A behavioral approach to product design: The full guide to designing products with impact.
World-class digital products are experiential – they are built on emotional connection, effortless interaction, and the power of habits.
A lot of times, we often assume that consumers make rational decisions and take them at their word when we ask them about how they behave. But there’s a gap between what consumers say they will do and what they actually do. Humans are not robots that are rational right? Yeah
If you wanted to lose weight, you would start eating less. You’d say no to dessert. You’d go to the gym more. Sadly, this is not the reality for most people — we may have these goals, but we don’t take these actions. Behavioral economics is the field that maps these irrationalities, it disrupts the traditional economics theory that suggests we act only to optimize utility.
How do we then bridge this gap and design products based on real behaviours?
Let’s explore in this blog:
- Behavioral design
- The four stages of behavior design
- Stage 1: Enchantment (Grab attention)
- Stage 2: Inducement (Influence decisions)
- Stage 3: Facilitate action
- Stage 4. Sustain behavior
- Steps to implementing a behavioral design in your product design process
- Behavioral Diagnosis
- Identifying Psychological Biases
Shall we get going, then?
1. Behavioral Design
Companies that understand that their customers are not fully rational use behavioral design.
This uses what we know about the psychology of decision-making — behavioral science — to purposefully inform design decisions. Behavioural design brings knowledge from psychology and behavioral economics to product design. It helps us to understand why people do what they do, why they sometimes make surprising or irrational decisions, how they make decisions, and what drives or motivates them to do something.
With the knowledge from behavioral science, we can develop products, services, and systems that are aligned to how our brains work. This makes the interactions with these products more intuitive and enjoyable to use.
2. The four stages of behavior design
A simple four-stage framework was recently developed by experts to guide the design process and evaluate the behavioral effectiveness of products. Let’s explore the framework and describe techniques that professional designers use to ensure their products are as engaging, persuasive, and actionable as possible.
Stage 1: Enchantment
The first thing people want to know is — why should I care? As designers, we may have a fantastic product, but nobody will ever know if we can’t get people to pay attention to our message and consider using our product.
- Make it inviting. Draw people in with eye-catching aesthetics, engaging storytelling, or compelling motion design.
- Elicit an emotional reaction. Create designs that stand out and remain memorable by appealing to our emotions — whether that’s surprise, curiosity, or urgency (e.g. using techniques like scarcity or loss aversion).
- Show personalized content. People respond strongly to messaging that is customized and relevant based on their behaviors, interests, and values.
For Example, Netflix creates a strong first impression on its front page with compelling imagery and videos. The language is warm and inviting, drawing users in and encouraging them to explore the site.
Stage 2: Inducement
Once people are interested and engaged, we need to present a clear, convincing argument that nudges them to take action.
- Provide clear, straightforward content. Eliminate jargon and make your message specific and simple to understand. Offer content that answers a person’s questions and helps them make an informed choice.
- Offer recommendations. People will be more compelled to do something when provided with clear next steps or options. Users value suggestions and personalized advice from experts or trusted sources (including social networks).
- Describe the benefits. People want to know what’s in it for them. This might include extrinsic rewards (money, rebates), lifestyle benefits (comfort), or appeal to a person’s intrinsic motivations and values.
- Reframe the message. Alter perceptions and encourage action using behavioral science messaging. Anchor people toward a specific choice, persuade them through scarcity, or use social motivators such as social comparison or social proof.
Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites use several methods to influence our decision to make pledges. Projects frequently offer both extrinsic benefits (e.g. early access to a product) and intrinsic benefits (e.g. pride in supporting a cause you care about). Pledge recommendations are reinforced with behavioral science techniques like social proof (how many people have pledged) and scarcity (limited time and limited spots for each pledge tier).
And same can be seen in Netflix's case,
Stage 3: Facilitate action
So after a person has made the decision to act, the next step is to help them follow through, making the action as easy and barrier-free as possible.
