News|Connections|01 Feb 2019|Stefanie Schissler

Designing for Human Behaviour

Doing market, user or even design research is not the way to really ‘know the consumer’. Asking people what they want and need neither. Understanding human behaviour needs to go beyond that, Stefanie argues…

I recently experienced a moment when all of a sudden the scales fell from my eyes. I guess you all know these enlightening, but also scary moments, asking yourself how you could possibly overlook this issue for such a long time. Especially when it is an area where you feel quite comfortable with, in my case the area of design.

Everyone active in design knows that this is an ever-emerging field, constantly exploring, finding new challenges and reinventing itself. It seems like the design discipline is so busy with keeping up, that is sometimes tends to forget what its most important assets are. As for example, to incorporate and address human behaviour. Many designers will probably directly argue that they do this of course, that this is the foundation of their work.

Heart pulling a heartDo you know, that solely in the US, non-adherence causes 30-50% of treatment failures? And more interesting, that the cause of this is not that people forget to take their medication, but conscious behaviour?

Do you understand why sometimes we can adapt our behaviour (like for example putting on a seatbelt) and sometimes we are completely resistant to any behaviour change? Just take regular sports as an example, how often do you really do sports, although you know for sure that it can improve your whole live quality?

The bad news is that every individual makes their own sense of what they think is good and bad behaviour. Behaviour is a complex construct, according to the COM-B model (Susan Michie et al), it is depending on the Capability, Opportunity and Motivation of individuals. If you would take driving a car as an example, Capability would mean that you are physically able to drive a car. Opportunity means that you have a driver’s license and motivation is for example defined by the need to get somewhere. The best one to tackle – if you would like to influence behaviour as a designer – is motivation. If you are lucky, you can have some influence on Capability or Opportunity, but these are most of the time factors that are out of your or your organisation’s reach and control.

People usually do what they believe is right, but this doesn’t necessarily reflect what really would be the right thing to do. Most of the time beliefs are depending on standards in society, opinions of others or learnings from the past. Just think about all the common myths that are in the meantime proven but still stuck in people’s heads. Sometimes, these beliefs are so stuck that even if we hear they are evidently wrong, there is this doubt in us which is sometimes hard to overcome.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Let’s try this: Here’s a very common myth I hear almost every month in my job, dealing with a lot of creative or (wanna-be creative) people. “You are so creative, you must be right-brain dominated.”

Wait…what? Myth? Sorry to uncover this, but research, after looking into more than 1.000 brains, has shown that in both logical and creative activities, the two brain sides were equally active. So who wants to prove this amount of brains wrong now?

If you want to smart-ass a bit more, here is a short article around this research.

So after making my case that in order to really understand how people act & feel, we don’t only need to challenge ourselves but also our common practices & methodologies as designers, here’s the good news. People’s beliefs can change. With this, their motivations can adapt and finally their behaviour can be positively influenced. This means, that designers can have a huge opportunity to address human behaviour through design.

The Amsterdam Aids Fonds engaged Behavioural Design Agency Sue from Amsterdam to go about one of the most challenging questions in fundraising. How can you make us in the first world care about people we don’t know? People that are living on the other side of the earth and dealing with issues we don’t need to worry about? Their expertise in understanding human behaviour, psychology and design, resulted in a campaign, including products and a pop-up store, that reached 337.332.800 people worldwide within just a couple of weeks.

Aids Fonds products

If we seek to understand the various factors, influencing human behavior, we need to broaden our design mind and look into areas like sociology, psychology, anthropology and cognitive sciences. We need to learn that what people feel is way harder to make sense of, but gives incredible rich sources for product & brand creation. Next to that we also need to overcome the comfort of putting ourselves at the centre of all assumptions about others.

If designers are willing to take a first step towards this, it is first of all about realising that there is already a very big field waiting for them to be explored and addressed. From valuable experts in academia holding several tools & methodologies to design and branding agencies who are dedicated to incorporate behavioural principles into their daily work.

I myself, after this realisation moment I was mentioning in the beginning, am very excited to explore this topic more in the future. Special thanks for this article go to Professor John Weinmann, who I recently had the pleasure to work with and get inspired by.

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