Designing for Behaviour Change

Designing for Behaviour Change

Author
Stephen Wendel
Year
2020
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Review

I made product management my profession, I’ve long been a fan of Behavioural Economics and Atomic Habits is one of my favourite books, so I was always going to like this book. It builds on prior theory, but the authors contribution is to present a few easy to follow frameworks to apply behaviour change principles to product management. Given most product outcomes are reliant on changing people’s behaviour, this is a worthwhile read for anyone building products.

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Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

  • To effect change is to effect behaviour change
  • Choice architecture or behavioural design is about designing environments to influence our choices and actions.
  • We’re limited beings in attention, time, willpower etc
    • Because of that our brains have shortcuts to economise
    • System 1 reactive thinking is blazingly fast and automatic, but we’re generally not conscious of its inner workings.
    • System 2 deliberative thinking is slow, focused, self-aware, and what most of us consider “thinking.” But it’s severely limited.
    • Habits and biases exist because of these fundamental limitations
  • Biases and Heuristics
  • Status quo bias
    generally people will stick with the status quo
    Descriptive norms
    we follow what others are doing
    Confirmation bias
    we seek out, notice, and remember information in line with our existing thinking
    Present bias
    we give undue attention to the present and over value things we get now
    Anchoring
    we make judgments that are relative to a reference point
    Availability heuristic
    we believe things that happened recently are more likely to occur
    IKEA effect
    when we invest time and energy in something we tend to value the resulting item or outcome more
    Halo effect
    if something is good in one dimension, we’ll assume it’s good in others
  • Habits free up mental space by outsourcing control to behavioural cues in the environment
    • Habits are built through repetition: whenever you see X (a cue), you do Y (a routine)
      • If there’s a reward (or random reward) the subconscious makes the connection stronger
  • We can address the intention–action gap with the CREATE framework
    • A Cue, which starts an automatic… intuitive Reaction, potentially bubbling up into a conscious Evaluation of costs and benefits, the Ability to act, the right Timing for action, and the overwhelming power of past Experience s
    • You can use CREATE in reverse to replace a habit or stop a mental shortcut
      • Avoid the Cue, replace the Reaction, rethink the Evaluation, or remove the Ability
  • The 6 mental processes (detecting a cue, reacting to it, evaluating it, checking for ability, determining if the timing is right, and interpreting it all through the lens of our past experiences) are gates that can block or facilitate action
    • Products have a lot to do to encourage us to take an action…
      • cue us to think about the action
      • avoid negative intuitive reactions to it
      • convince our conscious minds that there’s value in the action
      • convince us to do it now
      • and ensure that we can actually take the action
A Table of all the dark patterns
Comparison Prevention
The user struggles to compare products because features and prices are combined in a complex manner, or because essential information is hard to find.
Confirmshaming
The user is emotionally manipulated into doing something that they would not otherwise have done.
Disguised ads
The user mistakenly believes they are clicking on an interface element or native content, but it's actually a disguised advertisement.
Fake scarcity
The user is pressured into completing an action because they are presented with a fake indication of limited supply or popularity.
Fake social proof
The user is misled into believing a product is more popular or credible than it really is, because they were shown fake reviews, testimonials, or activity messages.
Fake Urgency
The user is pressured into completing an action because they are presented with a fake time limitation.
Forced action
The user wants to do something, but they are required to do something else undesirable in return.
Hard to cancel
The user finds it easy to sign up or subscribe, but when they want to cancel they find it very hard.
Hidden costs
The user is enticed with a low advertised price. After investing time and effort, they discover unexpected fees and charges when they reach the checkout.
Hidden subscription
The user is unknowingly enrolled in a recurring subscription or payment plan without clear disclosure or their explicit consent.
Nagging
The user tries to do something, but they are persistently interrupted by requests to do something else that may not be in their best interests.
Obstruction
The user is faced with barriers or hurdles, making it hard for them to complete their task or access information.
Preselection
The user is presented with a default option that has already been selected for them, in order to influence their decision-making.
Sneaking
The user is drawn into a transaction on false pretences, because pertinent information is hidden or delayed from being presented to them.
Trick wording
The user is misled into taking an action, due to the presentation of confusing or misleading language.
Visual interference
The user expects to see information presented in a clear and predictable way on the page, but it is hidden, obscured or disguised.
Conduct Ethical Reviews. What to include →
  • Description and Purpose:
    • Describe it:
    • What behaviour (action) does the project seek to change? Does it aim to support or hinder that action?
    • What interventions are used to support that change?
    • Who is the target population (actor)?
    • How, if at all, will this benefit that population (user outcome?
    • In what ways might this intervention cause notable harm to the individual in the short-run or long-run?
    • How will it benefit your organisation?
    • What financial or personal interest do you have in this project succeeding?
  • Transparency and freedom of choice:
    • Does the target population want to accomplish this outcome? Do they want to change behaviour?
    • Does the target population know that you are seeking to change their behaviour? And, if not, will they be upset when they become aware of it?
    • Is the user defaulted-out, defaulted-in or is it a condition of use for the product to interact with these interventions? Can the user opt out in a straight forward and transparent manner>
    • What steps will be taken to minimise the possibility of coercion?
  • Create a review body (external and /or internal)
  • Remove the fudge factor → make the rules crystal clear with a plain-language internal policy,
  • Raise the stakes: tell others about our ethical commitments. Tell them the rules you’ll follow for designing products and applying behavioural science.

