The Best Companies Design for Behaviour Change. Are You?

Everything that we do is about behaviour change. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment when we fall asleep. What we don’t realize is that the best companies design for behaviour change in their best products. They are actively trying to change how we act, and I’ll show you how you can do the same in this post.

Can Design Change Behaviour?

I believe that everything we do is about changing behaviour. We are continually making adjustments to our daily routine or responding to changes in our environment. Think about some of the daily activities that you may do.

Listening to music changes how we feel. Work provides rewards and meaning. Going to the gym changes our body and eating habits. We are the product of our daily behaviours. The question is if we are aware of what these behaviours are.

The best companies know how their products can become entrenched in our daily lives. They understand how something might fit into our morning routine or how a purchase could be part of our lunch hour. They are designing for a specific behaviour whether we know it or not.

Starbucks morning routine
Do you have a morning Starbucks routine?

As a kid, I remember instances where I woke up on Saturday morning and proceeded to get ready for school like any other weekday. It wasn’t until I came downstairs that I would realize my mistake. The routine or behaviours of going to school were so deeply ingrained that they were almost automatic.

When thinking of designing for behaviours, I have always told clients to think about the following sequence:

Trigger -> Behaviour -> Result

  • Trigger: this is the reminder or start of a behaviour. We know that after getting into a running shower, the first step will be to put on some shampoo.
  • Behaviour: this is the actual behavior that we are doing, which would be our hair’s shampooing.
  • Result: this is the reward that we get from accomplishing a specific behaviour. After we shampoo, our hair may feel clean and perhaps even smell better.

Using this simple sequence, you can start to determine where your product fits into the lives of our customers.

Designing for Behaviour Change Using Psychology and Behavioral Economics

We know now that for some companies, their best customers don’t just love their products. They are an essential part of their routine—the coffee before work at Starbucks or the lunch hour meal that perfectly fits your schedule.

The previous section’s sequence is a great starting point, but you can go a step further by adding psychology and economics principles to your design. 

Design for behaviour change

For example, social media has become one of the clearest additions to our daily lives. We all use it in some shape or form, and some of us visit social media sites for multiple hours per day. These companies have been able to tap into one of the most fundamental human emotions: boredom.

Whenever we feel bored, we reached for our phones and opened a social media app. Imagine how powerful it is to tie yourself to emotions like boredom. Here are a few psychological principles to think about:

  • Reward: how are people going to be better off after using your product? What’s the reward they get? Think mobile app games or anything related to food.
  • Learning: can you help them learn something or achieve mastery in a skill? Think language learning apps and yoga classes.
  • Socialization: can you help them join or be part of a community? Think about social media and online communities.
  • Control: can you help customers have a stronger sense of control in their lives? Think house security systems and GPS.

I worked with a company that had essential data but couldn’t get into the right people’s hands. We needed easy ways for executives to check the data without infringing on their already busy day. We ended up designing short email digests that they could access through their phones. The CEO said it was “the best email he received every day.”  

In this example, we made data a “stumbling block” that people had to notice and removed the friction needed to check the latest numbers.

I’ll also note that behaviour changes don’t have to be massive. You don’t need your own Eat, Pray, Love moment to make positive and lasting changes. People indeed tend to change after receiving troubling news like a cancer diagnosis, but you can also drive growth one small step at a time.

There’s a fantastic book on this idea called Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. The central argument is that you shouldn’t try to make drastic changes but instead focus on small manageable changes. For example, I used to struggle to floss my teeth. Instead of pushing myself, I simply told myself that all I needed was to floss one tooth. This soon became two, and eventually, I was doing the whole mouth.

This may sound like a silly example (what’s the point of flossing one tooth), but you could apply this concept to anything. Going to the gym three times a week is excellent, but so is one day a week. Eating one healthy meal a day is a great starting point.

You can design nudges into your product to encourage this continuous adjustment of habits.

Making Behavior Changes Stick

Making a change is the first step, but you also want behaviours to stick over the long term. Weight loss is a classic example of behaviours changes that don’t always stick. Diets function as fads that don’t address fundamental issues.

Long term adoption comes from changes in how we see ourselves (our identity) and our emotions. You can help facilitate these two changes through products, but they are also partially out of your control. Behaviour changes shouldn’t be tape but super glue.

Designing for behaviour change is the path towards long term retention of customers and profits. Remember that this is already happening in your customer’s lives. If you don’t do it, someone else will.

One more thing before you go! Do you know how to get more insights out of your data? 

All companies are sitting on a goldmine of data that they haven't fully explored. It's not about technology or capturing more data. The key is to learn how to make the most of your current data and convert it into actionable insights. This is the main idea behind my first book, The Data Miage: Why Companies Fail to Actually Use Their Data

I'm excited to announce the release of the book through all major retailers. If you're interested, you can download the first chapter for free using the form below. You'll learn what the best data-driven companies do differently and how to make sure you're playing the right data game.