Put the User in Control.
Making active choices helps people feel more ownership over a decision, and makes them more likely to follow through. In one school cafeteria experiment, for example, some students were given a choice between carrots or celery, whereas other students were just given carrots. Students who made the choice themselves were more likely to eat more vegetables.

Get The User To Make An Argument For The Desired Outcome.
People are more likely to agree with persuasive arguments when forced to actively make the argument themselves. In one experiment people were asked to act like they were convincing a friend to stop smoking. Participants either role-played the persuader or the friend. Those who played persuaders, and actively argued against smoking, were more likely to change their own attitudes about smoking as a result.

Highlight Visceral Or Personal Stories.
People are more likely to recall and respond to emotional stories that highlight a specific person’s experience--rather than stories that focus on facts or numbers. Charity organizations frequently encourage donations by telling the personal stories of specific people. These stories put faces and names with otherwise abstract facts about living conditions and mortality rates.

Emphasize Gains To Encourage A Behavior.
When an option or outcome is framed in terms of its associated gains it becomes more appealing--and people rarely stop to consider associated losses. Special K adopted this approach with its campaign, “The Special K Movement,” which reframed weight loss to be about what you gain by losing weight (a feeling of achievement, confidence, etc.), rather than about what you have to give up by dieting.

Use Surprise To Increase The Pleasure Of Gains.
People experience more pleasure from surprise gains than they do from expected gains. Amazon Fresh delivers a surprise bouquet of flowers with each customer’s first grocery order. This contributes toward customers’ positive view of their first interaction with the delivery service.

Help The User Make A Commitment In Advance.
People tend to make less rational choices when they’re in “hot” states--like when they’re hungry or emotional. Deciding in advance, in a “cold” state, makes preferable outcomes more likely. When shopping for groceries online, people have been shown to make up to 66% fewer impulse purchases--possibly because they are ordering the food in advance and aren’t making decisions in the heat of a hungry moment.

Establish Positive Expectations.
A person’s expectations about an event or product have the power to change the way they actually experience it. In a blind taste test, where balsamic vinegar was added to beer, 59% of people preferred the vinegar brew. But when told about the vinegar beforehand, only 30% of people preferred it. Expectations about what it would be like to drink beer with vinegar in it actually changed people’s experiences.

Provide Immediate And Ongoing Feedback.
Immediate feedback can help people better understand the consequences of their actions. The Toyota Prius gives drivers an Eco Score, out of a possible 100 points, to indicate how environmentally friendly their recent driving was. Drivers also get feedback on how much fuel they’re using. This immediate data can help drivers make real-time adjustments to their driving behaviors to conserve resources.

Make The Desired Outcome A Mid-Range Option.
People tend to avoid extreme options (e.g., the cheapest or most expensive, smallest or largest). They’re more likely to choose an option that feels like a compromise between extremes. Williams-Sonoma was having difficulty selling a $275 bread machine, but when they introduced a more expensive option, sales of the original machine increased. The more expensive option made the original machine seem reasonably priced by comparison.

Don’t Overwhelm The User.
When facing an overwhelming amount of information, people may stop paying attention. In the face of extremely scary information, people may even engage in unhealthy self-soothing behaviors. Warnings on cigarette packages that emphasize morbidity have been shown to have an unintended outcome--they increase smoking!

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10 Scientific Insights That Could Make You A Better Designer

Insights from fields such as behavioral economics and cognitive psychology can help designers build better products. Here, Nikki Pfarr of Artefact shows how.

In the design world, the term "persuasive design" tends to be met with a mix of intrigue, skepticism, and occasionally repugnance. (Doesn’t persuasion imply that we’re forcing people to do things they typically wouldn’t want to do?) And yes, it’s true that persuasive design, like many tools, can be used for good or for evil.

But the reality is, regardless of whether we label a piece of work as "persuasive design" or not, most of the things we design—from toothbrushes to tablets to road signs—are influencing people’s decisions and behaviors in some way. We may not intend it to happen, and we may not be aware of it, but it’s happening.

Think about what you ate for breakfast this morning. You might be aware of some of the obvious things that influenced your choice: maybe out of habit you selected the same thing as yesterday, or picked your meal for convenience. Maybe a recent medical concern drove you toward a healthier option. But what about less obvious factors that could’ve influenced your choice, like the size and color of the dish you ate off of, or the news story on the TV in the background?

