Behaviour by Design

Product design that affects Behaviour

Think this can help your business?

The Sirens

The objective of this blog is to discuss how conscious design can be used to affect behaviour so let me introduce to one of our enemies, the sirens.

Classical Mythology. Sea nymphs, part woman and part bird, who lure mariners to destruction by their seductive singing.

In behaviour design a siren is a temptation that appeals to our primitive self even when we recognise them as perjudicial to ourselves. Smoking, glutonery, cheating those are some sirens we all can recognise.
Sirens are one of the most obvious behaviour problems we as users can relate to. They present a simple behaviour problem, the choices we make when we sit down and think about a problem are not the ones we end up doing on everyday life. Our rational, cold thinking self cannot keep our irrational part in line and we end up taking some actions we bowed not to do.

This phenomena can be explained by the brain dual system theory that states that we have two functioning systems in our brain, a rational conscious self that is in charge of planning and logical system and an automatic system that seeks to satisfy the immediate needs. Conscient system is expensive to use, so our body only uses it when it’s strictly necessary. The same idea can be found behind Freud's model of id, ego and superego.

Ulysses pact

In classical Mythology there is a tale that teach us how to deal with sirens. When returning from the Trojan war, as told by Homer in the Odyssey, Ulysses escaped the siren lure using a behavioral strategy. When approaching the islands where sirens dwell, aware of the danger they propose to the ship and their crewmates, Ulysses devised a plan. He instructs his men to tie him to the mast, telling them to ignore whatever he may say while under the sway of the Siren's song. He stuffs their ears with beeswax to prevent their listening, and then is tied down tightly to the mast. When the sirens sing they irresistable song Ulysses fights to follow them to a certain death but is unable to do so thanks to the actions he took earlier.

Using his rational thinking Ulysses restrain himself knowing that a irrational version of himself won’t be able to fight the temptation of the sirens. This same strategy has been used to design products that allow you to do pacts with yourself and help you keep them. One of my favourites most literal takes on this strategy is Ksafe, a box that only opens when you achieved what you proposed.

Siren amulet

Another ancient strategy to deal with this problem is using an amulet to help you drive the sirens away. An amulet is magical a small piece of jewelry that protects the wearer against certain evil, danger, or disease. Unfortunately magic is not a force that can be relied on but you can use an object to make your rational system pop out of sleep and help you remind your rational decision.

It does not to be tangible, for me when I stopped smoking because my wife was pregnant, was the thought of becoming a dad. To choose your amulet you should be aware how to effectively wake your rational side. Your rational side is awaked by the unexpected or powerful stimuli so choosing something you really dislike, or specially bright could work better. I haven't seen any design following this strategy so I have worked on a design for a physical product that uses this concept as base, if you are interested let me know

Peer support

There are times when an amulet is not enough and there is no possible way to restrain yourself ahead of time, in those cases we use the help of other people to help us be better. Jane McGonigal’s SuperBetter has a strong component of peer support. In Superbetter you recruit allies (friends, family and community) that help you keep on track while working towards improving your quality of life.

If you really want to be controlled by your peers offer them a rewards for catching you not keeping your promise. Let’s say I want to run every tuesday, I can tell my friend that if I don't show up to run with him I must pay him 10 bucks, next time I want to skip a day I will have more motivations to show up, and a penalty of money and pride if I fail to do so.