Designing for Behavior Change

Author: Stephen Wendel
Publisher: O'Reilly
Pages: 306
ISBN: 978-1449367626
Audience: Developers concerned with interface design
Rating: 3
Reviewer: Sue Gee

A book about "Applying psychology and behavioral economics" - what help will it be to app developers?

This book starts with a Foreword from a B J Fogg who had introduced methods from experimental psychology to app design. He writes:

Many thousands of people can write code. But only a relative few can get the psychology right. And when it comes to behavior change, the right psychology males all the difference.

This is a premise I certainly agree with and raised my expectations for the rest of the book.

I was also encouraged by the Preface in which I learned that the author, Stephen Wendel is Head researcher at HelloWallet and was also its first and only software engineer. Before that he had been political scientist engaged in research which focused on how people change their political behavior by interacting with the local environment. The combination of expertise in software development and in behavioral psychology seemed promising.

Wendel's intended audience for the book encompasses both camps, behavioral social scientists and interaction designers and human-computer interaction practitioners, as well as product owners and project managers.

The book outlines a four-stage process for designing for behaviour change, each of which has a part of the book dedicated to it:

  • Understand
  • Discover
  • Design
  • Refine

The types of behaviors it can help with fall into two main groups:

  • Behaviors that users want to change within their daily lives, which often relate to big-picture social issues

  • Behaviors with a product itself that are part of using the product, and this encompasses software products

For developers it is the latter group that is likely to be more relevant.

 

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The book is organized into six parts:

Part I: Understanding the Mind and Behavior Change

After an overview of the mind and its decision making process in Chapter 1, we meet the Create Action Funnel, a core concept of this book in Chapter 2. Shown diagrammatically, the Create Action Funnel outlines the five stages that a potential action has to be pass in order to be undertaken. They are Cue, Reaction, Evaluation, Ability and Timing. Chapter 2 also looks at the Fogg Behavior Model, from BJ Fogg who contributed the foreword. Chapter 3 develops three strategies for changing behaviour. These are core to the rest of the book and the most important of them is referred to a “cheating” and involves shifting the burden of work from the user to the product you are creating.

 

Part II: Discovering the Right Outcome, Action, And Actor

Chapter 4: Figuring Out What You Wanting To Accomplish opens with a discussion of a product to help people lose weight and presents a cartoon illustrating the idea that using smaller plates fools people into eating less. While I found this convincing, as with an earlier anecdote that placing water on the shelves at eye-level in the Google kitchen persuaded more people to choose to drink water, it didn't really come as a revelation. The most useful advice in the chapter was to trim down each action that you want to achieve to its Minimum, Viable Action. Chapter 5 concentrates on your users and suggests you generate behavioral personas – groups of users who will react differently to your products attempts to change their behavior.

 

 

Part III: Developing the Conceptual Design

According to the preface, as design is the sexiest topic of the book it has the largest section. Chapter 6: Structuring the Action introduces you to the meat of the process going through the stages of creating a behavioral plan. Chapter 7: Construction the Environment looks at tactics you can uses, including ones to increase motivation and discusses cues, which you will remember is the fist stage of the Create Action Funnel, together with feedback and things that might be distracting the user. Chapter 8: Preparing the User looks at tactics for helping users to take the action you want them to do.

Part IV: Designing the Interface and Implementing It

This part of the book seem to be the most directly relevant to software designers and developers and it goes through a similar design process as with the previous section. Chapter 9: Moving from Conceptual to Interface Designs describes how to extract user stories (to use agile development terminology) and generate interface designs. Chapter 10 is on reviewing and "fleshing out" the resulting designs and Chapter 11, which is only five pages long, has the title "Turning the Designs into Code" but is more about testing it and getting feedback and again advocates an agile approach.

Part V: Refining the Product

This section is about what happens after you've built a product and covers how to gage its impact (Chapter 12); ; how to generate ideas for improving it (Chapter 13) and reiterating this process after making changes (Chapter 14).

Part VI: Putting it into Practice

This section is designed to consolidate everything presented so far with Chapter 15 devoted a start-to-finish scenario that goes through the Understand, Discover, Design, Refine process, reminding readers of the Create Action Funnel at each stage and Chapter 16 being a quick recap of the book's main points in numbered bullet points and lists some general themes that the author feels add color and guidance on how to design for behavior change.

 

There's a lot of material in this book with lots of references to academic papers (all listed in an extensive bibliography as Appendix C). Throughout the main part of the book graphics and diagrams support Wendel's explanations and a glossary of terms (Appendix A) and a list of resources (Appendix B) all give the impression of a book that's well organized and well presented,

 

On the other hand, the reader looking for a quick and generalizable answer be disappointed. There's a lot of repetition where the author reminds you what's he has already explained. Helpfully, however, he provides chapter summaries that you can use to check you've picked up the main points in the “On a Napkin” section at the end of the chapters in the first four parts.

 

My feeling at the end of the book was even though the author has himself applied the principles he introduces to products including apps, another designer/developer is going to have to work pretty hard to work out how to translate the book's important messages into concrete aspects of user interface design.

 

 

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