This is how behavioral design can help you and your client to success

I was first introduced to the term “Behavioral Design” during my last year at the university when my teacher one day came to me and said that he had the perfect project for me. He introduced a research project where they focused on how to increase intrinsic motivation for physical activity. With my teacher and one of my closest classmates, a bachelor thesis subject suddenly became clear. We decided to help the research project by investigating how digital services and gamification could support intrinsic motivation for physical activity. I finally found the perfect way to combine my passion for psychology and design.

I’m convinced that the combination of psychology and design can contribute to satisfied people who are using our products and services since they become our main focus while developing. By having people as our main focus I’m also convinced that it can help our client’s to reach financial success and deliver value to their customers.

So, What is behavioral design? 

This blogpost is based on the author Amy Bucher’s book “Engaged: Designing for Behavior Change” and she describes the term as:

”Behavioral design is a framework for intentionally and systematically changing human behavior through persuasive modification from the physical and digital world”.

Using behavioral design, we focus on understanding the end user’s personal goals and motivations. At first glance, it may seem like, ”Yeah, don’t we always do that when we’re applying human centered design”, but to be able to apply behavioral design ethically we have to work systematically and use already established psychology theories about human motivation. There are plenty of different psychological motivation theories, and my suggestion here is to google it, read just a bit about a few of them, and then dig deep, and I mean, dig very deep into one of them.

So, now when we know what it is, how can we motivate our clients that behavioral design is the key to success?

From one point of view, do we have to convince them? Or can we incorporate it into our established design process?

Sometimes, if we start and as soon as the client sees its value, it’s already approved. Using a psychological motivational theory, we can argue for our design choices and refer to both science and the target groups’ opinions, making it easier for us to skip discussions about personal preferences on how something should look, feel and function.

By understanding the users motivations it will also make it easier for us to help the client reach their business objectives. If a company has a financial goal to increase number of paying members of their health application, we, as a team, must understand what will make that happen. To increase paying members, they have to be stronger than everyone else in the health-tech industry. They need to shine brighter than their competitors.

To create a powerful and solid concept that can compete with all other health applications out there, we have to understand how the client can help their users.

Behavioral design will help us understand the target audience for this kind of health application. It will help us understand what drives motivation for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and help people reach their goals without giving up.

As mentioned, behavioral design must be applied systematically and in my bachelor thesis, I used self-determination theory (SDT) as a foundation so let’s take that as an example. 

SDT’s aspects of motivation are; autonomy, relatedness, and capability. The three motivation aspects should be the foundation of our upcoming design process. User research should focus on sample information about when people feel autonomy (that they have control, can make their own choices, adapt their process), relatedness (feeling of not being alone, team spirit), and the capability to reach their goals. 

By identifying the user’s goals, needs, and motivational aspects, we can start turning our insights into UI design. If we found some answers during user research regarding what makes someone feel relatedness we could design based on that. For example, if the result from the user research shows that people feel relatedness when they can have a shared goal with a friend, we can create a community in the application and a shared workout plan where two friends can aim for a common goal.

Of course, we always have to evaluate with usability testing.
I’m not saying that incorporating behavioral design automatically will lead to success, but I’m convinced that our client’s chance to reach their financial goals is much higher if we’re applying behavioral design to understand what motivates the end-user and then use those insights in our clients’ product or service. 

There is so much more to say about behavioral design, and there are always two sides to a cent; the dark side of behavioral design is called ”dark patterns”. That’s probably a blog post for itself but just to describe it very short – it’s a way for designers and developers to manipulate the end-user to actions that only will gain the client’s financial goals, without thinking about how the actions will affect the user self. 

If you feel interested about it you can always visit

I recommend everyone to be mindful of what kind of behavior you are trying to increase, help the client to be a professional and trustful company that doesn’t fool their customers into the dark, and read (a lot) about ethical principles regarding behavioral design.

Are you interested in talking more about this – I would LOVE to hear from you. 

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