These past weeks I have been thinking systematically and strategically about what it means to prototype for behavior change. It is different that prototyping for usability in the fact that you are not just prototyping for what users do, but how and WHY they do it. This means carefully planning prototype interventions, anticipating user response, and simulating context as closely as possible. It has been an amazingly complex process - one where I have learned that even the smallest alteration in method can have astronomical effects on behavior, and perceptions. I will be working on fully and completely documenting all of my methods and findings, but the crux of it is represented in the feedback diagram below, which reads:
COST OVER TIME determines ACTION, which is influenced by MOTIVATION. Motivation is sustained by timely and relevant FEEDBACK, which provides VALUE to the user and encourages repeat ACTION.
The rest of the blog post will walk through some high level thinking around each of these areas.
Most importantly, I have learned that when prototyping for behavior change, it is essential to design for users’ perceptions of time. This first involves understanding what their perceptions of time are and how this thinking is manifested through users’ decision making around a particular behavior - in this case, savings behaviors.
Whether they realize it or not, people will most always weigh the immediate cost of an action against the long term value that that action will bring. Usually the immediate “cost” is a loss of present “gain.” In my particular case, this was a difficult point because my users’ perception of time is present-tense. They didn’t understand the idea of a “long term goal” or “future plan” because their “futures” are incredibly unstable. Because any notion they have of “the future” might change in an instant, planning or gleaning any long term value from it is, for them, an act of futility. You can begin to see why designing a new kind of “future-focused” savings product was going to require some social and tactical prototyping. However, I was able to structure my prototype in ways that met user needs and addressed their perceptions and assumptions rather than setting out to build the most efficient savings app from the start.
I tried to prototype in ways that would specifically motivate users in 5 key areas:
Intellectual, Emotional, Social, Technological, and Economic. i have outlined the desired user “before and after states” below. Economic is not included in the chart.
My prototype also began to address the issue of habit formation vs. fatigue. What is the difference between engaging with something because we want to and are used to doing it vs. engaging with something because we feel like we have to. The latter is exhausting and has no place in products that are meant to encourage behavior change. Which is exactly how I began to think about my prototype. How can my prototype encourage a new behavior BEFORE fatigue sets in? This requires anticipating where/when users will start to break down, and being able to provide feedback that is timely and appropriate to mitigate users’ decreasing motivation. I also tried to build in ways that motivation could be provided through normal social relationships rather than technology? Ultimatelt, the question that my experience has to answer is “How will my product anticipate these changes in behavior (positive and negative), acknowledge them, and provide ways for meaningful action?
The feedback loop diagrammed in the first image is the most concise way I could represent my thinking . It reads: COST OVER TIME determines ACTION, which is influenced by MOTIVATION. Motivation is sustained by timely and relevant FEEDBACK, which provides VALUE to the user and encourages repeat ACTION.