Category Archives: Site Announcements

End of the year

It’s been a very very very busy year, and that’s my main excuse for not blogging for far too long. There are many interesting people, interesting things and ideas and opportunities, and unresolved thoughts that need to be talked about, but haven’t been. And many people who’ve got in touch that I just haven’t got round to replying to. I apologise. For quite a while it’s been easier to use Twitter than to blog here. That’s a shame, but it’s also enabled me to get to know (virtually or otherwise) a great group of very clever people. I’ve been to Copenhagen, Ghent, Delft and Enschede on Design with Intent-related business, as well as managing to go camping on the Isles of Scilly with Harriet, which was fantastic.
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Design with Intent toolkit 1.0 now online

Design with Intent cards

It’s been a long time coming, but a year after v.0.9, the new Design with Intent toolkit, DwI v.1.0, is ready. Officially titled Design with Intent: 101 Patterns for Influencing Behaviour Through Design, it’s in the form of 101 simple cards, each illustrating a particular ‘gambit‘ for influencing people’s interactions with products, services, environments, and each other, via the design of systems. They’re loosely grouped according to eight ‘lenses‘ bringing different disciplinary perspectives on behaviour change.

The cards (Download them here)
The intention is that the cards are useful at the idea generation stage of the design process, helping designers, clients and – perhaps most importantly – potential users themselves explore behaviour change concepts from a number of disciplines, and think about how they might relate to the problem at hand. Judging by the impact of earlier iterations, the cards could also be useful in stakeholder workshops, and design / technology / computer science education.
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What I didn’t get round to writing about in 2009

A lot of people send me ideas and suggestions for the blog, for which I’m very grateful indeed, but which I don’t always get round to investigating or posting or dealing with in a timely manner. Or sometimes I note them, use them as examples elsewhere, or in conversation with people, but never actually get round to posting about them. I apologise for all this, and I apologise if you’ve sent stuff and never got a reply, or got a very late reply. I have a very very inefficient workflow and it is sometimes embarrassing. It’s something I need to fix in 2010 if I’m going to get a PhD thesis done by the summer.

But as as a bumper end-of-2009 post, here’s a roundup of some really interesting examples, ideas, projects, and other tit-bits. If yours isn’t here, I further apologise: it may resurface at some point soon.

Transparent toilet in Lausanne

George Preston sent me a link to this video of a very interesting public toilet in Lausanne, Switzerland. As George puts it:

There’s a central quite modern district [in Lausanne] called Flon, and the toilets have an intriguing way of grabbing your attention/dissuading vandals….the walls are made of glass. But when you pay and enter, a current running to an LC layer in the glass is cut off, rendering it opaque. For people not familiar with them, they are baffling!

The tell-tale pill bottle

Ralph Borland – responsible for the impressive Suited for Subversion – and who must be just about finished with his PhD at Trinity College, Dublin – sends me this story about tuberculosis pill bottles equipped with a SIM card, which can text a patient, his or her carer, or indeed the health authorities if the pills aren’t taken, “achiev[ing] a 94% compliance rate for a TB trial in South Africa”. The SIMpill Medication Adherence Solution is a clever product, a neat technology intervention in patient compliance, an area designers are increasingly being asked to address.

From the SIMpill website:

The SIMpill® Medication Adherence Solution offers detailed compliance data and corresponding statistics, and the patient or pre-approved healthcare professionals or analyst, can gain access to real-time information regarding medication use and compliance through a private secure account on the SIMpill® website. Via the web account the healthcare providers can monitor the medication use of their patients in real-time, and can decide on type of intervention to meet the patient’s ongoing adherence schedule.

As Ralph points out, though:

Put that together with the fact that you can be imprisoned in SA if you have a drug-resistant TB strain and you have something more like a coercive technology than persuasive, interfacing directly with authority structures etc. Thought it’s an interesting cross-over of developing world design and persuasive design…

Narrower supermarket aisles

Brian Cugelman of AlterSpark sent me the following rather coercive idea he overheard, along the lines of Monkeon‘s Leonard Ball bench:

On BBC radio some caller made a proposal relevant to your research. To cope with the UK’s obesity epidemic, with 25% of the population considered obese, a caller proposed making grocery stores aisles very narrow so people of average weight could shop and obese people would not fit.

