Motivation, ability and triggers: 3 keys to effective behaviour design

User Behavior

UX Designers are increasingly being tasked with the design of an application that fulfils a perceived greater need, one that influences or changes behaviour. To do this effectively, you need to fully understand the motivation, ability and triggers that are required to meet your objective.

This is the advice of BJ Fogg, a Stanford innovator and psychologist with a focus on behaviour change and persuasion via technology. He says if you’re missing one of these behaviours, change will not occur.

For example, in a sign up form, by making the desirable action easier for the user than the undesirable one, they are more likely to sign up. This could be as simple as making the ‘Confirm’ button bigger and more prominent than the ‘Cancel’ button.

If your users are not signing up, look at their motivation (the value may not be highlighted to them), ability (they may not have a necessary credit card) or triggers (the design may not facilitate signing up).

Think of any set of behaviours; there are some you want to encourage (good habits), some you want to discourage (bad habits) and probably a wide range of actions where you might want to influence the way in which it is performed (doing something familiar in a different way).

We’ve seen plenty of apps or websites built to track your fitness goals, help you count your calories, give money saving tips, etc. These systems are designed intentionally and behaviourally, with user behaviour and specific insights in mind.

Some are very useful but there is one common downfall; the lack of “in the moment” help. These apps are assistants, they support your efforts – but they are not coaches and they’re unable to give you real-time assistance.

In other words, they cannot motivate their users in the right way, at the right time. Equally, they cannot always be the correct trigger.

The problem is compounded when we are talking about more serious sorts of behaviour change; like practicing safe sex, leaving an abusive relationship or building self-esteem. Many of our social issues are not things we can apply typical intentional design tools to and these behaviours are outside our reach as UX designers.

Intentional design also needs to be applied to the way you measure the success of these systems. Mere analytics on apps and sites is not enough to know whether you’re making a real difference in your users’ lives.

Educational material being read is not enough to guarantee that it’s been internalised. We’ve seen the (albeit not overwhelming) failure of this sort of messaging over and over again; whether in HIV awareness or quitting smoking.

What we need, then, is to fully understand what every project is trying to realistically achieve. While great tech cannot guarantee behaviour change, it can support or motivate behaviour change. Shifting the focus to achieving those goals is important.

Recently we designed a platform for an NGO focused on sexual and reproductive health. Here’s what we learned:

  • We could not predict from the beginning just how uneducated our users were. We implemented an “Ask” section where our users could ask for help or advice. In less than six months we received over 8 000 questions.

    These questions gave us a good idea of who our audience was and how we could refine our work further to cater for their needs. We included a quiz game and designed it so that if users answered certain questions incorrectly, they could be asked it again. But if they answered correctly, it would never be shown again. As a result, we were able to supplement content for the questions our users were getting wrong.

  • We designed very specifically – to gather data in such a way that we could learn from it. Instead of data being a measurement tool, it became the next brief.

This process is an on-going learning curve, and one with which we have to constantly put aside our assumptions. Only by realising that people have very different experiences in the world, and what may be common sense to us is not actually common, could we address the needs of this community in a meaningful way.

I don’t know if any one of our users has made a better decision because of our work, but what I do know is that we’re answering their questions, providing support and hopefully affecting their motivation, sense of ability and thereby being top of mind in the trigger moment.

Image: via Flickr.



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