Behavioural design: How content can inspire behaviour change

Behavioural design is a methodology that focuses on the way that design choices can help shape or influence human behaviour.

Drawing on fields such as psychology and behavioural economics, it’s about creating products or services that are crafted in a way to encourage or persuade users into taking a particular course of action. For example, it’s been used to give users information around saving for their retirement; to increase the percentage of women entering science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles; or to encourage people to sign up to donate their organs after their death.

At Zaizi, we’ve been involved in a number of projects in the public sector drawing on behavioural design thinking. In 2021, we worked with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to develop voluntary “safety by design” guidance content. The audience was small and medium-sized UK organisations with an online presence. This guidance content is hosted on GOV.UK.

We’ve also worked with other government-affiliated organisations to create messaging providing the public and private sector with guidance and support.

What is behavioural design?

The 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness popularised the idea of choice architecture.

Choice architecture is a low-intervention way of encouraging positive change. It does this by highlighting good behaviour, while not restricting freedom of choice.

The UK government has been working to embed behavioural science across all government communications. The GCS Behavioural Science team have released two guides, The Principles of Behaviour Change Communications and IN CASE: A behavioural approach to anticipating unintended consequences. The guides bring together academic work and existing best practice, giving a practical grounding in the frameworks of behavioural science.  

Understanding user behaviour through user research

A list of clear instructions isn’t always enough to inspire behaviour change. A strong understanding of your audiences is key to creating effective guidance content. That’s why we often start our projects with in-depth user research, our team of researchers, service designers and content designers conducting user interviews, surveys and workshops to build a picture of existing behaviours. 

Using research insights, we create user needs, user journeys or experience maps. These can reveal existing pain points in current processes. This kind of knowledge is key to the “COM-B” model, a framework introduced in The Principles of Behaviour Change Communications

…in order to do a behaviour an individual must have the Capability to do it, the Motivation to do it, and external factors must provide the individual with an Opportunity to do it 

The COM-B model explains the required conditions to create behaviour change. It also shows what sort of barriers might exist. 

Communication is an effective way of addressing capability and motivation barriers. But barriers of opportunity often sit outside the control of the audience and may involve more complex solutions. 

If you’ve already successfully implemented service design thinking in discovery, these phases should already be travelling in the right direction. 

READ: Want to improve the discovery and alpha process? Get a content designer

Designing content to inspire behaviour change

As a content designer, my role is about using research insights to craft accessible content that meets user needs. In the case of our “safety by design” guidance designed for DCMS, our guidance met the following content standards.

It was:

Our guidance content also met the three principles laid out in The Principles of Behaviour Change Communications.

1. Get the target audience’s attention

We used Google Trends to identify popular search terms on the topic of safe platform design. We used these search terms in the guidance content, so users would be more likely to find it via search. 

This was voluntary guidance, so it was distinct from future regulatory requirements. But some users were already aware of the government’s proposed online safety bill, and were eager for official information that would help them prepare. 

2. Tell the target audience what they have to do

Our guidance:

3. Motivate the target audience to act

The insights we gleaned from research were important in shaping the guidance. Some users wanted to embed safety into their product because they knew legislation was coming, and they wanted to prepare. 

But our research also uncovered other insights. Many business owners had little understanding of the sorts of risks their products exposed users to, or how they might make their products safe. But they often felt a sense of responsibility towards their users, and insights like this helped shape the messaging. 

Promoting behaviour change strategies at Zaizi

Applied with care and sensitivity, behavioural design can be a powerful tool. Zaizi continue to recruit user-centred roles, expanding our research and content arm. This will allow us to work further in this area, bringing in new techniques and approaches to improve the products and services we design. 

Look out for a future blog, in which I’ll share more thoughts around how to design content in a way to promote behaviour change. 

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