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What is Behavioral Design and how can it be applied?

In a world saturated with information, products and services, capturing the user's attention and even more, motivating a change in behavior, has become one of the main challenges for designers and companies. This is where behavioral design comes into play. In this article you will learn what behavioral design is, how it differs from other approaches and examples of its application in real life.

Una mano diseñando un interfaz
Image by Kelly Sikkema and Unsplash

What is Behavioral Design?

Behavioral design is an interdisciplinary field that combines knowledge from behavioral sciences (behavioral and experimental psychology, behavioral economics, neuroscience, etc.) and user experience design (UX). This design process focuses on creating or modifying decision-making situations, using insights from the behavioral sciences to develop solutions that promote behavioral change.

In this field, two tools stand out for their effectiveness:

  • nudges

  • boosts 

Nudges are fine and strategic adjustments to the choice environment that subtly guide people toward a certain action, without limiting their options or significantly altering economic incentives. Whereas boosts focus on empowering people's skills and knowledge to make better, more informed decisions.

Behavioral Design in action: The Case of Uber Labs

Uber Labs is Uber's Behavioral Science lab. In their blog they tell how they developed a strategy based on behavioral science principles to reduce the rate of trip cancellation by ExpressPool drivers.

What did they do?

The Uber Labs team applied different behavioral science principles related to the perception of time and waiting to the design of the interface:

  • Idleness aversion: People fear idleness and want to be busy.

  • Operational transparency: Openly showing customers the internal processes that contribute to the delivery of products or services increases their positive valuation.

  • Goal-gradient effect: When people feel that they are making good progress toward their goal, motivation and effort increase.

With these principles in mind, it was proposed to highlight progress during waiting times by explaining each step that took place "behind the scenes," such as identifying other passengers traveling in the same direction and finding a car for the trip. In addition, it was proposed to provide additional information (e.g., explaining the estimated time of arrival) by clicking on an information icon.

What was the result?

The ExpressPool team tested these ideas in an A/B experiment and observed an 11 percent reduction in the post-application cancellation rate. This translated into a better experience for users, greater efficiency for the platform, and increased driver satisfaction.

This case demonstrates that incorporating behavioral science principles into solution design effectively influences people's actions and decisions, making Behavioral Design a powerful tool for promoting positive and lasting behavioral change.

A plus: Common Behavioral Design principles

There are different principles of behavioral sciences that are very relevant when designing decision contexts. Some of the most applied principles in Behavioral Design are:

  • Simplicity: It implies designing simple and understandable experiences for the user, minimizing the cognitive load and facilitating decision making.

  • Motivation: Refers to using techniques that increase the user's motivation to perform an action, such as rewards or gamification.

  • Social engagement: Refers to leveraging the influence of the social environment and group norms to encourage desired behaviors.

  • Scarcity and urgency: Implies using the perception of scarcity (limited resources) and urgency (limited time) to encourage quick and committed decisions.

If you want to learn more about the principles of Behavioral Design, you can download for free our book "The Science of Persuasion. A practical guide" at the following link:


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