Should Interaction Design control/influence user behavior?

8 May 2009 - 12:42pm
5 years ago
12 replies
974 reads
Brad Ty Nunnally
2008

All,

Since behavior is the name of the game for us, how much influence do you
think we should have on it? Is it simply something we should re-enforce, or
are we allowed to take it a step farther and introduce new behaviors? This
has been a question that has been rolling around in my head ever since I was
introduced to Interaction Design and User Experience.

Some claim there is an ethical issue that arises any time someone tries to
influence another with or without their consent. Being a student of
philosophy I can see the gray line that separates the ethical issue, but I
rest that on the shoulders of the individual designers rather than the
community as a whole.

My most recent blog post was about this very issue, and I am very interested
to hear what your thoughts are.
http://bradsramblings.com/blog/2009/05/should-interaction-design-control-behavior/

Thanks!

Brad Ty Nunnally
Interaction Designer
-----------------------------
Blog: http://bradsramblings.com/blog
Twitter: http://twitter.com/bnunnally

Comments

8 May 2009 - 1:34pm
Scott Berkun
2008

It's a strange question you're asking, since the entire idea of making an
interface for something can not happen without influencing people's
behavior. Even a UNIX command line influences behavior. As does a keyboard
or a mouse. At a dead minimum, interaction design is defined by
influencing people to interact.

The only way not to influence behavior is to stop designing things and go
live in a cave. Although there are philosophers that would argue even that
act of isolation would also influence people's behavior, as the absence of
deliberately influencing people's behavior has effects on people that are
indistinguishable from influence. And of course the other creatures that
share the cave with you would be influenced by your interior design
choices. There is no escape! Round and round most philosophical arguments
go...

All designers make assumptions about what is in their user's interest and
what is not. The better they understand the differences between what they
as designers care about, and what their users care about, the less of an
issue all of this is. A redesign is all about changing people's behavior
deliberately, in the hopes that those changes are in the best interest of
the user.

Ethics enter only when the user feels betrayed, or likely would feel
betrayed or taken advantage of if they understood things as well as the
designer did. But this is an issue for many creative works. If I see the
preview for Star Trek, and see the film, and feel the preview mislead me
as to what would be in the film, I might wish to demand my money back. Can
you make a preview where this kind of misrepresentation is impossible?
Probably not. As preview makers have the goal of trying to get people to
see the film - we all know previews are advertising.

Now interaction design isn't literally advertising, but every icon, every
button, every link, is a kind of advertisement for whatever happens when a
user clicks on it. Interaction design can be thought of as influence
design.

-Scott

Scott Berkun
www.scottberkun.com

> All,
>
> Since behavior is the name of the game for us, how much influence do you
> think we should have on it? Is it simply something we should re-enforce,
> or
> are we allowed to take it a step farther and introduce new behaviors? This
> has been a question that has been rolling around in my head ever since I
> was
> introduced to Interaction Design and User Experience.
>

8 May 2009 - 1:47pm
Dave Malouf
2005

I think this is an issue of the tool is not the criminal.
"Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right" -- Ani DiFranco

But if as Marc Rettig, Robert Fabricant & John Thackara urged us in
Vancouver, we use our tools for things we feel deeply about then
GREAT.

But examples of our tools being used for other things are all around
us from loosing weight, to gambling, to making healthy eating
decisions, etc.

It is between, you, your G-d, and your local gov't (oh! and your
neighbor) whether what you do w/ your knowledge and skills is
"good" or "bad".

oh! and the Geneva Conventions!!!!

-- dave

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=41860

8 May 2009 - 2:18pm
Brad Ty Nunnally
2008

Some additional thoughts.

I don't see any issues when we design something that simply support existing
behavior, especially if that new design helps a person exhibit that behavior
in a more meaningful manor. It gets hazy when you need to design something
totally new and the behavior isn't present yet. Through implied interactions
and affordances it may be necessary to 'trick' someone into performing an
action.