- Simplify the action. Break down target actions into small, achievable steps. Reduce cognitive load on a user by simplifying an interface, chunking information, or introducing progressive disclosure. Identify and address common barriers that prevent people from taking action.
- Guide the experience. Shape the experience in a way that facilitates action. Common techniques include walkthroughs, callouts, or pre-determined defaults.
- Help users create a plan. Encourage people to set goals and commit to actions. Send reminders and follow up on their progress over time.
- Trigger at the right moment. Timing is critical — make sure you trigger a person to take action during the times they are most motivated and able to take action.
For Example, Brigade, a startup that encourages people to discuss their opinions on news and political issues, recently created several tools to facilitate the voting process. Right before election day, the app helped people find their local polling place and provided voting recommendations based on a user’s responses to several issue-based questions.
Again, let's see this in the case of Netflix,
Stage 4. Sustain behavior
Taking action once is not enough. For products to truly have a long-lasting impact, our designs need to motivate people to continue their behavior and feel a sense of progress over time.
- Celebrate progress. Reward people with positive feedback and show progress over time. Consider a variable rewards schedule to increase engagement and reinforce behavior change.
- Build a long-term relationship. Rather than one-time communications, design for experiences that extend over time and improve as we learn more about the people using our products.
- Emphasize intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the strongest driver of long-term behavior change. Research shows that people are drawn to experiences that give them a sense of purpose, social connection, status, self-expression, mastery, and autonomy.
For Example, Run keeper and other fitness apps use various techniques to help us sustain behavior long-term. Users can set activity goals and keep track of their progress, both individually and as part of a social group. Personal bests, leaderboards, and ongoing positive feedback help trigger our intrinsic motivations for self-mastery, social connection, and status.
And, of course this is how Netflix does the same,
3. Steps to implementing behavioral design in your product design process
- Behavioral Diagnosis
Conducting a behavioral diagnosis and understanding users’ current behavior at the most granular level possible is the first step towards changing user behavior.
This means collecting data about the problem, choosing one key behavior and creating a behavioral map. A behavioral map is a document that outlines each and every step a person has to complete to successfully complete the key behavior. In such a map, every page, every field, every click, and every decision counts as a step. By focusing on what people do instead of what they say, we can generate hypotheses about how to solve a problem based on actual behavior.
- Identifying Psychological Biases
The second step is to identify and label psychological biases a user encounters as they proceed along the behavioral map. There may be present bias (the tendency to overvalue immediate rewards at the expense of long-term goals), loss aversion, optimism bias, or social norms at play. These biases influence our decision making and so should be addressed through smart product design.
Your goal is to list the specific biases that users experience at each step in the behavioral flow. To simplify this, you can use what we call the 3Bs:
I. Identify a key Behavior
II. Reduce Barriers
III. Amplify Benefits
Barriers are the friction involved in completing a behavior.
Benefits are the motivation to complete the behavior.
To design for behavior change, we want to remove barriers and amplify existing benefits or create new benefits.
The third step is to design a solution that increases the key behavior you picked in your behavioral diagnosis.
To do this, pick a barrier you want to remove or a benefit you want to add to the system. You’ll use this insight to drive your design decisions.
First, you will have to prioritize the psychological barriers in your flow with the most impact; choose the barriers in your flow that most detract from people completing the key behavior. Next, you’ll want to come up with solutions to address these barriers. Some biases can be fixed easily with small tweaks; others require complete overhauls. If you’re unsure of a solution’s potential impact, mark it as a testing opportunity.
Finally, you can set up an experiment to test your solution (or multiple solutions) against a control group. By comparing the effects of solutions on your key behavior across different conditions, you can figure out which interventions are effective.
As designers and businesses, we need to consider the range of experiences people go through when using our products. Applying a behavioral lens to our work helps identify what stages in the journey are working and which could be better, ultimately strengthening our designs and mitigating the risk that our products will be quickly ignored or forgotten.
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