Design Thinking
New and Emerging Technology: Designing Thinking and Behaviour Change

People are at the centre of both human-centred design and behaviour change. Human-centred design aims to empathise and understand people and behaviour change aims to understand and adapt behaviour.

In a project we’re currently working on, we have had a discussion about behaviour change and design thinking. Can user research inform behaviour change design?

Some may argue that if there is a need to change behaviour, it should be for the common good and ethical purposes such as the 5p bag charge. But isn’t there an overlap of understanding users and their motivations and behaviour and behaviour change? If we need to change behaviour, it could be through design. If it comes down to communication and messaging, both design thinking and behaviour change link with targeted marketing.

Behaviour Change Theory

The most commonly used behaviour change model is the COM-B model.

COM-B Model


A lot of behaviour change theory comes from health psychology and this has been used for digital health interventions and it is becoming best practice to use theories based on the COM-B model and the Behaviour Change Wheel.

Capability — do the users have the skills to do the behaviour? Can an individual use the product or service? Do they know how to do this? Is this intuitive? From a design perspective — how can businesses give users the skills? How can they make it easy for users to use? This is where user testing and designing a seamless User Experience and User Interface comes in.

Opportunity — the physical and social environment that enables the behaviour. We can make observations about the behaviour by looking at how the individual interacts with their environment.

On a wider level, what are the social and cultural influences on the behaviour? How can the external environment trigger or enable the behaviour? For businesses it is important to understand the wider cultural and social norms. This may be where advertising and clever messaging and communication will be important, which can be refined in user testing.

Motivation — what energises and directs the behaviour? There is automatic (a reflex) or reflective (analysis of information). In any given situation, what information is analysed? What information do users need to engage with a product or service?

Behaviour Change Wheel

The COM-B Framework underpins the Behaviour Change Wheel:

In green is the COM-B theory and to get people to change their behaviour, we can explore the ‘Intervention’ (red). What needs to shift to change behaviour? Which intervention function is most likely to work? Which behaviour change techniques to use? The grey wider circle provides more information on options to use. For some businesses, it may be that communication and marketing using education and persuasion are needed to encourage people to use new and emerging technologies. For others, looking at incentivisation may the key to encourage people to use a technologically new product, which they previously didn’t have the option to use and for the business, would need to be incorporated in their business model.

However, from a design perspective, as Jared Spool would say ‘the opposite of usability is training’.

For new technologies in new and emerging markets, there may be an element of behaviour change as you’re offering people the opportunity to do something that they previously didn’t have the option to. Design can encourage behaviour change.

Change Takes Time

Design thinking, through really understanding the user can lead to a better way of informing and communicating with people about the product, which in turn can lead to behaviour change through good marketing as well as having the product available and very easy to use.

Behaviour change can help businesses think about how they could make their product or service have a seamless customer experience, with lots of opportunities to use it and appealing and relevant messaging in marketing campaigns as they know who their users are in lots of detail.

All the parts could be there to create and design a behaviour change, and nothing happens. But change can take time, through a number of stages of change readiness (UX Collective), we need to know how ready a user is.

  1. Precontemplation: Not wanting to change behaviour and people may not realise that there is a problematic behaviour or may not have the confidence to change. This could be around 6 months.
  2. Contemplation: People are aware that change is needed and want to take action to change and are mulling over the change. This could be between 6–12 months.
  3. Preparation: People want to change and will take action within a month and have taken steps to make a change.
  4. Action: People started to do the new behaviour but for less than six months.
  5. Maintenance: Doing the behaviour for more than six months.

This, like the COM-B and Behaviour Change Wheel have been used in health psychology to change health habits. By understanding user needs through design thinking and if they want to use an alternative because their current behaviours or tools aren’t working, there may be more of a willingness and readiness to change. If the behaviour is engrained and people don’t want to change it, it will be more difficult to encourage people to use a new or emerging technological solution if it doesn’t fit their needs at all.

As Efi Chatzopoulou write for UX Collective, this Transtheoretical Model of Change is based on two factors, both key for moving people through the stages of the model.

  1. Decisional balance: Weighing up the pros and cons of the new behaviour, the earliest stages of a new behaviour means that there is a tendency towards looking at the cons for change.
  2. Self-efficacy vs. temptation: This is how much confidence people have in doing the new behaviour and wanting to give up. In the earlier stages, sticking to a new behaviour can be low as giving into temptation is more likely going to happen.

For businesses developing a new and emerging technology that promotes new behaviour, these two key factors should be kept in mind when promoting and encouraging people to take up a new behaviour. When designing for behaviour change to encourage uptake of a new behaviour, as well as understanding the user’s motivations and problem, looking at their confidence and desire to do the new behaviour is also important.

The Snap Out Team ?