Punishing users for Alt-tabbing away

From a comment on Jeff Atwood’s 2007 ‘Please don’t steal my focus’ post (which I found again when searching for how to stop an application stealing focus):

One of the old MMOs I used to play (Rubies of Eventide) would log you out of the game if you alt tabbed, supposedly to prevent cheating. This was back in the days when web browsers on windows would steal focus back any time a script on the page reloaded.
I died so many times to those damn page reloads.

Mike on December 5, 2007 4:08 AM

Obstacles speed up exiting crowds

Tjebbe van Eemeren of the University of Twente – a student of Peter-Paul Verbeek of What Things Do fame – sends me a link to this story about the use of obstacles to speed up the passage of crowds:

Even when exits are wide open, people seem to jam up in front of it. Then they tried something goofy. They put something in the way of the people trying to get out. Not so big that it blocked the way, but big enough that people had to detour around it. And it had to be in just the right place. Guess what? Everybody got out faster.

The actual research isn’t referenced in the story, but this article goes into a lot more detail. There’s a preprint of the paper by Daichi Yanagaisawa et al here. There’s also discussion of the story and the phenomenon on Derren Brown’s blog.


Robert Cialdini gets name-checked quite a lot on this blog, and rightly so: his work on persuasion and the psychology of influencing behaviour across many different domains underpins many of the design patterns and explains many of the examples we’ve looked at (particularly what I characterised as the ‘cognitive lens’ of design with intent). He’s something of a model for how to be a respected academic researcher at the forefront of his field (who actually tries things out rather than simply theorising), a consultant in high demand from industry, and also a bestselling popular author.

Cialdini is now Chief Scientist of Opower, an energy monitoring and smart metering startup which started life as Positive Energy (thanks to Mike Stenhouse for sending me details earlier in the year) and has already had significant success partnering with utility companies in the US to give customers better feedback – using personalised messages based on social proof and norms to suggest actions for householders to take to reduce their consumption:

Step 1: Customer reads report: “You used 72 percent more than your efficient neighbors.”
Step 2: Customer reads targeted tip: “Most people in your area keep their AC at 78 degrees”
Step 3: Customer turns down thermostat and takes other energy-saving actions.

I think it’s worth keeping an eye on Opower‘s development: they’re taking a different, but complementary approach to other innovators such as Onzo in the UK, and seem to be putting into practice (on a huge scale) some of the ideas that projects such as CHARM are also investigating. As I’ve talked about before, there’s a lot of opportunity for design to influence behaviour in this area, and help users as well as reducing environmental impact.

What’s happening with the toolkit (Part 2): Interaction design: how you can be part of it

Following on from part 1, here are a few of the ‘new’ design patterns that are going to be in v.0.95 of the Design with Intent toolkit, but for which I don’t yet have very good ‘design’ examples.

Any suggestions, or photos / screenshots would be very much appreciated, whether they’re your own projects, things you’ve come across elsewhere, or just ideas that occur to you. If you’re happy for me to use them in the toolkit (cards & wiki)* then of course you’ll get a credit and if your photo’s used, I’ll send you a pack of the cards when they’re done.

Remember, for each of these patterns, the idea is that it can be used intentionally to influence user behaviour, via the design of an interface, product, service, environment, or other kind of system.


Can you make elements look similar so users perceive them to share characteristics, or that they should be used together?

This – a Gestalt principle applied with the intent of influencing behaviour – seems like it should be an easy pattern to find examples for, but I’m struggling. The basic idea is that a design intentionally has some elements which look alike, or similar, or to be in a group, so that a user perceives them to share some properties or characteristics (and so acts accordingly – perhaps using two controls together).

