Design, Behaviour & Policy: Part II

This is the follow up post to yesterday’s which reported on some of the areas in which policy makers are interested in encouraging behaviour change. Rather than covering particular examples of persuasive technology, this post will look at broader ways in which design can contribute to encouraging behaviour change.

Of course, almost anything that is designed could be said to encourage behaviour change – from (as someone pointed out to me) the “WORK HARD AND BE NICE TO PEOPLE” print by Anthony Burrill that hangs in one of the offices in the RSA, through designers like Shin and Tomoko Azumi who used to describe their work as “changing people’s behaviour in a subtle way“, to the more deliberate and strategic attempts at behaviour change written about on this blog. Since this is a post written from the point of view of policy makers wondering how design might help achieve specific and measurable goals – I’ll concentrate on examples and design thinking from the more tactical end of this scale.

One of my favourite examples of design influencing behaviour illustrates the value of research leading to particular insights, which can then be fed in to creative problem solving techniques to create a great new service. IDEO (an innovation and design firm) were commissioned by Bank of America to attract new customers (the target demographic was baby boomer women with children) at a time when people were spending much more than they were saving. IDEO carried out extensive qualitative research (interviews, photo and notebook surveys, impromptu conversations on the street, group discussions between friends and strangers) across Atlanta, Baltimore and San Francisco, which led to insights like this:

many people in both the target audience and the general public would often round up their financial transactions for speed and convenience. In addition, the team found that many moms had difficulty saving what money they had, whether due to a lack of resources or willpower. [1]

This behaviour was routinely seen, for example, in a photograph of the cheque book of one woman who rounded up her utility bills when paying them. Feeding insights like this into brainstorming sessions, IDEO came up with a service that allowed customers to round up payments when using a Bank of America credit card but automatically paid the difference into the customer’s savings account. After prototyping the service with Bank of America, the “Keep the Change” bank account was launched in 2005, attracting over 2.5 million customers, and creating savings of $1 billion in these “round-ups” alone.

I like this example as it illustrates how an existing behaviour can be turned into a positive one given the right intervention, shows the breadth and creativity of activities that are included in the design process, could easily have come from a brief devised by government, and reminds me how much money I have tied up in the many piles of small change I have around the house…

Here’s another one. The UK’s Design Council run a programme of social design projects, the last of which was in the north east of England in 2007. One of these projects was called Low Carb Lane, and was led by designers from service design company live|work. Low Carb Lane aimed to make energy efficiency easy – both to reduce CO2 emissions and save money.

The Low Carb Lane team spent about a year with residents of Castle Terrace, learning about the community, the local social and economic situation, and unearthing (among other things) links between concerns over ownership (owner-occupier vs. rented) of the houses in the street, its physical degradation, declining community spirit, and attitudes towards climate change.

In response to this research, in addition to developing a system of small home loans for energy efficiency measures (like insulation) that are repaid through the energy savings gained (about 40%), live|work’s project involved designing a home energy dashboard that displayed information on the home’s energy consumption, CO2 emissions and bills. live|work’s research showed that this system could produce behaviour change resulting in a further 20% saving.

live|work were early practioners of this sort of work, but many companies (like those mentioned in this post) are now working in this area and hoping to create the same sort of savings on a national scale.

Examples like these show the value of thoughtful field research, creative problem solving, and a willingness to prototype. These skills are only enhanced by the addition of new insights (like persuasive technology) into designing for behaviour change.

Does anyone else have good examples of how design can contribute to encouraging behaviour change?

[1] IDEO, Available from:,
more details at:


5 Responses to “Design, Behaviour & Policy: Part II”

  1. 1 Sue Hewer February 4, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    I think that Low Carb Lane, part of the Dott07 programme, is agood example of design helping to change behaviour.However, what is interesting about this project and about Dott (Designs of the Time) itself,is the desin-led community engagement which allows designers to use their unique skills to co-diagnose and the co-create solutions. It is a ‘bottom-up’ approach and hence allows people to feel ownership of the end results and makes outcomes more sustainable.
    The Design Council is planning more projects like this.

    Sue Hewer
    Dott National Programme Manager

  2. 2 rsadesignbehaviour February 4, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Thanks for commenting Sue. Thanks also for making clear the co-design approach of Dott07 – that’s an important point to make, but not one I mentioned in this blog post.

    I’d be interested to hear whether you think the fact that projects like Low Carb Lane were co-designed means that they can’t (or shouldn’t) be scaled up to national projects?

    I’m looking forward to the Design Council’s future projects.


  3. 3 Sue Hewer February 5, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Hi Jamie

    (Glad to see your name as I couldn’t find one on your blog!) We most definitely hope that projects like Low Carb Low will be scaled up and replicated nationally and internationally. Indeed, this week one of the outcomes from the Alzheimer100 project (also in Dott07, i.e to establish a network of dementia advisors, is contained within the new Dementia Strategy. The Design Council is working on several new projects in and around community engagement and public services.

    I will keep you posted as they progress,


  4. 4 rsadesignbehaviour February 5, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Thanks Sue. I guess your implication is that co-design is important during the prototyping stage of projects, but that (once the wrinkles have been ironed out in the pilot) they can be more or less dropped into other (similar) communities?


  1. 1 The risks and the rewards of a blog « Prison Learning Network Weblog Trackback on January 29, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


Rolling Links


%d bloggers like this: