If you’ve spent any time in the design world lately, you’ve likely heard some buzz around behavior design. But what is it? And how can utilize behavior design to create experiences for people that are in line with their real needs and motivations?
Behavior Design: Where we are today
The business world has changed dramatically over the last 10–15 years and digital is involved with almost every aspect of it. It continues to impact the way we work, interact with our customers, live our lives, and communicate with our fellow human beings.
15 years ago, digital product development didn’t even exist as a discipline. We’ve come a long way in a short period. The role of design has changed, moving from something that was purely aesthetic to a discipline that now solves complex business problems. And while it has evolved, it might be a stretch to say that the discipline has matured.
Digital product design evolved through methodologies like Human-Centered Design (HCD) and accompanying frameworks, like design thinking and service design.
These methods do some things really well, and other things not so well. They are great at identifying unmet needs, and the people with those unmet needs. In fact, one could argue that most businesses have never been closer to, or understood more about their customers than they do today.
But there are major gaps in the methodology:
- Do we understand why people are doing the things that they do?
- How are they interacting with our products and services?
- What is driving their behavior?
- What do we know about those drivers and behaviors?
Why understanding human behavior is important to your product
Real-life is complex. So are the humans that lead those lives. Oftentimes, what people do seems entirely irrational. We can never really know what an individual is going to do with a product or how they are going to behave when we put it in front of them. But, we can get much closer to understanding them if we use the right approach.
Often product teams are stuck in the zone of designing for what we would like people to do, versus designing for what they will do. While we do this with the best intentions it often falls flat. We not only need to be designing for the unmet needs we’ve discovered but also for human behavior. What are they actually going to do?
Let’s go back to most HCD methodologies for a moment. Remember, they’re great at identifying unmet needs and gaining empathy for the people with those needs. But that empathy only goes so far in understanding people and how they might behave. So once they’ve done the work to begin understanding the people using their products and services, most teams jump to intuition when they start to solve for unmet needs.
Think about the following questions:
- What do we think people will really do with the product?
- What behaviors need to happen for the product to be successful?
- What form should the design take in order to achieve the desired behaviors or outcomes?
- What will the brain do?
All important questions when you stop and think about your product or service.
When pressed, most product teams are unable to answer these questions.
How do we get there?
So how do you start to bring behavior science into your product design?
Here at MentorMate, we use a very evidence-based design approach steeped in user research that is both qualitative and quantitative in nature. But when it comes to adding the behavior layer to our work, we do something really different than most design teams.
We turn to science.
We go to the primary neuroscience and behavioral science literature to understand what people might do and what biases they might have. We do this with every behavior design project and, while we maintain a library of behavior science findings, we still conduct research for every project.
The reason: science changes rapidly. The brain is one of the areas of the human body that we know the least about and we continue to unlock its secrets bit by bit.
There are a lot of things that come into play as you look at science in relation to the product you’re designing. Some things to think about are the brain heuristics and biases, emotional drivers, unconscious behaviors, self-image and salience, and familiarity. These are just a few of the things that we look at when bringing a behavior lens to a project.
Doing this work allows us to stay up on the current behavior science and broaden our view of what’s possible when we start to think about solutions. The combination of behavioral science and design becomes a speculative (as well as evidence-based) tool in this work.
We can envision the new and test for the knowns with this method.
How behavior design impacts your product
So, how does this help you in your product development cycle?
You can use behavioral science to develop ideas that are much more likely to work than those relying on intuition. This leads to higher impact with new features or ideas and better engagement because you’re designing for what your end users are actually likely to do.