In its most trivial sense, this is present everywhere in interaction and web design – the design of menus, groupings of controls, and so on, to suggest that those particular functions are related – but I’m finding it difficult to think of examples where there is a more explicit behaviour-influencing intent behind it. There are instances such as Adobe’s ‘Send to FedEx Kinko’s’ button (below left), styled and positioned in the toolbar as if it were a normal button, but actually propelling the user into a business transaction when pressed – or even the use of text ads and sponsored links in search engine results (below right), styled closely to resemble the main content, in the hope that users will perceive them to be of the same value, and hence click on them – but can anyone think of a more interesting example? Preferably one designed to help users rather than trick us into clicking on things we don’t necessarily want to?

Adobe Reader Send to FedEx Kinko's buttonSponsored text links

Mimicry & mirroring

Can your system mirror or mimic a user’s behaviour in some way, to increase the engagement a user feels?

Mirroring body language or speech patterns is often promoted as a technique for establishing rapport in pop-psychology advice, but are there examples where a similar idea has been (or could be) used in design to achieve a similar effect – engaging a user so he or she follows the advice or directions given, or responds more ‘in person’ towards the system (in a computers-as-social-actors context)? (Something like ELIZA (nice online version here) might count if it were specifically intended to influence a user’s behaviour (e.g., as a ‘therapist’), but mirroring / mimicry doesn’t seem to be the main mechanism there.)

Partial completion

Can you show that the first stage of a process has been completed already, to give users confidence to do the rest?

What I’m thinking of here are things like partly pre-filled application forms, which reduce the amount of effort a user needs to put in to proceed with applying for whatever it is (and, at least with credit card applications, must be a significant vector for fraud), but also exams or learning materials where there’s enough of a worked example actually to give users confidence (building perceived self-efficacy) that they can complete the rest successfully.

And, by extension, an interface of some kind which demonstrates this sort of technique in action would be a great example to include in the toolkit, but I can’t think of one. Can you?


What happens to user behaviour if your design gives users particular roles to play, or makes them feel that they’re someone else?

This is a pattern I noted down during Sebastian Deterding‘s talk at DiGRA 2009, in which he discussed applying some of Erving Goffman‘s work to game design. It seems intuitively effective as a way of influencing behaviour – e.g. a dad telling his young son “I’m appointing you the man of the house while I’m away” (to suggest that he should be well-behaved and look after his mum) or a police officer visiting a school and giving some children little police badges so they hopefully ‘take on’ whatever characteristics are associated with the role (taken to the extreme, perhaps, this sort of pattern can lead to the results found in the Stanford Prison Experiment).

But are there examples where this pattern has been used in the design of something – where users are given or assigned (or choose) a kind of role, which then (due to commitment & consistency biases) they stick to, and behave accordingly? Perhaps applying the role-playing aspects of games to a real-life interface or product or campaign? Tim Holley’s Tio project has the express aim of turning children into ‘energy champions’ for their families, so this may well be the example I use, but is there anything else that does this more explicitly?


Can you tell a story via your design, which interests users and keeps them engaged?

Storytelling is clearly a significant technique for drawing users into an experience, and that engagement necessarily leads to different behaviour. Richard Sedley has talked about this in the context of persuasion for digital effectiveness (and if you haven’t seen this video, it really is worth setting aside 5 minutes), and some of Eugene Schwartz’s classic Breakthrough Advertising copywriting principles and examples are in this kind of area too, but I’m struggling a bit with ‘design’ examples which would quickly and clearly demonstrate the idea in the toolkit.

Are there websites which present the user experience as a kind of story? (I’m sure there must be.) Or, maybe better, environments (theme parks? museums?) which take the visitor through a series of sections or exhibits in a story-like way, with some kind of intent behind the design?

James Dyson’s original ‘The Story of Dyson’ mini-booklets, which were attached like tags to the vacuum cleaners on display in showrooms, and explained the background to the invention (and the inventor) and the 5,127 prototypes, etc, and thus made the potential purchaser feel like he or she was becoming part of that story seem like they might be a good example, but I don’t have one of them to photograph and I can’t find a picture online.

