Behavioral Design: Four Ingredients

Last updated on 17 March 2022

As Petrula Vrontikis says “practice safe design, use a concept.” I agree, and developing a concept is essentially asking a series of questions.

So whether you call it behavioral design, persuasive design, or design for behavior change, there are four questions to answer:

  1. Why change behavior? (Objectives)
  2. What do people need to do? (Desired behavior)
  3. How will we know? (Measurement strategy)
  4. How can we help? (Persuasion architecture)

It’s Much More than Gamification

When people think of behavioral design, they tend to think of gamification elements like points, leaderboards, streaks, and levels. Those are useful tools, but behavioral design is much more than that.

A solid behavioral design strategy includes objectives, desired behavior, measurement strategy, and persuasion architecture.

Like a recipe, answering these questions in sequence (preferably with stakeholders) helps us create a solid persuasion strategy. And a solid persuasion strategy helps us inspire sustainable behavior change!

At Philips for example, we created the HealthSuite health app to help people manage chronic diseases like type II diabetes. Here’s how we applied this recipe to that project.

Objectives: Why Change Behavior?

Identify which objectives people serve by changing their behavior.

All great design begins with Why and this is the first gate through which any strategy should pass. This is actually two questions:

  1. Which objective(s) does a person need to achieve?
  2. Which of our strategic objectives align with that?
Pizza dough ready to be filled
Objectives are the dough of our persuasion pizza.

In the diabetes example, the objectives were clear on both sides. People with diabetes want to live longer, feel better, and prevent any permanent damage. And Philips wants to collect anonymized health data to learn more about chronic diseases and support medical progress.

Desired Behavior: What Do People Need to Do?

Identify the specific behavior needed to achieve those objectives. 

Humans are irrational creatures, and we often need help with accomplishing our goals. And any business supporting people needs to sustain itself so it can keep supporting people in the future.

In this step, identify one or two specific behaviors that contribute to achieving the objectives from step one. For the diabetes example, one behavior is ‘take a 10-minute walk.’

Each time a person with diabetes performs this behavior, they’re burning calories, getting cardiovascular exercise, and getting some fresh air. If they do so with the HealthSuite health app, they’re creating data that Philips can analyze, as well as making the app a more effective diabetes management tool.

Measurement Strategy: How Will We Know?

Determine how to measure those specific behaviors.

Measuring our desired behavior helps us evaluate our strategy’s effectiveness. It also helps us know when and how to give rewards.

A person putting toppings on an unbaked pizza
Measurement strategy: the toppings on our persuasion pizza

The HealthSuite health app measures behavior with self-reporting and the sensors on a person’s smartphone. Philips also has a series of smart devices that integrate with the app to measure things like a person’s activity, blood pressure, cardiac activity, and weight.

All these measurements in real-time allow the app’s algorithms to adapt to a person’s progress. The app can increase, decrease, or maintain the difficulty of recommended walks based on people’s activity levels.

Persuasion Architecture: How Can We Help?

Craft a strategy for supporting each desired behavior.

Gamification represents a subset of tools for supporting behavior change; there are many others. Stephen P. Anderson’s The Art and Science of Seductive Design gives a great overview of strategies and techniques. Other books, like Don Norman’s Emotional Design and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow help us understand the psychology behind persuasion and behavior change.

Serving a finished pizza
Our persuasion architecture outlines how we serve our persuasion pizza.

For the HealthSuite health app, we turned to Nir Eyal’s HOOK model as the framework for our persuasion architecture. The model outlines the four components of every sticky habit:

  1. Triggers
  2. Action
  3. Variable Reward
  4. Investment

Nir’s book explains the model, and he provides a free workbook and other materials on his website. But working with clients, I wanted a tool better suited for co-creative workshops.

The HOOK Model Canvas

My favorite tool for applying the HOOK model to persuasion strategy is this HOOK Model Canvas. I created it for facilitating strategy workshops and behavioral design processes.

Habits are the foundation of sustainable behavior change.

HOOK Model Canvas, based on Nir Eyal's HOOK Model

Looking for a tool to help with sustainable engagement in the long term? Check out the Love Story Canvas.

Then Bake at High Heat

A woman using a large wooden spatula to place an unbaked pizza into a stone pizza oven

Like the ingredients of a pizza, these four work best together. Start with the objectives and allow each answer to inform the next question. When we combine all these ingredients effectively, we get our delicious persuasion pizza.

Buon appetito! 🍕

Special thanks to Hester Bruikman-Pagán