Designing for Behavior Change (Book Review)

On October 20, 2014
designBelow you can read the book review of  Designing for Behavior Change – Applying Psychology and Behavioral Economics (Stephen Wendel, published in 2013 by O’Reilly Media) that I wrote for publication for the 10th issue of Neuromarketing Theory & Practice Magazine (published by Neuromarketing Science & Business Association).
We often come across surprising cases of how the mind works and how we make decisions that interfere with our own and other people’s behavior. Just a few of the products available on the market touch millions of lives and have the potential to profoundly change society for the better by helping us get in shape, save for the future, or become active in our communities on the issues we care about. The decisions product managers and designers make can affect the entire life cycle of a product, but also consumers’ lives.
The behavioral social scientist Stephen Wendel decided to present the challenges he faced along the way in Designing for Behavior Change – Applying Psychology and Behavioral Economics. The book provides examples from research studies in psychology and behavioral economics on how changing small aspects of our environment can radically affect our behavior. Each theory is followed by a section that contains basic “lessons for behavioral products”, where the author presents his comments and views about thinking strategically on behavior change and undertaking the design process itself.
The book covers an overview of currently available research on how our minds make decisions and presents some of the most important theories and models used in behavioral research, such as Daniel Kahneman’s theory about System 1 and System 2 or Antonio Damasio’s work on emotions. The author adds his own views and gives not-so-obvious lessons from the literature, helping the reader to gain a broader perspective on decision making and its applications in designing and refining products and interfaces that can set up the preconditions for action.
The book was an engaging read, as there are many studies presented together with the consequences of their results in the real world of product development. However, I was expecting to encounter many of the brain studies that have a major impact on this topic. Instead, the only brain scan study mentioned was the one with the information provided on cigarettes packaging that trigger the habit of smoking.
At the end of the book, Wendel provides a glossary of terms in the the chapters, an extensive bibliography, but also a list of resources to learn more about the discussed topics. These resources point to different research articles, books or blogs about persuasive technology, behavior models, neuro-web design, interactive design tricks, or behavioral economics and decision making in general. The style this book is written in betrays the research background of the author, as he explains each construct and offers details from a broad array of studies, extracting afterwards high-level lessons about building products in the real world and making the best use of the powerful, though still quite limited, knowledge that is available on behavior and decision making. As the author mentions, “Research on product design that can help change behavior is still in its infancy. This book pulls together the best of what is currently known, but is certainly not complete“.
Stephen Wendel provides a practitioner’s framework for experimentation and learning, without claiming that anyone fully understands the decision-making process. This framework guides the product design effort in the right direction and prepares the resulting product for testing, evaluation and refinement. The book is targeted for product designers and developers, user interfaces designers or innovators and it is a must read for anyone interested in behavioral science, the decision making process or how to design products that change behavior.

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