The importance of behavioral science in designing products

The importance of behavioral science in designing products

We are weak and limited because we are human!

Perhaps, like me, you have tried to set a goal and not succeeded. All of us humans have set good goals for ourselves and want to achieve them. But when it was time to act on them, we stopped. For example, starting to exercise, breaking a bad habit, losing weight, or starting a good habit. But various things have stopped us from doing them. Why does this happen?

Humans have limitations

There are many good things in the world. Lots of good goals, enjoyable activities, beautiful places, and so on. But we have limits in time, ability, attention, willpower, and other things. That’s why we may make a long list of things we like, but not be able to do them all. Our mind tries to choose the most important things to focus on.

Shortcuts or biases

Our mind takes shortcuts to make the best use of our resources. These shortcuts help us make quick decisions when there are many good things and prevent us from wasting time or resources. For example, we may not pay attention to some things or choose not to do them. If these shortcuts are used in the wrong way and instead of helping us, they waste our resources, they are called biases. Anyway, these shortcuts, whether good or bad, are part of our development and help the human species survive!

All types of our actions

There are two kinds of things we do. Conscious and unconscious. For instance, when we wake up in the morning, we get out of bed without even thinking about it. When we walk, we don’t ponder over each step, we just walk automatically. Our hand and body movements are also automatic and don’t require conscious thought. Many of our habits work this way, happening automatically in our minds. If we were to think about every single move, we probably wouldn’t have enough time to focus on more important matters.

Conscious actions also need thinking and involve going through several steps. For example, when we solve a problem, our actions are not automatic, and we have to consciously think about them. Or when we use a new application that we’re not familiar with, we need to consciously process it in our mind.

Our product users have limitations, just like us

Now, let’s imagine that you have created a good digital product and made it available to users. Supposedly, this product fulfills the user’s needs, and they intend to use it. But we ourselves have experienced situations where we make a decision but don’t follow through on it. So why would we expect our users not to have the same experience with our product? It means that they decide to use it but don’t actually take action. This is because they, like us, are influenced by various limitations, biases, habits, and different contexts.

This is where behavioral science comes into play in product design. Why do some users, despite their desire and decision to use the product, fail to do so? To answer this question, we can seek help from behavioral sciences. Essentially, we need to understand the decision-making process and how it is implemented in the brain. Then, perhaps, we can intervene in this process to increase the likelihood of decisions being put into action

The process of our actions

The process of our actions. Include Cue, Reaction, Evaluation, Ability, Timing, Experience

From the moment we start thinking about action to when we actually take it, our minds go through a quick and sequential process. There are different ways to understand this process, and each one suggests slightly different steps. The framework I’m sharing here includes 6 steps. Typically, these 6 stages occur in our minds during conscious actions. In unconscious actions, our minds skip some steps to create shortcuts and speed things up. Let’s explore these steps in the context of using an application.

Our actions usually begin with a prompt or cue. For example, if we want to use an application, there needs to be something that triggers us to think about it and open the application.

The second step in this process is our reaction to the prompt. When the cue appears, our brain quickly responds with thoughts like: Is this application interesting? Will it make me feel good? Are there better alternatives?

In the third stage, we start rapidly assessing the costs and benefits of using the application. We ask ourselves: Does this application offer something valuable to me? Can I achieve better results elsewhere? For instance, maybe I’ll feel better if I go and have a slice of pizza instead.

In the fourth step, we evaluate if it’s possible to use the application at that moment. Do I have access to a mobile phone? Do I remember the username and password for the application?

At this stage, we consider the appropriate time to use the application. Is now the best moment to utilize it? Am I not occupied with an important business meeting? Should I prioritize taking my child to school? Maybe it’s better to watch my favorite football game now and use the application later.

What were our past experiences with using the application? Have we encountered any errors or issues while trying to use it before? Did it not work properly on our phone? These previous experiences influence our current actions and can potentially cause delays.

These steps provide an overview of how our minds navigate the process from thinking about an action to actually taking it, whether it’s using an application or engaging in other conscious behaviors.

This process determines whether to take a particular action or not. If we successfully go through all the steps, we proceed with using the application. However, if we encounter an obstacle at any stage, we won’t end up using the application. What’s interesting is that if we want to use the product again a few hours later, we go through all the steps in our mind once more. The previous obstacle being removed doesn’t have an impact on our new action. It’s possible that a new obstacle arises in a different stage.

It’s important to note that in practice, there may be variations in the stages that occur in our minds. However, when we want to solve a problem, having a framework allows us to examine the problem from different perspectives. The proposed framework for understanding actions is the result of various studies that aim to provide understanding and simplify the problem. Like any theory in other sciences, it may have its limitations.

What does behavioral science help with?

So far, we have explored some of the limitations of our minds and the process involved in consciously taking action. Now, let’s consider designing a product that encourages users to engage in our desired behavior. We can use a process to design our product in a way that reduces the gap between user desire and action. This process ensures that users go through all the stages of the mental process and ultimately act on their desire to use the product.

The process we can utilize consists of 6 steps:

  • Define the problem
  • Explore the context
  • Craft an intervention
  • Implement
  • Determine the impacts
  • Evaluate future steps

Each step in this process contains many details that can be applied to real problems. In future posts, I’ll delve into these steps and provide examples for each of them.

The central concept originates from Stephen Wendel’s “Designing for Behavioral Change, 2nd Edition.” For a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter, I recommend referring to the book itself.

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