Shaping Human Behaviour with Design

The science behind how good design impacts your communications

The science behind how good design impacts your communications is often talked about tangibly as something that solves a problem. Rather more elusively, what it essentially does is initiate a change in behaviour. If you have a problem, what you really have is something that needs to be changed. Design is a response to the problem, and the change it initiates can be for better or worse in shaping human behaviour.

The influence of beauty

Aesthetics change the way we perceive, decide, and react. When we experience a sense of beauty, we assign the source to be something positive. For this reason, the usability of something is often judged more favourably if it looks good. This is our emotional processing system at work – the affect system, a crucial component in shaping human behaviour with design.

Complementing the user setting

Context determines how well we can tolerate poor design. Usability matters more in stressful user contexts. Have you ever found yourself stressed out, rushing and pushing on a door, instead of realising that it says ‘pull’? In these situations, the font type is likely to be unclear or badly positioned on the door, meaning it does not work well for the task in the context of somebody rushing, or anxious to get through. This is not an uncommon scenario and should have been considered in its design.

If as a user we are calm, and the design looks good (creating a positive effect), we are more likely to overlook its minor user design flaws, judging it to be good. Under negative effects and with a design that is not user-friendly, we will judge it to be intolerable, even if it looks good. This is our analytical processing system at work – the cognitive system.

Both of these information processing systems function similarly within different boundaries, helping us to interpret what we encounter in our environment and judge whether it means something positive, negative or neutral to us. Each system is influenced by the other, meaning a negative emotional interpretation leads us to judge something as bad, and judging something as bad leads to a negative emotional interpretation. In reverse, positive emotional interpretation leads us to judge something as good, and judging something as good leads to positive emotional interpretation.

Good looks and ease of use = GOOD DESIGN: The art of finding the balance

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works too.” Steve Jobs

The relationship between aesthetics and usability is intricate enough to justify calling the process of finding the balance an art. Professionals in this industry know that user testing and evaluating behaviour patterns, using existing principles and design knowledge, and having artistic ability are as crucial as each other in achieving that balance and maximising the appeal of the end product. The key to good design practice is not to prioritise research experiments, testing, or trends, but to be informed by it all, customising the process per the goals and the users, to achieve bespoke results for every project. That’s why looking to other campaigns or design portfolios for inspiration often doesn’t work.

Identifying the factors that drive the desired behaviour

Consider where you want to be and where you’re at, and what it is you need design to be able to allow. Following the process below will help to do this:

  • Understanding the barriers to why people aren’t engaging with the target behaviour
  • Spotting the opportunities to break the barriers
  • Coming up with design interventions to trigger the behaviours or create new habits
  • Being consistent to cause lasting behaviour change

“I would never try to reform man; that’s too difficult. Instead, I would try to modify the environment in such a way as to get man moving in the preferred direction. When we design for behaviour change, we may be more successful than if we rely on persuasion.”

Designer R. Buckminster Fuller

Interested in harnessing the power of design to drive behavioural change in your healthcare brand? Discover how our creative services blend artistry and user-centric insights to create impactful solutions. Visit our Creative Services Page to see how we can transform your challenges into opportunities for growth.

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