Blueprint for behaviour change:

  • Define the business case and problem. Diagnose the status quo and opportunities for change. Design and test the proposed solution to the problem. Decide on whether to scale up and implement the solution more broadly.
  • Essentially this is copying the common sense and the scientific method
Steps
Actions / Artefacts
Define the problem
Project Brief Hypothesis for behaviour change (actor, action, outcome)
Explore the context
A detailed behaviour map A diagnosis of the problems along the way
Craft the intervention
The intervention itself
Implement within the product
An ethical review The product
Determine the impact
Impact measurement
Evaluate what to do next
Insights Priorities
  • Defining a clear problem definition:
    • The target outcome: What is the product supposed to accomplish? What will be different about the real world when the product is successful?
    • The target actor: Who do we envision using the product? Who will do something differently in their lives and thus accomplish the target outcome?
    • The target action: How will the actor do it? What behaviour will the person actually undertake (or stop taking)
  • By helping the [actor] [start/stop] doing [describe action], we will accomplish [outcome]
  • Define the clear, tangible, and measurable outcome that you seek, with a metric
  • Define a clear, tangible, and measurable action that drives that outcome, with a metric. Create a threshold for each metric that defines success and failure
  • Create behavioural Personas + use behaviour maps to identify possible interventions

Point-in-time Interventions:

Component
To Do This
Try this
Cue
Create a cue
· Tell the user what the action is · Relabel something as a cue · Use reminders
Increase power of a cue
· Make it clear where to act · Remove distractions
Target a cue
· Go where the attention is · Align with people’s time
Reaction
Elicit positive feeling
· Narrate the past · Associate with the positive
Increase social motivation
· Deploy social proof · Use peer comparisons
Increase trust
· Display strong authority · Be authentic and personal · Make it professional and beautiful
Evaluation
Economics 101
· Make sure the incentives are right
Highlight and support existing motivations
· Leverage existing motivations · Avoid direct payments · Test out different types of motivations
Increase motivation
· Leverage loss aversion · Pull future motivations into the present · Use competition
Support conscious decision making
· Make sure it’s understandable · Avoid cognitive overhead · Avoid choice overload
Ability
Remove friction
· Remove unnecessary decision points · Default everything · Elicit implementation intentions
Increase sense of feasibility
· Deploy positive peer comparisons · Help them know they’ll succeed
Remove physical barriers
· Look for physical barriers
Timing
Increase urgency
· Frame text to avoid temporal myopia · Remind of prior commitment to act · Make commitments to friends · Make a reward scarce
Experience
Break free of the past
· Use fresh starts (moments of life change) · Use story editing · Use slow-down techniques
Avoid the past
· Make intentionally unfamiliar
Keep changing with experiences
· Check back in with users

Creating or stopping habits:

Component
To Start
To Stop
Cue
Relabel something as a cue
Unlink the actions from behaviours that flow into it
Use Reminders
Remove reminders
Remove distractions
Make the cure more difficult to see
Align with peoples time
Add distractions or more interesting things
Reaction
Narrate the past
Highlight prior successes at restisting the action
Associate with the positive
Associate action with negative things person doesn’t like
Deploy the social proof
Deploy social disproof and social support for change
Use peer comparisons
Use negative peer comparisons
Be authentic and personal
Be authentic and personal in your appeal to stop
Make it professional and beautiful
Make the appeal to stop professional and beautiful
Evaluation
Make sure the incentives are right
Increase costs, decrease benefits
Leverage existing motivations
Unlink the action from existing motivations
Test different types of motivators
Don’t assume people will be sufficiently motivated to stop. Test different types of motivators.
Leverage loss aversion
Leverage loss aversion
Use commitment contracts
Use commitment contracts
Pull future motivations into the present
Pull future motivations to stop into the present
Use competition
Use competition to stop (e.g. biggest loser)
Avoid cognitive overhead
Add to cognitive overload
Avoid choice overload
Add to choice overload
Ability
Remove unnecessary decision points
Add small pauses and frictions
Default everything
Require choices, remove defaults
Elicit implementation intentions
Elicit implementation intentions
Deploy peer comparisons
Deploy positive peer comparisons (others succeeding)
Help them know they’ll succeed
Help them know they’ll succeed
Look for physical barriers
Add physical barriers
Experience
Use fresh starts
Use fresh starts
Use story editing
Use story editing
Use slow-down techniques
Use slow-down techniques
  • In shorthand:
    • Define the problem
    • Explore the context
    • Craft the intervention
    • Implement within the product
    • Determine the impact
    • Evaluate what to do next
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Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

Part I. How the Mind Works

Chapter 1. Deciding and Taking Action

  • People struggle to turn their intentions into action. People struggle sometimes to make good decisions. Often, motivation isn’t the problem.
  • To effect change is to effect behaviour change.
  • Behavioural science combines psychology and economics and tries to understand how people make decisions and translate those decisions into action
  • Choice architecture or Behavioural design is about designing environments to influence our choices and actions.
  • Book recommendations:
    • Nudge: Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s
    • Thinking, Fast and Slow: Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow
    • Predictably Irrational: Dan Ariely
  • How Our Minds are Wired
    • We’re limited beings in attention, time, willpower etc.
      • we can only pay proper attention to one thing at a time
      • too many options can paralyse use (paradox of choice)
      • our memories are imperfect
    • Because of that our brains have shortcuts to economise
    • System 1 reactive thinking is blazingly fast and automatic, but we’re generally not conscious of its inner workings.
      • uses past experiences and a set of simple rules of thumb
      • manifests as emotions and and gut feeling
      • it’s effective in familiar situations
      • governs most of daily behaviour
    • System 2 deliberative thinking is slow, focused, self-aware, and what most of us consider “thinking.”
      • analyse our way through unfamiliar situations
      • handle complex problems with System 2
      • woefully limited in how much information it can handle at a time
      • thinks it’s in charge all of the time
    • The two systems can work independently of each other, in parallel, and can disagree
    • Our decisions and our behaviour are deeply affected by the context we’re in
      • worsening or ameliorating our biases
      • our intention–action gap
  • We can design context to improve decision making and lessen the intention–action gap.

