Katy Howard, Media Manager, fills us in on the Dots conference.


“There’s widespread interest in using behaviour change to improve our life experiences. However we’re only just starting to connect the dots between online and offline”. [Joanna Choukier]

Joanna Choukier, Design Director at Uscreates was a key speaker at the recent annual Dots conference organised by Brilliant Noise. Having completed her PHD in the field of ‘communication design and social interaction’, her talk explored how we might influence people’s behaviour by combining successful UX (user experience) design with established principles for behavioural change.

UX is broadly defined as how a person feels when interacting with any product, service or system. It encompasses everything from buying a chocolate bar to renewing your gym membership (and lots in-between). UX designers deal with three important questions, “Is the process easy? Is it pleasant? Do I get valuable results?” A truly positive user experience means answering yes to all of these questions and often determines whether someone will return to the service, become a regular user or recommend it to others.



How can online UX design help us to understand behavioural change?

With a hyper-connected world fast becoming reality, online user experience design has never been more important. Using online tools, we can put behavioural change theories into practice in a way that allows us to feedback in real-time, review and iterate quickly as well as more accurately measure change.

However, the process for behavioural change is complicated; first you need to be aware that a change is possible or required, then consider it, prepare yourself for it, do something about it and then maintain that change. Not easy. Plus, as with any process open to human error and subject to free will, there’s plenty that can go wrong along the way.

The trans-theoretical model for behavioural change (though originally established to conceptualise the process of intentional behavioural change) offers a useful framework that can be used to develop strategies to encourage people to change established habits and help them to maintain this behaviour. Whilst there are clearly some limitations to this model, it can help tailor messaging and interaction to the level of knowledge and motivation required to move an audience through the process to a desired action.


Examples of online user experience design putting behavioural change theories to the test…

1. Operant conditioning relies on rewards or punishment to affect change, commonly known as the ‘carrot & stick method’. Offering incentives is nothing new. However, creating a successful and compelling reward / loyalty scheme is easier said than done. Here are just a few interesting examples that connect online tools with offline behaviour

E.g. Bid your sweat, an online reward platform created as part of Nike’s #makeitcount campaign back in 2012. Runners who logged the most kms on their Nike+ account were rewarded with buying power in an online auction for free pairs of trainers.

Zombies Run is an app that plays you an audio thriller as you walk, and rewards a set number of steps with the next episode. You also have the threat of the zombies behind you…

Write or Die starts deleting your words if you stop writing for set intervals whilst DinnerTime is a cross device app that automatically locks your children’s phone and tablet until they have eaten.


2. Theory of reasoned action plays to the notion that we are innately programmed to evaluate the benefit or harm of our actions before we act.

Morning Routine doesn’t turn off its alarm until you get out of bed and scan the barcodes of items around your house. That means you have to get out of bed and walk with your phone to the bathroom (for example) and scan the toothpaste to turn off the alarm. Good luck getting back to sleep.


Gym-Pact links to your bank account so that when you don’t go to the gym (and check-in), it can take actual money out of your account and redistribute it to other people who actually did go.

Aherk is similarly designed to help you blackmail yourself. You upload horrible pictures of yourself or important files to safeguard and assign these to personal goals. If you don’t achieve them, it releases the photo onto your social networks or deletes your valued files forever. Once you set it up, there is also no going back. Unless you lie.

3. Theory of planned behaviour taps into the idea that perceived control has very strong potential to shape an individual’s intentions. The greater the perceived control, the greater the intention of a person to complete that task (and the greater the likelihood of them following through).

E.g. Most people find cleaning a huge chore and therefore find it hard to stick to a regular routine. UnfilthYourHabitat (aka UnfuckYourHabitat) allows you to efficiently plan and focus your efforts in cleaning your home so you actually get the stuff done. There’s also an inspirational tumblr blog page if that’s not enough.


GlutonFreeMe helps celiac suffers plan meals as well as find common products across a range of retailers. It responds to the issue faced by many people with specific dietary requirements or those wanting a healthier regime in that they often find themselves slipping back into unhealthy habits due to the difficulty of sticking to appropriate foods.

4. Self-Efficacy or self-belief is a hugely important factor influencing behaviour change. The key here is visibility of progress. Lack of self-belief doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t believe that the plan will work or is a good idea. It does mean that they are not confident they will be able to stick to the plan so they are unable or less willing to take action.
E.g. Myfitnesspal is perhaps one of the best know examples of what has become widely known as ‘the quantified self’ movement.Since the whole point of exercise is to make sure you reach an active heart rate, a similar app Instant Heart Rate takes pulse measurements using your smartphone’s camera to measure colour changes in the tip of your finger.


Trailhead by The North Face along with the recent Explorer app track your adventures across 300k potential trail routes through a real-time interactive GPS map. Unsurprisingly, to help you plan your perfect trip, you can also find your nearest outlet.

Importantly, the tech potential of smartphones has opened up considerable opportunities to measure a whole range of dynamic data which can help users keep their progress towards a range of goals in check. With the help of apps and add-ons, your mobile is already able to measure things like the speed of a moving object/person, accurate thermal imaging, blood alcohol levels and it can even detect UV light (to name just a few possibilities).

5. Social learning theory or social proof is nothing new, numerous studies have shown that we are programmed to observe and model our behaviour on those around us. Interestingly, we also strive for better results when being observed or in groups…despite this also having the ability to negatively affect our performance (you only need to have seen a presenter crumbling under pressure or a professional athlete fall at the last hurdle to understand the effect of social pressures).

E.g. Studybuddy was an early online platform that let students see when their friends were studying, what they were studying as well as ask them questions or offer encouragement.

Fitocracy is an online social network that aims to use gamification to help users improve their fitness. Users log their exercise activity by selecting from a collection of activities. Points are awarded based on the estimated benefit of each activity and users must reach points thresholds in order to achieve fame in the community.


6. The Social Ecological Model was developed to further the understanding of the relationship between personal and environmental factors. Research demonstrates that altruism is rare; unsurprisingly people are more willing to ‘do good’ if it can be linked back to a personal benefit.

e.g. Trainaway helps your reduce your carbon footprint, by concentrating on enjoying the journey, not just the destination. It helps you plan stopover points and things to do there whilst demonstrating the positive impact on the environment.

Poshmark give you the opportunity to make money from used clothing, there are plenty of sites that offer this service but their model is more social in the sense that you can follow someone else’s profile and the items they ‘recycle’. The benefit being, that if you buy a delightful dress from someone and it fits you really well you are more likely to buy other pre-loved clothing of theirs, win win.


So what?

The majority of existing digital products focus on the latter stages of the behaviour change model (from the preparation phase through to maintenance). Choukier encourages us to ask whether there are more influential opportunities earlier on in the process (i.e. at the pre-contemplation phase)? In addition, to consider what else we can do to ensure that any communication that prompts our audience to consider a behavioural change is followed through with appropriate strategies that help to encourage and maintain this behaviour.

Ultimately, as the field of user experience design evolves, we are encouraged to consider more interesting ways that we can help our clients to connect the dots between their audience’s online and offline behaviour

Refs –

Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983; Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross, 1992