Why should you design for behaviour?

ignoreDesign affects what we do and how we do it. It affects where we click, what we buy, what we believe, where we go, how we feel and much more.  Research shows that good design can make us healthier, happier and smarter. Bad design is also bad for business. If people don’t like, don’t understand or can’t use your product or service, they will ignore it. Therefore, we have the responsibility to design well for people.

What is behaviour design?

Behaviour design joins social science with design. It shows why people behave the way they do and the effect design can have. The goal is to design with more impact. Behaviour design is human centred and applies to building and urban design, marketing, UX and software design, graphic design, but also to the design of business and government policies. Basically, behaviour design is for everyone working in or interested in behaviour change and design.

Why behaviour design matters.

For a recent project, we were asked to redesign a hospital ward. Our client wanted staff, patients and visitors to better follow the guidelines for personal hygiene, such as washing hands and wearing the right clothing. The space layout had to make this happen.

design gone wrong

Design gone wrong

From our behaviour research, we found that the behaviour of others was the biggest culprit. People didn’t wash their hands, because other people didn’t wash their hands. Most often it was the people with more status or higher in rank setting the bad example. Simply changing the layout of the space, adding wash basins and telling people to wash their hands was not going to be enough.

What behavior design looks like.

We designed a campaign that combined different techniques and approaches. First, key leaders agreed to be our ambassadors. The message also changed: “Hygiene is something you do for personal protection. We want you to be safe, because we care.” Of course, the design of the ward was renewed, so hygiene became part of the natural intuitive flow. We also planted nudges at unexpected places. Together, the different techniques created synergy. Just in six months compliance with the guidelines went up from 48 to 85%.

Most importantly, we learned from this project that, truly understanding behaviour is key to a sustainable change. We met with experts, leaders and people ‘on the ground’. We talked with them and observed them in their jobs. People already knew how important hygiene was and that motivation to care for patients was sky high. Even worse, the usual top-down approach would have actually offended people. Yet, the new light-hearted, personal and bottom-up campaign was embraced by everyone and the behaviour design approach has now become standard in the organisation.


Learn how to design for behaviour.

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