Biases and Heuristics

Status quo bias
generally people will stick with the status quo
Descriptive norms
we follow what others are doing
Confirmation bias
we seek out, notice, and remember information in line with our existing thinking
Present bias
we give undue attention to the present and over value things we get now
Anchoring
we make judgments that are relative to a reference point
Availability heuristic
we believe things that happened recently are more likely to occur
IKEA effect
when we invest time and energy in something we tend to value the resulting item or outcome more
Halo effect
if something is good in one dimension, we’ll assume it’s good in others

Habits

  • A habit is a repeated behaviour that’s triggered by cues in our environment.
  • Habits are automatic — the actions occur outside of conscious control
  • Habits free up mental space by outsourcing control to behavioural cues in the environment
  • Habits are built through repetition: whenever you see X (a cue), you do Y (a routine)
    • Your brain creates a strong association between cue and routine → it just acts
    • If there’s a reward (or random reward) the subconscious makes the connection stronger
  • Good habits are a resilient and sustainable way to maintain a new behaviour

We’re Deeply Affected by Context

  • How choices are framed
  • People avoid uncertain options
  • We’re bad at forecasting the level of emotions we’ll feel in future circumstances (e.g. we think getting a divorce will be more painful than it is)
  • We’re bad at forecasting our own behaviour in the future
  • Asking people what they will do or what they think will happen to them in the future is fraught with problems.
  • Whether something is a loss or gain depends on our reference point
  • Environment affects our decision making and behaviour → we can redesigning to change decision making and behaviour.
    • we can help people make better decisions, use habits wisely, and follow through on their intentions to act
  • Fast and frugal heuristics is the mind automating reasonable choices with a fast response
    • Social proof heuristic, availability heuristic, price as a signal of quality
  • A bias, strictly speaking, is a tendency of thought and is neither positive nor negative
  • The Goal: to help people make better decisions, given the valuable but imperfect shortcuts we all use.
  • Quirks of action include errors of inaction and errors of unintentional action
    • the intention–action gap is one of the major errors of inaction. Good intentions and the sincere desire to do something, aren’t enough.
  • Habits are also neutral. We learn bad habits just as we learn good habits: through repetition

Tools the mind uses to choose the right action

Mechanism
Used
Habits
Familiar cues trigger a routine
Other intuitive responses
Semi-familiar situations trigger a reaction based on prior experiences
Active mindset or self-concept
Ambiguous situations with a few possible interpretations
Heuristics
Situations where conscious attention is required and choice can be simplified
Focused, conscious calculation
Unfamiliar situations where a conscious choice is required Or very important decisions we direct our attention toward
  • These are soft rules, and are true on average
  • We only activate conscious, cost-benefit calculations when we have a good reason to do so: e.g. something unusual, when we really care about the outcome

Chapter 2. Creating Action

  • Many students who are eligible for government aid don’t apply each year (for free money)
    • They say it’s because they didn’t know about their eligibility (but people don’t know why they act the way they do → the real reasons may not be obvious)
    • It takes an hour to apply and undertake 20 separate actions → cognitive overload affected the students. It was complex, so they postponed it until the next day, then the next day…
    • Irrational Labs sent a text message telling them applying for aid was part of the enrolment process, and reminded them to complete it by the deadline
    • 3x more applied, which would help 230k more students would apply
  • When we understand the obstacle people face, we can help them take action.
  • Two sets of tools
    1. Addressing the intention–action gap (things we want to do but don’t)
      • CREATE framework:
        • A Cue, which starts an automatic… intuitive Reaction, potentially bubbling up into a conscious Evaluation of costs and benefits, the Ability to act, the right Timing for action, and the overwhelming power of past Experience
    2. Poorly thought through decisions and unintentional behaviours
      • Make them more intentional by interfering with habits and slowing down rash decisions
      • You can use CREATE in reverse to replace a habit or stop a mental shortcut
        • Avoid the Cue, replace the Reaction, rethink the Evaluation, or remove the Ability
  • The 6 mental processes (detecting a cue, reacting to it, evaluating it, checking for ability, determining if the timing is right, and interpreting it all through the lens of our past experiences) are gates that can block or facilitate action
    • Products have a lot to do to encourage us to take an action…
      • cue us to think about the action
      • avoid negative intuitive reactions to it
      • convince our conscious minds that there’s value in the action
      • convince us to do it now
      • and ensure that we can actually take the action
  • Cues
    • We’re constantly deciding what to do next. We use mental filters to prevent us from being overwhelmed by the choice we actually have.
    • The mental filters let us consider only a fraction of what’s possible. Confirmation bias shapes what we notice in our environment
    • Cues can be external (from the environment) or internal (from our minds web of associated idea)
    • Strategies for external cueing:
      • Get the product in the daily environment
      • Use slightly different cues each time to avoid being ignored
      • Building strong associations with existing routines
  • Reaction
    • The automatic reaction from System 1 — the lightning fast, intuitive, and largely non-conscious
    • Drivers of our reactions:
      • Strongly social (consistent with our identity, pleases others)
      • Linked by similarity to familiar items
      • Shaped by familiarity, the more we’re exposed to something the more we tend to like it (the mere exposure effect)
      • Trained by experience, over time, our minds learn associations (classical conditioning)
    • What happens?
      • The non-conscious renders a verdict about the action (an emotion)
      • Memories might be triggered, and related concepts surfaced
      • An action might be directly triggered (if habitual)
    • Product Lessons
      • Build trust else users will be hesitant to take the action
      • Watch users behaviour to understand how they act, don’t ask them.
      • The first-time user experience really matters. you’re building associations
  • Evaluation
    • If not derailed by its intuitive reaction, the action may rise to conscious awareness
    • In novel situations the conscious mind kicks in and evaluates whether the person should take the action, given the various costs and benefits.
    • Product lessons:
      • Highlight the benefits
      • Minimsie the costs
      • Downplay the alternatives
    • Remember it’s the value that the user ascribes to the product and action and matter (not the value you ascribe to it)
  • Ability
    • If a choice to act has been made after weighing the costs and benefits. Is it actually feasible to undertake the action?
      • Can you actually do it, right now?
    • The ability to act has four dimensions
      1. Action Plan: knowing how to take action
      2. Resources: having the resources required to act
      3. Skills: Having the necessary skills to act
      4. Belief in success: People needs to feel reasonably sure that they can be successful at the action (and not embarrass themselves). Known as self-efficacy.
  • Timing
    • You have their attention and the action is appealing and feasible. But when should you take the action?
      • We can always do things later
    • Create a sense of clear and present urgency
      • External urgency: deadline to file taxes
      • Internal urgency: biological needs, boredom
    • Specificity → put a time and place on when to do the action
    • Consistency → pre-commit to a specific time in the future, especially if we tell others about our commitment. Triggers a need to be consistent with our prior statements
    • Actively make the timing ripe for action
    • Align to the times when a person is naturally inclined to take action
      • Greek concept of kairos or the opportune time — it’s the product’s job to be there when the opportune time for action arises
  • Experience
    • Prior experience is powerful and important → forming intuitive associations
      • it deeply shapes our attention, judgement and inclination to action
    • History matters → you’ve taught them about your product through prior interactions
    • Get to know your users. Two people can behave differently in the exact same situation because of their prior experiences.
    • Record, each person’s history with your product
  • CREATE is the six mental tests are prerequisites for creating action
    • Cue → doesn’t notice
    • Reaction → negative reaction
    • Evaluation → costs > benefit
    • Ability → can’t act now
    • Timing → no urgency
    • Experience → negative history
  • The intention–action gap is huge: only 10% of people who commit to saving more actually do so
  • Each Stage Is Relative → the person only continues on if the action is more effective or better than the alternatives (cues, other actions, other priorities)
    • Consider how well your product guides the user through these stages AND what else is competing for the individual’s scarce time and mental resources
      • Remove distractions
      • Whatever the user is currently doing — that’s the main behavioural competition for the product
  • BJ Fogg Behaviour Model
    • Making an action easier or the user more motivated won’t help as much as you think
    • Three factors you need to take conscious action:
      • Motivation: pleasure/pain, hope/fear, acceptance/rejection
      • Ability: lack of costs
      • Trigger: the cue
    • Increasing a person’s ability to act (decreasing costs) or increasing motivation have diminishing returns (if already easy, already motivated)
    • You need all three (motivation to act, easy to do (ability), and a trigger)
    • Behaviour = motivation * ability * trigger (all at the same moment)

