March 11, 2013 Back to All Blogs

Designing for Health Behavior Change

Designing for Behavior Change in Health” published in UX Booth – a blog devoted to creating web design that works for users – is one of our favorite recent reads.change20next20exit

“UX” — user experience — is a growing trend in technology, which recognizes that just launching a website or creating apps with the right information is not enough. Ultimately we need our users to act on the information and accomplish something.

The article draws on the research of BJ Fogg and Icek Ajzen, who pinpoint the triggers that make doing the different or hard thing easier and the distance from good intentions to behavior change and new healthy habits.

The explosion in fitness apps is evidence that the way an app is designed and used really can change behavior and improve health. I’m proof of that. Many predict that it won’t be long before doctors are prescribing mobile health apps and devices.

According to Fogg, persuasive technology uses seven strategies to influence behavior:

  1. Reduction – simplifies a task that the user is trying to do.
  2. Tunneling – guides the user through a sequence of activities, step by step.
  3. Tailoring – provides custom information and feedback to the user based on their actions.
  4. Suggestion – gives suggestions to the user at the right moment and in the right context.
  5. Self-monitoring – enables the user to track his own behavior to change his behavior to achieve a predetermined outcome.
  6. Surveillance – observes the user overtly in order to increase a target behavior.
  7. Conditioning – relies on providing reinforcement (or punishments) to the user in order to increase a target behavior.

Inventing wellness programs that work was the topic of a recent TEDMED “great challenges” webinar, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The discussion hit squarely on several of Fogg’s seven strategies and how to scale them to engage exponentially more people.

Making the healthy choice, the easy choice for entire communities of people is a huge challenge. But we can gain more traction by continuously testing and tweaking the technology design (and even the placement of the workplace refrigerator and walkways) to learn what’s working.

Designers may spend months crafting a brilliant plan and developing a beautiful interface, but the true test of effectiveness is whether the user accomplishes his or her health goals.

As we build each website or app for clients, every step along the way is an opportunity to get feedback from the client’s target audience that shapes the most effective architecture and navigation tools. Rather than launch a “completed” product or program, continuously test assumptions and use feedback to better understand your audience and the BJ Fogg triggers that lead to healthy habits.

* Also check out:
What do we know about health care public reporting? Not enough.
Health care data’s tipping point
Five trends that show the digital health revolution’s potential to improve quality and cost
Red carpet premieres and animated reviews for health care public reporting

Mark Tobias (@PanthTech) is president of Pantheon, which combines technology expertise and a deep knowledge of health care, education, and social impact markets to provide online technology solutions for nonprofits, associations, and government.