Reading Reflection on Digital Behavioural Design
Three weeks ago, I spend a few hours reading and re-reading this recently-released e-book: Digital Behavioural Design from Boundless Mind. The book provides comprehensive information on behavioural design strategies from the perspectives of “what, why, how, and when”.
This is book is worth reading. Sure, it covers a lot of great techniques and provides a toolbox of behavioral design, but the insights don’t end there. Combs and Brown, co-authors of the book, repeatedly reinforces that behavioral design interventions should NOT merely serve for tangible business profits, but work best when they are ethically-aligned with three criteria: transparency, social good, and user’s desires.
I found it so fascinating and valuable that I decided to summarize my book highlights and share them here.
First of all, what is behavioural design?
Behavioural design is a set of techniques for persuasion. It is not a technique of coercion. It is a technology of behaviour, not a technology of force. To that extent, the techniques of behavioural design, and designer themselves, must respect person’s intrinsic rights to freedom of choice, autonomy, and dignity.
We can’t talk about behavioral design if we do not understand how our habit system works. According to Ramsey and Combs, our habit system is a set of learned behaviors (default actions) that we unconsciously perform. Because a habit is a learned behavior, behavioral designers could control the consequences of user behaviors via CAR Model.
Cue → Action → Rewards (CAR) Model is a proven design framework for inducing user habits that drive continued engagement and retention. (p.39)
A user senses the cue in their environment that they can learn to associate with an action (behaviour), which leads to a reward (consequence). A behavioural designer knows how to intentionally construct synthetic cues to induce a particular action.
Three main types of rewards are used to delight users, including Rewards of the self (desire for self-mastery & proficiency), Rewards of the Hunt (desire for conquest), and Rewards of the Tribe (desire for belonging).
It’s important to note that rewards are different from incentives.
While rewards directly activate the brain’s habit system, incentives activate the brain’s critical thinking machinery (which is responsible for rational decision-making).
A reward is the immediate positive consequence of an action. On the other hand, an incentive is the promise of a delayed future consequence of an action performed today.
How to optimize the reward?
The answer is to maximize surprising rewards.
Because of how the brain’s habit system works, more rewards aren’t more effective than fewer rewards. Rather, it’s a user’s surprise from a reward that makes a reward more effective. Surprising rewards are more effective than unsurprising rewards.
The book ends with a few interesting (but rather generic) case studies of some well-established brands such as Instagram and LinkedIn. I’m particularly impressed with how Combs and Brown used Huxley’s Island as a metaphor to end the last chapter:
A Technology of Behavior, when applied in an ethically-aligned framework, is a capital-F Futurist proposal. It’s how we get to the Island .
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