Chapter 3. Stopping Negative Actions

  • Intentionally design the environment to hinder temptations (situational self-control)
  • Do CREATE in reverse
    • Identify how CREATE supports the negative behaviour
      • What’s the cue? What causes the positive Reaction and Evaluation? What makes people Able to act? Why is it prioritised (Timely) over other things now?
      • Generate strategies to change the environment to create obstacles: add friction, remove cues etc.
      • If habitual there are extra techniques you can use. If effortful and conscious choice, pay special attention to supporting the Evaluation
      • Set up a feedback loop → are the interventions working?
  • Using CREATE to Add Obstacles to Action
    • Get cues out of sight
    • get amongst peers who don’t act that way (or actively disapprove)
    • to avoid being around friends who do engage
    • think about the consequences of the action
    • change framing in the moment (phone timer that shows how long since last unlocked)
    • increase the cost of action by making it more difficult
    • add small frictions that cause pause
    • increase the urgency of things that matter to you (set deadlines)
    • meditating can help remove urgency from other distractions
  • Changing existing habits is hard:
    • they’re not conscious decisions
    • intention to change behaviour has little relationship to actual behaviour change
    • Habits don’t go away, they can remain latent or unused → and they can activate again
  • Product Team Levers to change existing habits:
    • Attention: avoid the cue
      • Cues are often outside the product, and they can be hard to nail down
      • Routine is often outside the product too, so it’s hard to know the users true behaviour
    • Reaction: replace the routine
      • Identify the trigger (and reward if appropriate)
      • When trigger happens, engage in a new routine
      • Continue until new routine is habitual (this is called competing response training)
      • The person also has to believe that change is possible
    • Evaluation: use conscious interference
      • interfere with habits in progress. Thinking disrupts habits.
      • In-the-moment feedback can break people out of existing habits
    • Ability: crowd out the old habit with new behaviour
      • Focus on doing more of what you want (instead of less of what you don’t)

Rushed Choices

  • Either change the person or the environment.
    • Person: education on issue, use of formal decision making aids (checklists)
    • Environment: Slow people down, add friction, lessen the consequences of their biases
  • Change a person’s time perspective, make them think about the future

Chapter 4. Ethics of Behaviourral Science

  • Dark patterns: “user interface design choices that benefit an online service by coercing, steering, or deceiving users into making unintended and potentially harmful decisions.”
  • I sourced this list of dark patterns from deceptive.design. Link.
Comparison Prevention
The user struggles to compare products because features and prices are combined in a complex manner, or because essential information is hard to find.
Confirmshaming
The user is emotionally manipulated into doing something that they would not otherwise have done.
Disguised ads
The user mistakenly believes they are clicking on an interface element or native content, but it's actually a disguised advertisement.
Fake scarcity
The user is pressured into completing an action because they are presented with a fake indication of limited supply or popularity.
Fake social proof
The user is misled into believing a product is more popular or credible than it really is, because they were shown fake reviews, testimonials, or activity messages.
Fake Urgency
The user is pressured into completing an action because they are presented with a fake time limitation.
Forced action
The user wants to do something, but they are required to do something else undesirable in return.
Hard to cancel
The user finds it easy to sign up or subscribe, but when they want to cancel they find it very hard.
Hidden costs
The user is enticed with a low advertised price. After investing time and effort, they discover unexpected fees and charges when they reach the checkout.
Hidden subscription
The user is unknowingly enrolled in a recurring subscription or payment plan without clear disclosure or their explicit consent.
Nagging
The user tries to do something, but they are persistently interrupted by requests to do something else that may not be in their best interests.
Obstruction
The user is faced with barriers or hurdles, making it hard for them to complete their task or access information.
Preselection
The user is presented with a default option that has already been selected for them, in order to influence their decision-making.
Sneaking
The user is drawn into a transaction on false pretences, because pertinent information is hidden or delayed from being presented to them.
Trick wording
The user is misled into taking an action, due to the presentation of confusing or misleading language.
Visual interference
The user expects to see information presented in a clear and predictable way on the page, but it is hidden, obscured or disguised.
  • These tools can be used for good or evil, please make products that people enjoy using and want to use
  • Behavioural Product is an ethical minefield:
    • There’s a spectrum of application of techniques:
      • Helpful: helping the user take actions that benefit them
      • Marginal: designing for system 1 to boost profitability of promotions
      • Addictive: creating addictive mechanisms that cannibalise attention
      • Bad: causing direct harm by encouraging behaviour that is bad for users
  • If in doubt make it voluntary and transparent
  • By accident or through competitive pressure, firms have adopted an approach that tricks their users without setting out to do so.
    • Don’t be naïve about how our behaviour will diverge from our intentions
  • There’s a problem of how to stop the bad actors who don’t want to stop
  • We can design our environment to encourage ethical behaviour — that is, to turn our intentions to act ethically into action.

