My PhD

Design with Intent cards

Dan Lockton: Design with Intent: A design pattern toolkit for environmental & social behaviour change

2007-13, Brunel Design Research Centre, Brunel University, London
Supervisors: Professor David Harrison, Brunel University and Professor Neville Stanton, University of Southampton.

Download the thesis (PDF, 14MB)

Abstract: This thesis describes a systematic research enquiry into influencing more sustainable behaviour through design, which has produced communicable new knowledge in the form of a design pattern toolkit, called Design with Intent, developed and evaluated through an action research process. (continued below)

I was a full-time PhD student from September 2007 to August 2010, funded by the Ormsby Trust and Thomas Gerald Gray Charitable Trust, and part-time from September 2010 to June 2013 alongside working for Brunel University, University of Warwick and the Royal College of Art.


The best two papers arising from the thesis to get a summary of the work are:

Other aspects are explored in:

…and a range of other conference and working papers.

Readers’ guide

PhD theses are unusual documents, often (in the UK at least) written and revised primarily to satisfy arbitrary academic examination criteria rather than to be readable. That is certainly the case here: as the author, I am proud of having done the PhD, but not particularly enamoured of the thesis in the form it was finally approved. My main aim with the whole project was to do research that was actually useful to designers, and communicating it is a large part of that. So it disappoints me to have to put out something so hard to read. I had naïvely assumed that my clients for the research were designers, when in fact the clients were the examiners.

You will see, if you try to read the thesis ‘straight through’, that it has an awkward structure, with the methodology separated from the work that was actually done, also meaning a lot of repetition; equally, very little of the actual content of the toolkit, or the multidisciplinary background to it, is discussed within the thesis.

So here’s one possible suggestion for the bits to read if you want to read some of it, in an order that actually reflects how the work was done – I think it makes most sense to treat it like a kind of open product development process. Not sure if it will save time on reading it, though!:

Framing the problem Introduction to the challenge of influencing more sustainable behaviour through design. Chapter 1 (p.23 on)
Brief Identifying the research questions which the project should address Section 2.3 (p.58 on)
Background research Approaches to behaviour in different disciplines, and how they could be applicable in design. Section 2.2 (p.40 on), plus I recommend reading these working papers, which provide a more detailed background – to me this is the most interesting part of the whole work. It’s not currently presented very well, but I’ll try to remedy that over time.
Background on toolkits and idea generation Sections 2.3.3 and 2.4 (p.61 on)
Some ethical considerations Section 6.4 (p.240 on).
Internal prototypes Design with Intent toolkit v.0.1-0.7 Section 4.1 (p.114 on), then Section 5.1 (p.170 on)
Pilot study with Design with Intent toolkit v.0.8 Section 3.5.1 (p.101), then Section 4.2 (p.124 on) and then Section 5.2 (p.172 on). This paper from Persuasive 2009 sums it up more succinctly.
Initial public release Design with Intent toolkit v.0.9 DwI v.0.9
Workshops using Design with Intent toolkit v.0.9 Section 3.5.1 (p.101), then Section 4.3 (p.133 on) and then Section 5.3 (p.176 on). This Applied Ergonomics article provides a worked example, and a paper accepted for The Design Journal, to be published in 2014, describes the workshop studies more succinctly – please email me for a copy.
Main public release Design with Intent toolkit v.1.0 DwI v.1.0
Workshops and case studies with Design with Intent toolkit v.1.0 Section 3.5.1 (p.102), Section 3.5.2 (p.103), Section 4.4 (p.143 on), Section 5.4 (p.200 on), and Section 5.4.5 (p.217 on)
Modelling users as part of the DwI process This article from the Journal of Design research, then Section 4.4.1 (p.147) and Section 4.4.2 (p.161)
Evaluation Insights from survey of early users of DwI v.1.0, implications for further development, and reflection on the process Section 3.5.3 (p.104), then Section 5.4.4 (p.208 on), then Section 4.5 (p.162 on), and then Chapter 6 (p.227 on)

There are quite a few publications arising from the PhD, which are listed (and linked where possible) here. My publications list needs a bit of reconfiguring to make it easier to understand, which I’l try to do as soon as possible. There are also a few presentations on Slideshare which also provide an introduction to the PhD.

My thanks go to everyone who helped along the way, including the readers and commenters on this blog: I wouldn’t have started it without you, and really couldn’t have completed it without you. Inevitably, however, I will have forgotten some people in the Acknowledgements, and I apologise for this.

Office window, Howell Building, Brunel University
The office window at Brunel, for a large part of my PhD.

Abstract: This thesis describes a systematic research enquiry into influencing more sustainable behaviour through design, which has produced communicable new knowledge in the form of a design pattern toolkit, called Design with Intent, developed and evaluated through an action research process.

The toolkit aims to help designers create products, services and environments which influence the way people use them, primarily for environmental and social benefit; it brings together techniques for understanding and changing human behaviour from a range of psychological and technical disciplines, illustrated with examples, with the aim of enabling designers to explore and apply relevant strategies to problems.

‘Design for behaviour change’ has grown significantly as a field in the past few years, to a large extent due to recognition of the contributions that user behaviour makes to the environmental and social impact of technology and designed systems in general. People’s behaviour is inevitably influenced by the design of the systems which they use, and it is not a great leap to consider that design could be used intentionally to influence behaviour where some benefit would result.

This thesis starts by identifying the need for a guide for designers working on behaviour change. It extracts insights from reviews of perspectives on influencing behaviour from different disciplines, inside and outside of ‘design’, which could be usefully applied in a design context. Through an action research process of iterative development and workshops with design practitioners and students, these insights are incorporated into a toolkit for designers, which is applied mainly to environmental and social behaviour change briefs. Versions of the toolkit are made publicly available, and feedback from early users in different contexts is analysed and implications for continuing development discussed.

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Dr Dan Lockton