Behaviour Change in Service Design

Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.      – Plato

But it can also be influenced by other factors such as culture, attitudes, emotions, values, ethics, instinct and even reflex. Behaviour in general is considered as basic human nature/ human actions.

Ten years ago was little to no mention about behaviour change but now it’s a rapidly growing field and an active area of research but why is is that? We don’t always do what’s best for ourselves, thanks to cognitive biases and errors that make us deviate from rational self-interest. The premise of Nudge is that subtly offsetting or exploiting these biases can help people to make better choices (New Scientist | 22 June 2013 | Editorial page 3). Translated in simple English this means that behaviour change starts small with a subtle nudge that will push us towards convenient choices regardless of what we really want;  but if the nudging fails to be discrete and we are aware that our behaviour is influenced by something/ others we  tent to think that we are being manipulated.

The idea came to widespread public attention in 2008 when two social scientists at the University of Chicago wrote the book Nudge:  Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Thaler and legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein. The volume not only brought the discourse on Nudge theory to the wider public, but secured a significant following among contemporary US and UK political personalities as well as the private sector involved with public health and related fields.

Thaler and Sunstein: By a nudge we mean anything that influences our choices. A school cafeteria might try to nudge kids toward good diets by putting the healthiest foods at front. We think that it’s time for institutions, including government, to become much more user-friendly by enlisting the science of choice to make life easier for people and by gentling nudging them in directions that will make their lives better.
Behaviour is what a man does, not what he thinks, feels or believes.    – Emily Dickinson

New Scientist - 22 June 2013 My interest in human behaviour (mostly in behaviour change and environmental behaviour) is rooted in the passion for service design and the curiosity of how service design can be used to persuade or nudge individuals into shaping a sustainable behaviour towards public transport. Driven by this, I have recently read an article called NUDGE in the New Scientist magazine (22 June 2013 edition) recommended by my study Advisor Andy Milligan. Nudging is a less blunt instrument than regulation or tax. It should supplement rather than supplant these, and nudgers must be held accountable. But broadly speaking, anyone who believes in evidence-based policy should try to overcome their distaste and welcome governance based in behavioural insights and controlled trials, rather than carrot and stick wishful thinking. Perhaps we just need a nudge in the right direction(New Scientist | 22 June 2013 | Editorial page 3) The ”right direction” or the ”right thing” is a value judgement, but is usually defined as the option people would have chosen if they weren’t burdened by biases.


The most obvious example of a ”nudge” is Amsterdam’s urinal flies; in 1991 the airport in Amsterdam considered keeping the floor clean in the men’s toilet was an expensive job and they were looking to cut costs. As putting post signs didn’t work they come with another funnier idea: etch a picture of a fly into each urinal. How does this changed human behaviour? The cleaning bill of the airport dropped by 80% because they understood the human behaviour and how to change it : the fact that men tend to pee straight if they have something to aim at! All it takes is a little human psychology knowledge to understand that human behaviour is irrational and predictable. Often this method is created to exploit our biases for example Supermarkets are experts in that although they don’t call it nudging: they greet you with the smell of baking bread, place the most profitable brands at eye level and put chocolate next to the checkout with the intention that you cave up in to temptation and end up buying things you don’t need.

New Scientist - 22 June 2013

I’m convinced I have been nudged to do a certain thing which obviously was really subtle and successful because I wasn’t aware of it which is great. This sounds a lot like service design: you don’t see unless something goes wrong.

I draw from this example and build a service which will nudge people into using by being mostly motivated by environmental sustainability and money (this way of thinking is called behavioural economics and environmental behaviour). I believe a service that will show fairness by reduced fees, a loyalty card and environmental sustainability feedback will encourage people to change their behaviour towards  a sustainable transport solution such as the bus service and further on keep it for next generation to come. Another trigger of behaviour change can be the use of smart technology such as a multi-purpose card which will function in parallel with a phone and a website; I believe this solution will add flexibility, desirability and time savings to the service. The important element is that the nudge approach so very attractive that won’t involve bossing around.

Although the nudge revolution seems like a brilliant idea worth to be adopted by all governments, companies etc. it still faces an obstacle and that is public acceptability. Although nudges are intended to be helpful and preserve freedom, many people feel there is something sinister about interventions designed to change their behaviour without them necessarily realising it.  

”I think it is born a lack of understanding of how all our behaviour is being shaped the whole time by forces outside of our awareness.”    – Theresa Marteau

And so the question is not “do you want to be nudged?”, but ”who do you trust to do it?’ and ”which interventions are most effective at changing which behaviours?”.

This lively RSA Animate, adapted from Dan Pink’s talk at the RSA, illustrates the hidden truths behind what really motivates us at home and in the workplace.
Watch the full lecture here.


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