How to stay ethical:

  • Assess your intention with an ethical checklist
    • Don’t try to addict people to your product
    • Don’t harm your users
    • Be transparent: tell users what you’re doing.
    • Make sure the action is voluntary.
    • Ask yourself whether you’d want someone else to encourage you to use the product. Is this product really designed to help you? Would you encourage your child or parents to use it?
    • Ask others, especially strangers, if they would trust the application
  • Create a review body (external and /or internal)
  • Remove the fudge factor → make the rules crystal clear with a plain-language internal policy,
  • Raise the stakes: tell others about our ethical commitments. Tell them the rules you’ll follow for designing products and applying behavioural science.
  • Remember the Fundamental Attribution Bias
    • Start with the assumption that we’re all wrong; that the other person seeks to do good, but is just as imperfect as I am.
      • Don’t assume that other people’s “bad behaviour” is because they are bad people, while ours we excuse away.
  • Why this topic is uncomfortable:
    • It’s unsettling to think products are trying to “make” us do things
    • It’s unsettling to think techniques can compel us to act
    • It’s worse when techniques are hidden, we feel tricked after the fact

Part II. A Blueprint for Behaviour Change

Chapter 5. A Summary of the Process

  • The Four D’s:
    • Define the business case and problem.
    • Diagnose the status quo and opportunities for change.
    • Design and test the proposed solution to the problem.
    • Decide on whether to scale up and implement the solution more broadly.
  • Interventions are unlikely to work (this is difficult), which is why we need an iterative approach
  • How do we DECIDE on the right behaviour-changing interventions in our products and communications?
Steps
Actions / Artefacts
Define the problem
Project Brief Hypothesis for behaviour change (actor, action, outcome)
Explore the context
A detailed behaviour map A diagnosis of the problems along the way
Craft the intervention
The intervention itself
Implement within the product
An ethical review The product
Determine the impact
Impact measurement
Evaluate what to do next
Insights Priorities
  • Essentially this is copying the common sense and the scientific method
  • Define the problem:
    • identify the people you’re working with (actor)
    • what you and they are trying to accomplish (outcome)
    • how you plan to drive that outcome (action).
  • Explore the context:
    • learn more about the context in which your users live and act
    • align your initial plan for action with what is realistic and helpful to the user
  • Craft the intervention: a new screen, feature, product, communication, etc., that helps someone overcome the obstacles they face.
  • Implement within the product: build the new intervention into your product, feature, or communication, and include metrics and behavioural tracking as a core part of the product itself.
  • Determine the impact: by gauging their reaction and checking whether it is having the effect you’re looking for
  • Evaluate what to do next: by learning how to further improve its impact and judge whether those additional iterations are warranted.

Chapter 6. Defining the Problem

  • You need a clear problem definition:
    • The target outcome: What is the product supposed to accomplish? What will be different about the real world when the product is successful?
    • The target actor: Who do we envision using the product? Who will do something differently in their lives and thus accomplish the target outcome?
    • The target action: How will the actor do it? What behaviour will the person actually undertake (or stop taking)?
  • Start with the Product’s Vision. Ask the following questions to uncover the desired outcome…
    • What should be different about the world when the product is successful?
    • What’s the specific, concrete change that should occur because of the product?
    • What could a third party see, hear, or touch?
    • What meaningful thing in the real world changes because you’ve done your job?
  • Clarify the outcome, get more precise. Which type? Environment or people? Where? What is the change? When? How much? How many? How often?
    • Write a clear statement that summarises:
      • “This product should cause a decrease in nitrogen levels, an environmental pollutant, in the Chesapeake Bay over the next five years.”
  • Based on that statement of the desired outcome, define a metric that you can use to gauge whether the product is successful or not
  • If you have a clear measurable outcomes you can settle disagreements by measuring against the outcome.
    • Vanity metrics make a company feel good but don’t give an accurate sense of whether the product and company are on the right track
  • Don’t use something that hinges on states of mind → they are difficult to measure
  • If you can’t narrow down to a single outcome → create an aggregate outcome that combines the contenders for top priority
  • Avoid stating how the product (might) do it
  • Why define a clear statement of measurable outcomes? It’s easier and cheaper to align stakeholders to a metric before you’ve built something. You don’t want to carry forward a mis-understanding or difference of opinion about what is trying to be achieved
  • The outcome metric should flow directly from the target outcome itself.
    • Define and write down a formula which says how the outcome is measured
  • Make the metric:
    • Accurate: it measures the outcome you want
    • Reliable: you get the same result
    • Rapid: you can quickly tell what the value of the metric is
    • Responsive: the metric should quickly reflect changes in user behaviour
    • Sensitive: so you can tell when small changes in the outcome and behaviour have occurred.
    • Cheap: Measuring the outcome multiple times shouldn’t be costly

User Centric Approach:

  • Product Vision (for the User) → User Outcome → Actor → Action

Company Centric Approach:

  • Product Vision (for the Company) → Company Objectives → User Outcome → Actor → Action
  • Once you’ve defined the problem, and the success metric… document the action you wish to influence…
    • Our product will help the user [start/stop] doing [describe action]
  • Make sure the action is clear and specific, it shouldn’t be vague
  • Translate the target action into a specific metric that will assess whether people are taking action. The action metric tells you whether (and to what degree) the user is taking the target action, the action that is supposed to drive the desired outcome.
  • The action metric covers what is measured, how it is measured, and for how long.
  • Look for the Minimum Viable Action: the shortest, simplest version of the target action that users absolutely must take to so that you can test whether your product idea (and its assumed impact on behaviour) works.
    • Cut back from the obvious until only the necessary remains:
      • Cut repeated actions down to the first action
      • Cut big actions down to simpler ones
      • Drop steps in the sequence altogether

A Hypothesis for Behaviour Change

  • Write down a sentence that says what the product is supposed to be doing, and for whom.
    • By helping the [actor] [start/stop] doing [describe action], we will accomplish [outcome]
  • Outcome-action-actor: if this happens, the product will be a success; if not, it will be a (complete or partial) failure.

