by Chris Parlato
"Instead of aspiring to influence user behaviour from a distance, designers increasingly want the products they produce to have more immediate impact through direct social engagement." - Robert Fabricant, Design With Intent
Using the tools of design and marketing to steer the behavior patterns of consumers is nothing new. It's a trade that has been practiced
by ad-men for decades to drive corporate profits. Think of Burger King's "Fourth Meal" for example, or Gatorade's G-Series "Prime, Perform,
Recover" campaign, which encourages consumers to ingest three different sports drinks instead of their customary one. On the other end of
the spectrum, design and marketing efforts have also been widely deployed by non-profit aid organizations to promote health and environmental
behavior change. Examples include the World Bank's long-standing sponsorship of energy-saving "smokeless chulha" dung stoves that discourage
logging for firewood in ecologically sensitive areas, or the "hip" media campaigns that promote prophylactic use in amongst West African
The revolution that has propelled the concept of behavior change and persuasive design into the recent limelight has less to do with new techniques and more to do with a shift in attitude. For the first time in decades, socially and environmentally conscious design is also widely perceived as good business practice. Fueled by a growing consensus on environmental and public health imperatives, corporations, governments, and designers are increasingly searching for win-win rather than unilateral solutions to address the pressing issues of our day (e.g. consumer feels good buying expensive eco-friendly laundry machine, increasing corporate profits while also conserving water).
Volkswagen for instance, recently launched a design competition as part of its online media campaign called "The Fun Factor," celebrating the way in which qualities of fun and play can be used to encourage socially and environmentally-responsible behavior. The winning designs (which were installed in cities around the world) included a pinball-esque recycling machine that flashes lights and gives you a score based on how many bottles you deposit, and a speed trap camera that enters law-abiding drivers license plates into a cash lottery. The campaign suggests on the one hand how we all might benefit by transferring the principles of "game mechanics" from commercial to humanitarian goals. More broadly, it also suggests that by closely studying user motivations and behaviors, designers can make even the most tedious interactions more compelling and more rewarding. And that's good for business, good for society and good for the environment.
At THE MEME we believe that delight and desire are key principles that drive successful products and services, both commercial and humanitarian. As a result, our work often straddles the fields of design and marketing. We study how the interaction between people, products, and services can be made easier, and more fun through better ergonomics and simplified operations. We also use creative means to persuade and seduce people to adopt new behaviors, leveraging consumer aspirations and crafting compelling reward systems, from social capital to gaming points.
Video games, typically associated with sedentary behaviors, are being used as enablers of change to a healthier and more active lifestyle. Humana's
Health Entertainment Group created "Games for Health", which has launched several experiences including Famscape, - an online social game that
combines virtual and real rewards for completing fun and healthy challenges through physical activities in the real world-, or Dancetown, a video
game-based dance pad system for the elderly that promotes wellbeing through dancing and movement. Systems like Microsoft's Kinect bet on transforming
consumers' engagement with exercise at home by providing interactive control based on tracking full-body motion. "Sports Simulations", "Fitness" and
"Dancing" games are using interactive and social mechanisms to encourage continuity, improve results and help user customize their experience to
How can the reward systems of social gaming be deployed to solve real world health and environmental problems?
The positive influences of support groups has long been a motivating factor for behavior change. Signing up for a fitness tracking website,
like Nike+ or Dailymile, creates a small social network to bear witness to physical triumphs and inevitable downfalls. A level of accountability
is created asking the user to push on in the face of a tired, lazy state. Not only are users motivated to stick to their training, but they feel
compelled to log these workouts out of pure competition, generating data and traffic for the site. Year-end reports letting users know how many
donuts they've burned are just for fun, but identifying patterns in exercise habits can be beneficial for planning future workouts and training
How can social networks be mobilized to advance responsible behavior for its members?
Instead of trying to educate and persuade people to conserve water in the shower, why not design a better shower that physically enforces a
more sustainable type of behavior? This is the idea behind Oli, a conceptual "smart shower" that uses a pressure-sensitive mat to turn the
stream of water on and off based on the user's distance to the shower head. The genius of this product is that it responds to the natural,
habitual actions that most people take in the shower-stepping away from the showerhead to soap up, and stepping back towards it to rinse
off-which makes the product more appealing and intuitive to use.
The same principle of physically-enforced sustainability can be seen in the popular hotel room power management system which requires a guest's room card to be inserted in a card slot by the door in order to turn on the lights. This system persuades users to conserve power (and not lose their key), without requiring a decision making process-it hard-wires sustainability (with an added benefit of saving the hotel lots of money).
How can products and services be designed to control, shape, and guide behavior invisibly or unconsciously?
It's hard to ignore your bad habits when they are staring you in the face. That's the theory behind a range of consumer products and services
designed to quantify and visualize user behaviors using data aggregated from smartphones, pedometers, smart thermostats, credit card purchases,
and more. These products include home monitors that show you exactly how much energy you are wasting each time you leave the lights on, and
personal finance managers that make it abundantly clear though charts and graphs that you are spending precisely 27% of your monthly budget on
clothes. In addition to the shame factor, these products also help people to discover hidden trends and correlations-for example, that you drive
less efficiently commuting to work than coming home.
Conversely, visualization of good behavior provides the positive reinforcement and tangible achievement necessary for individuals to pursue their long-term goals. Visualizations can also translate individual achievements into status currency-think of the "miles run" metric on Nike+ website, virtual bragging rights that users report helps them stay motivated and competitive.
How can data visualizations be used to inform and motivate?