Behaviorism as a Design Lens

by Kevin Makice

The conversion from academia to practice is often in need of a Google algorithm, but research can provide a wealth of inspiration for improving practice if that translation is made. Such is the work of Dan Lockton, who is looking at how behaviorism can impact design.

Lockton invokes a B.F. Skinner quote, explaining the fundamental shift from stimulus-response to a holistic look at cycles of learning: “It is now clear that we must take into account what the environment does to an organism not only before but after it responds. Behaviour is shaped and maintained by its consequences.”

When the academic dust settled, Lockton listed implications behaviorism has for designers, including the following:

  • There is a recognition that the environment shapes our behavior both before and after we take actions—a useful insight for designing interventions
  • There is also a recognition that behavior change does not necessarily happen in a single step, but as part of an ongoing cycle of shaping
  • Schedules of reinforcement can be varied (e.g. made unpredictable) to drive continued behavior
  • Design could either exploit or help people avoid ‘social traps’ where both reinforcement and punishment exist, or reinforcement is misaligned with the behavior. (These can be converted into ‘trade-offs’)
  • The end from the user’s perspective effectively becomes the means by which the designer’s end might be influenced

I think this is a great argument for why UX is a cycle of inquiry, innovation and reflection that shouldn’t be confined to one part of the development process.

Design With Intent Blog (July 19, 2011, by Dan Lockton)