Chapter 7. Exploring the Context

  • You need to discover the right action for your users. It must be effective at helping them achieve their goals (and balanced against the needs of the business)
  • Confront your assumptions and goals with real users. Revist the outcome, actor, and action and evaluate them according to company and user needs:
  • Refine the problem definition, especially of the action we want to target and a diagnosis that captures why we believe that action isn’t currently occurring.
  • Process:
    • Get to know your users and how they feel about the target outcome and action
    • Generate a list of other possible actions they could take
    • Evaluate the list of possible actions and select the best one
    • Express that big action as a series of micro-steps
    • Diagnose why the action isn’t occurring currently
  • Learn about your users: their lives and circumstances, their desires and interests, and especially how they relate to the behaviour you’re seeking to change
  • Gather qualitative and quantitative data to better target our interventions and find realistic solutions for our users’ lives
  • What are they currently doing?
  • Research questions that focus on behaviour:
    1. Prior experience with the action
    2. Prior experience with similar products and channels
    3. Relationship with the company or organisation. Is there trust
    4. Existing motivations: Why would users want to achieve the outcome, completely separate from what the product offers them? In other words, what can the company build upon so it doesn’t need to do all of the work itself?
    5. Physical, psychological, or economic impediments to action: Are there groups of users for whom the action is especially difficult?
  • Create Behavioural Personas
    • Identify broad groups of (potential) users within your target population based on questions to the above
    • Keep in mind vivid, realistic, specific personas
    • Example:
    • Persona Group A
      Persona Group B
      Experience with similar actions
      Experience with similar products
      Relationship to company
      Existing motivations
      Hard barriers to action
      Sample Bio
  • Take the data-driven approach when you can. Else try to come up with a sample population breakdown that completely covers the range of possible users.
  • Example
    image

The Behavioural Map: What Micro-Behaviours Lead to Action?

  • Map everything a user has to do. For example, for a Trump supporter to spread the word by calling into a radio program, there are many steps…
  • See here
    • Find a quiet time and place with a radio and a phone
    • Identify the radio program.
    • Listen to the radio program for an appropriate time to call.
    • Get the number to call.
    • Work up the gumption to actually call.
    • Call the program.
    • Convince the person screening calls that the volunteer has something interesting (and not crazy) to say.
    • Say something intelligible on the radio show itself.
    • Tell the volunteer HQ that the call was made so other volunteers can spread out their efforts to other shows.
  • Break the big action into micro-behaviours (steps) a user would normally take to complete the action. Make it detailed. List each physical and mental piece of work that’s required
    • If seeking to stop a behaviour, each micro-steps is opportunity for intervention
  • Write or Draw It Out, and Add Behavioural Detail
  • Example of Behavioural Map
    image
  • The map is a depiction of the individual steps users take from whatever they are doing now, all the way through using the product and completing the target action. Some steps are outside of the product. What’s going on with users and why they would continue to the next?
    • It’s close to a customer experience map
  • Write/draw out the rough sequence of steps in the real world — not just in your product — that a user must take to complete the action.
  • Label each of the steps as follows:
    • Something the user must do within the product
    • Something the product should do in response to the user
    • All of the other things that need to be accomplished “in the real world” (outside of the product)
  • Don’t forget the process for new users
  • Look for one-time steps. Are there steps that can be skipped for experienced folks?
  • Once you have a map → you can use it to figure out where to focus attention
    • For existing products the map is descriptive
    • For new products, the map is speculative
  • What people do is often far more complicated than we think
  • The map will help diagnose behavioural challenges
  • If trying to stop behaviour focus on micro-behaviours that lead up to the final act, and look for some to disrupt
  • How can you figure out the actions that people could take?
    • What types of actions would make the target outcome happen?
    • Brainstorm at least five different actions.
    • Questions to ask for inspiration…
      • What does someone do right before the outcome occurs?
      • What’s unique about the company?
      • What user actions are easier to facilitate because of those unique aspects of the company?
      • What do users already do that’s similar?
      • Why aren’t people making the outcome happen?
      • Why would users want to make the outcome happen?
      • What action is most natural for them to take if they are motivated?
  • Observe your users in practice. People find creative ways to change their own behaviour, watch them for inspiration on what the product can do.
  • If possible, start small. Go with the bite-sized, easy things that the person could do to accomplish the outcome.
  • For long-standing and difficult problems, there’s usually an “obvious” action for their users to take
    • look for the non-obvious. Write down the obvious answer and then force yourself to come up with five other, unrelated solutions
  • Select the Ideal Target Action
    • Once you’ve generated a list of alternative actions, what do you do with it? Combine them, and narrow down the list.
      • Remove actions that are directly blocked by known impediments, especially if similar actions were tried but weren’t successful in the past
      • Score each action on the following criteria (high, medium, low)
        • Impact (on outcome)
        • Motivation (for user)
        • Ease (for user)
        • Cost (for company)
      • Look for obvious outliers
  • Remember some behaviours and ways of thinking are inherently more difficult for (most) users
  • Keep narrowing down the list until one top choice remains or there are two neck-and-neck options that can be tested in practice.
  • Once you know what micro-behaviors people need to take in order to succeed, you can look more tactically at the changes we want to make to the environment.
  • Once you’ve identified a problematic step, use CREATE. During that specific step, and in that specific moment of potential action:
    • Cue, Reaction, Evaluation, Evaluation, Ability, Timing, Experience
  • In summary diagnosis is a three-part process:
    1. identify the micro-behaviour that stops people (that’s our behavioural map)
    2. Check which micro-behaviour seems to be a problem.
    3. Use the CREATE Action Funnel to determine the likely behavioural cause.