All of the decisions we make each day are influenced by a wide variety of factors—some we’re aware of, but most we’re not. For years, marketers, behavioral economists, and psychologists have been studying how and why people make decisions, and why we sometimes stray into the territory of "irrational" behavior, or behavior that’s not in our own best interests.

As designers, we can take advantage of findings from fields like behavioral economics and cognitive psychology, and become more mindful about exactly how we’re influencing people through our designs. Insights from these fields can help us better understand why people behave the way they do, design more effective products and services that positively influence behavior, and make more informed predictions about how our designs will ultimately impact people when we let them loose in the real world. The challenge is that many great insights from these fields are buried in academic papers and conference proceedings, making it difficult to incorporate them into our creative process (particularly when client deadlines are looming).

Enter Artefact’s "Behavior Change Strategy Cards." This set of 23 cards was crafted to help designers, researchers, and anyone facing a behavior change challenge, think through strategies to nudge people toward positive behavioral outcomes. They work particularly well when you have in mind a specific behavior that you want to change (e.g., "We want to get more people to ride the bus," or, "We want people to stop smoking"). We focused on making these strategies easy to grasp, incorporate, and act on.

The set is divided into five thematic sections, each featuring strategies and examples that will help you understand why the strategies are effective, and prompt you to think through how they might be used.

1.Make it personal: The persuasive power of "me" and "my"
2.Tip the scales: How perceptions of losses and gains influence our choices
3.Craft the journey: Why the entire experience matters
4.Set up the options: Setting the stage for the desired decision
5.Keep it simple: Avoiding undesirable outcomes

These cards should be considered a starting point, to help you think through strategies and brainstorm new ideas you may not have previously considered. Keep in mind that any given strategy, on its own, is unlikely to be a silver bullet. The Behavior Change Strategy Cards are an attempt to help us be more mindful of the ways in which we’re already influencing behavior through our designs, and a tool to help us nudge people toward positive behavior change more effectively. We've presented excerpts from 10 of our strategy cards in the slide show above, and you can access the full deck of 23 cards by clicking here.

(We’d like to thank the Brains, Behavior & Design Group for the creation of the initial toolkit that inspired the ongoing evolution of this deck.)

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  • These tips will lend a hand to designers they when thinking of ways to encourage specific outcomes. Light and Color are not mentioned, but they both offer opportunities to create designs and environments submerged in COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY.

    Denise Turner, a high-energy, result-oriented marketing expert and colorist says, "If your design is intended for interiors, select the colors indoors under its actual lighting. Likewise, if your design or color scheme is going to live outside in natural light, don’t make your final color selection inside."

    If your design will ultimately be on a shelf in a grocery store in which the design will ultimately be seen in; you'll want to use colors that work well with LED or Fluorescent lighting, because they affect colors differently.

    Metamerism - the phenomenon when colors or materials appear to coordinate or match under one lighting condition but not in another due to different light energies when combined with different colors or pigments.

  • (2 continued)... if adults served more food in line with children's demands, could they have, er, 'nudged' the kids into eating more, by any chance? Or did they keep their faces impassive, their bodies free of body language, their biases to themselves?

    Perhaps uncritical admirers of this authoritarian approach might consider a very basic proposition of sociology – namely, that when you experiment on human beings, your own presence and actions tend to influence them. Could this possibly be true when adults serve children cereal? And might adult experimentees behave differently – or are they, as Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein always implied, ignorant children too?

  • What a pity FastCo believes that behavioral economics is a science.

    Take cereal bowls. The study to which Ms Pfarr may be referring is Brian Wansink, Koert van Ittersum, Collin R. Payne. Larger Bowl Size Increases the Amount of Cereal Children Request, Consume, and Waste. The Journal of Pediatrics, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2013.09.036 – see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131119130837.htm

    1This is a study based on just 69 pre-schoolers and 18 elementary students – hardly a 'scientific' sample size. Lead author Brian Wansink is free of any bias of course.... though he just happens to be a professor of behavioural economics.

    ScienceDaily reported that adults 'served kids cereal and milk in increments until the kids indicated that they had enough food'