form a new habit, the wizard tells us to couple the trigger with an existing habit.
|People were triggered by:
As everyone was in the habit of checking for new email each morning it was decided to send the email every morning.
6. Make it easy (Ability)
|User-Centred Designers can re-use many of the design principals that they are already familiar with. Consider designing to:
7. Increase the Motivation
|Consider which of the three core motivational levers can be pulled:
||The social-media like nature of status updates meant that the social cohesion levers of acceptance and rejection played a large part in the success of the experiment. Also factoring in, but to a lesser degree, were the ideas of fun (sensation), along with pressure (anticipation) which was a result of the rule deliberately being communicated via the Senior Management team.|
The experiment was designed in a way that deliberately kept the desired action small, with individuals only asked to do the bare minimum in order to increase conversation within the offices.
Despite this small request, once people overcame their initial behaviour barriers and performed the desired new behaviour, most were happy to do more than just what was required of them. As well as updating their status daily, people frequently commented on others updates, ‘liked’ other people’s comments, posted photos of each other taking part in work activities, and shared links to articles and information.
Best of all, there was more awareness of what we were doing and more conversations were started within the offices as a result. Some people also felt that there was a greater sense of connection across the two offices, with one person commenting that it felt like we were all in one big virtual office.
Interestingly, people found a way to make this task even easier. Most people downloaded a smaller piece of software that could run continually on their computer alerting them to any new activity, functionality similar to Skype or MSN Messenger. It’s now seven weeks later and overall the experiment has been largely successful. Despite staff no longer receiving the daily reminder email (the trigger) most of them continue to update their status daily. Further to this, they are continuing to engage with what other people are doing and conversations continue to develop.
In short, we have been successful at achieving our first baby step and are one step closer to achieving our goal of celebrating our smaller, everyday successes. We are also equipped with a process that we now know works and will allow us to take the remaining steps.
I frequently see examples of well-designed tools, services, systems, and processes that fail to achieve ‘lift-off’ because people are creatures of habit and their behaviour barriers have not been taken into consideration. My hope is that in understanding the behaviour change approach that BJ Fogg has made so accessible to all of us, that I can now help pull down some of these barriers so that more people can receive the benefit of our well researched and tested designs.
It is clearly important that we use these techniques responsibly and for the benefit of people rather than to trick people into behaviours that benefit a company’s bottom-line. That being said, this should be true for all of our design efforts.
I’d like to hear from any of you who might also have stories of how behaviour barriers may have impacted your projects. What have you learned? Did you have a good way to overcome these barriers? Could this model have helped you? I’m keen to hear your thoughts!