Chapter 8. Understanding Our Efforts

  • How to bring about behaviour change:
    1. change the action to make it easier
    2. do it for them (let the product take action for them)
    3. change the environment to make it more likely for the person to take action
    4. change the person to help prepare them for the moment of action
  • The purpose of the design process is to craft a context that facilitates (or hinders) action.
  1. Do it for them when you can
    • Doing the action for them is more powerful than making the action easier
    • Shift the burden onto the product, by getting informed consent and automating the action
  2. Make it incidental → if you can’t default it away, make it happen automatically when the user does something more interesting that they’re more likely to do (allow the user to decline)
  3. Set it as the default
  4. Turn a repeated action into a one-time action by automating the act of repetition
  • When You Can’t Do It for Them, You CREATE
  • You need to look beyond motivation, motivation just isn’t enough
    • People often know what to do, another voice doesn’t add much
    • There are always competing motivations. The next action we take isn’t often ‘the most motivating one’
    • It’s just not enough. Tactics to increase motivation (like highlighting the user’s existing reasons to act, or experimenting to find the right motivator for your users) work best when carefully executed along with other parts of the CREATE Action Funnel
  • Information doesn’t equalise us and doesn’t make us behave the same
    • It can be powerful, but we should be thoughtful about how and when it’s applied.
    • Education efforts falter when:
      • The action is habitual or otherwise automatic
      • People are overwhelmed with too much information
      • The information comes too long before (or after) the decision needs to be made
  • Designing for Behaviour Change is about changing that context:
    • Do it for them by magically taking away all of the burden of work from the user
    • Structure the action to make it feasible (or, in reverse, more difficult) for the user
    • Construct the environment to support (or block) the action
    • Prepare the user to take (or resist) the action

Chapter 9 and 10: CREATE Point-in-time Interventions

  • Ways to facilitate action at a particular point in a behavioural map
Component
To Do This
Try this
Cue
Create a cue
· Tell the user what the action is · Relabel something as a cue · Use reminders
Increase power of a cue
· Make it clear where to act · Remove distractions
Target a cue
· Go where the attention is · Align with people’s time
Reaction
Elicit positive feeling
· Narrate the past · Associate with the positive
Increase social motivation
· Deploy social proof · Use peer comparisons
Increase trust
· Display strong authority · Be authentic and personal · Make it professional and beautiful
Evaluation
Economics 101
· Make sure the incentives are right
Highlight and support existing motivations
· Leverage existing motivations · Avoid direct payments · Test out different types of motivations
Increase motivation
· Leverage loss aversion · Pull future motivations into the present · Use competition
Support conscious decision making
· Make sure it’s understandable · Avoid cognitive overhead · Avoid choice overload
Ability
Remove friction
· Remove unnecessary decision points · Default everything · Elicit implementation intentions
Increase sense of feasibility
· Deploy positive peer comparisons · Help them know they’ll succeed
Remove physical barriers
· Look for physical barriers
Timing
Increase urgency
· Frame text to avoid temporal myopia · Remind of prior commitment to act · Make commitments to friends · Make a reward scarce
Experience
Break free of the past
· Use fresh starts (moments of life change) · Use story editing · Use slow-down techniques
Avoid the past
· Make intentionally unfamiliar
Keep changing with experiences
· Check back in with users

Chapter 11. Crafting the Intervention: Advanced Topics

  • Multi-Step Interventions
    • Combine Where Possible
      • Look for ways to combine multiple steps (from your behavioural map) into one. Each step should represent the largest possible chunk of the work that is still understandable and feasible.
    • Shift the burden of work at each step from the user to the product.
      • Simplify the process: Automate, default, make steps incremental
      • Remove as much work as you can
    • Provide small wins → each step should be meaningful enough that the user can feel a sense of accomplishment afterward.
    • Generate a Feedback Loop
      • Enable users to adjust course over time, to better meet their goals.
      • Feedback should be timely, clear and actionable
  • Common Mistakes:
    • Don’t think you’re done if it’s easy for you to do
    • Hard work makes commitment (only half right, but don’t make things hard on purpose)
  • Creating Habits
    • Habits form when the mind takes a repeated action and automates it
    • Here is a straightforward recipe:
      • Identify an action that should be repeated dozens of times
      • Make sure there is a strong and immediate benefit
      • Identify a clear, unambiguous, and single-purpose cue in a person’s daily life or in the product itself
      • Make sure the user knows about the cue, routine, and especially, the reward.
      • Make sure the user wants to and can undertake the routine
      • Deploy the cue
      • Track whether the routine occurs.
      • Have the product immediately reward the user once the routine has occurred
      • Tracking completion times and rates and adapt the process until it’s right.
  • Routines that can be made into a habit often will have a strong and clear feedback loop
  • The reward need not be offered every time, as long as it is still clearly tied to the routine.
  • Stopping Habits:
    • Cue: Avoid the cue (hide it, or avoid places where you’d see it)
    • Reaction: Replace the routine by hijacking the reaction
    • Ability: crowd out the old habit with new behaviours
    • Evaluation: use consciousness to interfere. It’s frustrating and tiring to consciously override habits, mindfulness practice has been shown to teach people how to notice, but let pass, the urge to respond to the cue.

Hindering Actions

Component
To Start
To Stop
Cue
Relabel something as a cue
Unlink the actions from behaviours that flow into it
Use Reminders
Remove reminders
Remove distractions
Make the cure more difficult to see
Align with peoples time
Add distractions or more interesting things
Reaction
Narrate the past
Highlight prior successes at restisting the action
Associate with the positive
Associate action with negative things person doesn’t like
Deploy the social proof
Deploy social disproof and social support for change
Use peer comparisons
Use negative peer comparisons
Be authentic and personal
Be authentic and personal in your appeal to stop
Make it professional and beautiful
Make the appeal to stop professional and beautiful
Evaluation
Make sure the incentives are right
Increase costs, decrease benefits
Leverage existing motivations
Unlink the action from existing motivations
Test different types of motivators
Don’t assume people will be sufficiently motivated to stop. Test different types of motivators.
Leverage loss aversion
Leverage loss aversion
Use commitment contracts
Use commitment contracts
Pull future motivations into the present
Pull future motivations to stop into the present
Use competition
Use competition to stop (e.g. biggest loser)
Avoid cognitive overhead
Add to cognitive overload
Avoid choice overload
Add to choice overload
Ability
Remove unnecessary decision points
Add small pauses and frictions
Default everything
Require choices, remove defaults
Elicit implementation intentions
Elicit implementation intentions
Deploy peer comparisons
Deploy positive peer comparisons (others succeeding)
Help them know they’ll succeed
Help them know they’ll succeed
Look for physical barriers
Add physical barriers
Experience
Use fresh starts
Use fresh starts
Use story editing
Use story editing
Use slow-down techniques
Use slow-down techniques

