Innovation September 26, 2018

Learn to surprise

Thijs Van de Broek


Last Friday, the Behavioral Design Academy hosted its first Behavioral Design Fest in Amsterdam. In The Pocket joined this day of presentations and stories on how nudging, user-centricity and behavioral changes work in practice. Here are our key takeaways from Behavioral Design Fest 2018.

Foster curiosity

One of the main dissatisfiers in how people learn new things, is the way these new things are presented to them. To professor Abraham Maslow, the main driver in ones’ live is self-actualisation. But most new things or changes are presented in a pre-chewed, boring way. Think on how most lectures are given or how new app features are introduced. A better approach is to play on curiosity. Guide people the way but let them explore it themselves. How boring would it be if Easter Eggs are presented on a plate on your cupboard with a big arrow pointing to them. Gone is the experience if searching (and hiding) them.

Gamification is one way to play on people’s curiosity. The interaction between the game mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics triggers the player’s curiosity and improves their learning behavior. This plays in hardcore games like Call of Duty, learning games like Duolingo, but also adapts to how good teachers ‘teach’.

Fostering curiosity goes beyond gaming. It can also be applied to product design. Together with recruitment agency AGO, we reinvented how job-seekers discover and apply for jobs in the mobile age. Virtual recruitment agency MyAGO gives a clear overview of all open vacancies that match your preferences and experience. By (dis)liking vacancies the recommendation engine adapts to your needs and suggests better fitting job opportunities. Enabling one-click applying for these jobs and presenting applications in a clear overview limits the boring administrative part of job-seeking. Another interesting example are the Clap bots from Eindhoven's based These retail robots for small merchants help them running their business. One of the bots, Clap, waits for you at a fitting room and gives feedback about the outfit you’re trying.

The Civilis Imperfectus

The better a company thinks a system is designed, the more they are surprised by the shortcuts people take. In the example of the Elephant Paths, the city planner clearly understands the goal of the passerby’s, informs them about the expected passerby behavior, and makes sure by using the right materials and guidance that he is receptive to this behavior. Still people take the shortest route to reach their destination ignoring the path and grass.

Why do we make this mistake? Too often the rational thinking 'homo perfectus' is the main persona for the product. In reality most users don't behave like the 'homo perfectus', but have more in common with the reasonable thinking 'civilis imperfectus'. One of the speakers at Behavioral Design Fest was Professor Jan Blommaert, a Belgian sociolinguist and linguistic anthropologist who did research on the rationale behind 'alternative facts'. He describes being rational as a “facts only approach for strictly logical forms of argument, in which disciplined rules of hypothesis-building and evidence support are being employed in explaining issues or answering questions”. Unfortunately, a lot of decisions (and the resulting behavior) is not made by thinking rational but by acting reasonable.

But how does this reasonable thinking of the Civilis Imperfectus actually work? Multiple times a second, one has to make decisions. In this decision moment they quickly evaluate the goal, possible actions, feedback from executing one action, and perform an effort evaluation. It is in this effort evaluation that reasonable behavior wins from rational behavior. It’s the feedback loop that supports people in their reasonable reasoning that their action was ok. If I’m speeding but I don’t get caught and don’t have an accident why not continue speeding? If I’m told for years that it’s not allowed to drive on the emergency lane, why would I do it when it turns into a rush-hour lane (and it still looks exactly the same like an emergency lane)?

MDA: Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics

But how can we leverage or change this reasonable thinking? The gaming industry framework MDA gives a hint. The mechanics in a game are the rules and basic actions that are possible in a game. The dynamics are the interaction between the player input and the game mechanics. The aesthetics are the (emotional) responses evoked in the player.

Often in designing experience, the start point is in the mechanics and we look how it through the dynamics leads to a reaction (aesthetics). By applying the MDA model, one starts thinking about the expected aesthetics, uncovers dynamics to provoke this specific aesthetic, and designs the mechanics in line with these dynamics.

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