Any thoughts, ideas, suggestions or photos are very much appreciated – over to you!

(The above patterns are explicitly interaction design-related, while there are a few more new ‘strategic’ behavioural patterns which I’ll discuss in another post.)

*To be Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike licensed, except for any images which are separately licensed already

What’s happening with the toolkit (Part 1)

Design with Intent cards v.0.9

It’s 8 months since the Design with Intent Toolkit v.0.9 went online and I’ve had incredibly useful feedback from a whole range of people who’ve tried it out on different kinds of briefs and problems. As mentioned a couple of months ago, the toolkit poster PDF (which has 12 ‘headline’ design patterns, compared with the 47 in total online) reached a very high number of downloads from Brunel’s research archive website (before the admins removed the statistics package!), which is immensely pleasing and kind of humbling. If you downloaded it and found it useful (or not useful), please do get in touch and tell me why.

Design with Intent cards v.0.9Design with Intent cards v.0.9

Latterly, a few people have been trying out an IDEO Method Card-style card deck version of the toolkit (as pictured here), including all the patterns, colour-coded by lens, with a simplified bit of text about each one. I haven’t made these available publicly mainly because the quality isn’t great (most of the images are only 72dpi, coming from the website, and poorly cropped for the card format), and I’ve been trying a couple of variations of text, card size, etc. Initially I put these together primarily for quick card-sorting exercises as part of the workshop trials I’ve been running, but they ended up more popular than the poster format. Thanks to brainstorming sessions at IDEO London and the RSA, exercises with Brunel’s MSc Integrated Product Design and BSc / BA Design students (as part of the Sustainable Design and Environmentally Sensitive Design modules), and a trial as part of Design for Conversion kindly organised by Arjan Haring, I now have a better idea of what would make the cards more useful. In parallel, I’ve also been trying to ‘patternize’ some additional design techniques which have been used to influence behaviour, to increase the scope of the toolkit.

Design with Intent cards v.0.9 in use at Design for ConversionDesign with Intent cards v.0.9 in use at Design for Conversion
The DwI cards in use at Design for Conversion – photos by haijeson on Flickr (1, 2)

Inspired partly by Crumlish & Malone’s Designing Social Interfaces which is a great book (a neat companion to Jenifer Tidwell’s incredible Designing Interfaces, also from O’Reilly) with a companion wiki, I’ve decided to go down the route of producing v.0.95 of the toolkit as a Creative Commons-licensed set of 100 downloadable cards, with a printed version available to buy, and an accompanying wiki with a page on each pattern, serving as an evolving, referenceable container for new examples, tips on implementation, data on effectiveness, and so on, as they come to light, as well as new patterns, new ways of grouping them and new uses for this kind of approach.

The cards will be relatively simple, with each pattern posed as a question, as used in Nedra Weinreich’s DwI-based worksheet. The intention is that the cards can actively provoke innovative behaviour change design ideas, with a single (hopefully photogenic) example on each, while the wiki can act as a kind of ‘further reading’ resource. A future version (v.1.0?) of the cards will include this extra information on the back of each card (and then binding the cards together would pretty much produce a book), but at this stage – if I’m ever going to get this PhD finished in time – the extra info will be added to the wiki over time rather than being on the v.0.95 cards themselves, to reduce the time pressure on getting it all done.

As v.0.95 more than doubles the number of patterns in v.0.9 – a mixture of splitting up existing patterns into more finely-grained variants, and adding ideas which people have suggested or pointed out since I put v.0.9 together – there are quite a few where I don’t (yet) have a very good example or image. As such, there are opportunities for anyone with good photos or suggestions for examples to have an input and be involved – as the next post will explain in more detail.

Design with Intent cards v.0.9Design with Intent cards v.0.9
A version of the card deck I (rather laboriously!) spray-mounted onto Post-It backing, so the cards could be used to annotate sketches or ideas recorded during a brainstorming session.