Chapter 12. Implementing Within the Product

  • Run the Ethical Review
    • Before building and deploying conduct an ethical review, it’s only when the intervention has been selected that the full ramifications become clear
    • The process of the review matters as much as the guidelines themselves
  • Ethical Review Template
    • Description and Purpose:
      • Describe it:
      • What behaviour (action) does the project seek to change? Does it aim to support or hinder that action?
      • What interventions are used to support that change?
      • Who is the target population (actor)?
      • How, if at all, will this benefit that population (user outcome?
      • In what ways might this intervention cause notable harm to the individual in the short-run or long-run?
      • How will it benefit your organisation?
      • What financial or personal interest do you have in this project succeeding?
    • Transparency and freedom of choice:
      • Does the target population want to accomplish this outcome? Do they want to change behaviour?
      • Does the target population know that you are seeking to change their behaviour? And, if not, will they be upset when they become aware of it?
      • Is the user defaulted-out, defaulted-in or is it a condition of use for the product to interact with these interventions? Can the user opt out in a straight forward and transparent manner>
      • What steps will be taken to minimise the possibility of coercion?
  • Leave Space for the Creative Process
    • There’s a tension between structured analyses of behavioural obstacles and creative design
      • Its tempting to think that the things we want users to do, and the way we want them to behave, is how they’ll actually behave, when, clearly, there’s a lot more required.
  • Build in Behavioural metrics from day one
  • Define the clear, tangible, and measurable outcome that you seek, with a metric (way to measure it) Define a clear, tangible, and measurable action that drives that outcome, with a metric A threshold for each metric that defines success and failure
  • You may have to add functionality to make real-world measurement possible.
    • If you can’t measure real-world outcomes at scale, then consider doing it with a smaller sample. Determine the link between the behaviour you can measure and the outcome you want to achieve.

Chapter 13. Determining Impact with A/B Tests and Experiments

  • Take the approach that you’re wrong, and you want to be less wrong
  • Randomised controlled trials are the most effective and rigorous tool out there for determining the impact of your product or communication on behaviour. It provides the clearest and most unambiguous signal of impact.
    • Write out…
      • the outcome you care about, and how to measure it
      • the intervention that may cause that outcome
      • the target audience
    • Randomly assign the audience to two groups (control and treatment)
    • Deploy the intervention
    • Measure what happens
    • Calculate the impact
      • Impact of intervention = Average outcome for the treatment group – Average outcome for the control group
    • If the impact is large enough, you can conclude that your intervention is practically and statistically meaningful
  • How Many People Are “Enough”? You determine the minimum sample size using a function called a power calculation. You’ll need to know…
    • The average outcome for people who don’t have the product
    • The variance in outcomes (noise)
    • The impact you expect from the intervention on the outcome.
    • Confidence level (the default confidence level is 95%
  • How Long of a Wait Is “Enough”?
    • Run a power calculation to determine how many people would be required to detect the effect we expect.
      • Determine how long it will take for that number of people to interact with the product, given the stream of people over time.
      • When you expect to reach the target number of people, stop adding more people.
      • After the test is complete, run a significance test
  • Random selection isn’t always easy
  • You need random assignment (to groups) as well
  • Make sure you’re only varying one thing (one conceptual entity that you’re changing and analysing)
  • Always run a test of statistical significance.
  • Go double-blind when you can
  • Measure the same way
  • Researchers and product teams shouldn’t assume that the results apply to everyone after they’ve done a test.
  • There are four main reasons we do experiments
    • Measuring impact (statistical tests)
    • Vetting ideas (prototype)
    • Optimising impact (bandit tests)
    • Assessing drift and regression to the mean (testing things work after they’re not new)

Chapter 14. Determining Impact When You Can’t Run an A/B Test

  • Pre-post analysis: you look at user behaviour and outcomes before and after a significant change.
    • Take the difference you see and try to adjust it for all the other things that could have caused the change that weren’t part of your
      • E.g. time of year, day of month, day of week, time of day, etc., matter for this outcome?
      • Experience
      • Data availability or quality
      • Composition of the population
  • Cross-sectional analysis: looking for differences among groups of users at a given point. You want to see how their usage of the product impacts their behaviour and outcomes, after taking into account all of the other things that might be different about the users.

Chapter 15. Evaluating Next Steps

  • Three-step process:
    • Gather lessons learned and potential improvements to the product.
    • Prioritise the potential improvements based on business considerations and behavioural impact.
    • Integrate potential improvements into the appropriate part of product development process.

Part III. Build Your Team and Make It Successful

Chapter 16. The State of the Field

  • The Challenges
    • Getting their interventions implemented in practice (43%)
    • Measuring their impact (41%)
    • Generating ideas for interventions was rarely a problem (11%)
  • Ironically, the opposite problem also occurs: companies rush to implement without measuring impact.

Chapter 17. What You’ll Need for Your Team

“Ideally, you wouldn’t talk about behavioural science at all in the beginning. Instead, you’d do your job really well for a year, earn respect, and then tear off the mask and say ‘Ta-da! It’s because of behavioural science!’” Matt Wallaert
  • Skillset 1: The Non-Behavioural Basics.
  • Skillset 2: Impact Assessment
  • Skillset 3: A Deep Understanding of the Mind and Its Quirks

Chapter 18. Conclusion

  • In shorthand:
    • Define the problem
    • Explore the context
    • Craft the intervention
    • Implement within the product
    • Determine the impact
    • Evaluate what to do next
  • First, understand your users
  • There are no magic wands for behaviour change
  • A behaviourally effective product must first be a good product
  • Look for technical solutions to avoid user work
  • No matter what we design and build, we’ll get some things wrong. A dose of humility in face of the vast complexity of human behaviour is a good thing.
  • As a person moves through the day, the environment generally changes. The different environments shape whether the person will take a particular action or not.
  • How Can You Sustain Engagement with Your Product?
    • Continue to provide value
    • Ensure its seen
    • Be useful each and every time they see you
    • Be new and different each time
  • What Happens Before People Take Action the First Time?