What is Design with Intent?

Design can be used to influence users’ behaviour.

From the layout of shopping malls to digital rights management, our everyday lives are full of examples of products, systems and environments which have been designed to shape, guide or control — influence — our behaviour, using a wide range of techniques: technological, physical or psychological.

Intended commercial benefit is a major reason behind this; intended social benefit can be too (though it’s often fraught with politics). Sometimes the behaviour-shaping is helpful to the user; sometimes it’s serving someone else against the user’s best interests. Sometimes it’s trying to get the user to do something; sometimes it’s trying to stop the user doing something.

The common factor to all of this is intent on the part of the designer/engineer/planner or his or her corporate/political masters. This is Design with Intent: strategic design that’s intended to influence or result in certain user behaviour.

Below are a couple of presentations (with audio) I gave at Persuasive 2008 and Persuasive 2009, giving a quick run-through of the background to the Design with Intent concept and how it’s developed, with examples from different fields. More presentations are here on Slideshare, and I also have a series of papers.

While applied in very different contexts — choice architecture of supermarket shelves, default cycles on washing machines, avoiding assembly errors in manufacturing, making it safer for pedestrians to cross the street — the Design with Intent techniques can be abstracted to a set of possible design patterns (both physical and psychological) which can then be applied to other situations where a certain target behaviour is desired on the part of the user.

See the page on my PhD research, Design for Sustainable Behaviour, for more on this and how the ‘DwI method‘ is being developed – and how it’s going to be applied.