Grocery stores come to mind when I think about this. Most US grocery stores
are laid out so that a customer has to follow a specific path in order to
get to the check out lane. This path is segmented and filled with various
products at different stages assuming that close proximity will get a person
put that item into their cart. The rack of candy at the check out lanes are
another great example, kids know that it is almost time to go home and at
this point their parents are committed to purchasing something. It is the
perfect storm to 'trick' the parents into buying candy for their kids
because it is assumed they don't want to deal with a crying child while
trying to settle their bill.

This sense of being 'used' bothers me on an emotional level, but rationally
it just makes sense. Even if the path a person has to take leads them to
believe that the decision was ultimately theirs, we know as the person
behind the screen that we lead them to that decision. We are the
proverbially Wizard's of Oz sometimes, and maybe that isn't such a bad thing
after all.

Brad Ty Nunnally

On Fri, May 8, 2009 at 6:47 AM, David Malouf <dave at ixda.org> wrote:

> I think this is an issue of the tool is not the criminal.
> "Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right" -- Ani DiFranco
>
> But if as Marc Rettig, Robert Fabricant & John Thackara urged us in
> Vancouver, we use our tools for things we feel deeply about then
> GREAT.
>
> But examples of our tools being used for other things are all around
> us from loosing weight, to gambling, to making healthy eating
> decisions, etc.
>
> It is between, you, your G-d, and your local gov't (oh! and your
> neighbor) whether what you do w/ your knowledge and skills is
> "good" or "bad".
>
> oh! and the Geneva Conventions!!!!
>
> -- dave
>
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=41860
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
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8 May 2009 - 2:48pm
matthewjdoty
2009

Excellent topic! Should the interface "control" behavior? I don't
think so. Should an interface "influence" behavior? Should we
introduce new interaction concepts? Standard consulting answer... it
depends.

What are the goals behind a given site, application, or interaction?
What expectations will the people using the technology bring to the
interaction? Are there things they need to look at first? Are there
things they need to avoid?

Designing an interface so certain desired behaviors are more likely
to occur and undesired behaviors are less likely is a fundamental
aspect of good interaction deign.

I think the real answer to this question rests in out motives for
influencing behavior. What are we trying to do?

Imagine, if you will, a continuum. On the one end, we engineer the
interface to helping folks achieve their objectives in an enjoyable
and satisfying way. On the other end, we cleverly organize the
interface so to manipulate our audience into doing something they
otherwise would not do (i.e. read through an endless list of FAQ's
instead of calling customer service)?

So at what point on the continuum do we make the transition form
useful interactions which balance user needs against other competing
factors into selling our souls? I think that's a judgment call we
have to make with each project.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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8 May 2009 - 3:09pm
Traci Lepore
2008

I have to agree with the comment that influencing behavior is what interaction design is really about. There is no way to design interaction without understanding and wanting to shape the outcome of the behavior associated with it. Creating a predictable and replicable outcome by understanding the behavior is what will achieve an interaction that is going to meet the needs of a mass audience.

In an article I wrote on UXmatters I even talked about this idea a bit. In it I mention Stanislavsky's Method for actor training.

"Its major premise is that truthfully portraying a character requires
actors to immerse themselves psychologically and physically in a
character’s circumstances—both inside and outside of rehearsal. In
essence, the actor must become the character.
After reading Moore’s book, I wondered whether this approach could translate into a practice of Method Design.
If we think about designing an entire user experience, this seems like
a completely plausible idea. Stanislavski believed the key to
performance as a creative outlet is to understand how a human being can
control, in performance, the most intangible and uncontrollable aspects
of human behavior, such as emotions and artistic inspiration. If your
goal is to end up with a truly engaging and user-centric design, why
couldn’t that be a key to design as a creative outlet as well?"http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2008/12/the-ux-designers-place-in-the-ensemble-directing-the-vision.php I truly believe that a user-centered interaction design will start with a deep understanding of the interaction and behavior and will be better for knowing how to manage and develop it.

8 May 2009 - 8:09pm
Kevin Cornwall
2009

UID markets their latest approach as designing for persuasion, emotion
and trust (PET). If you're successful at all three it's hard to go
wrong. If you miss the first two, you're going to fail the business.
If you miss the third, you're going to incur the wrath of the
customer - whether it's sooner or later - either way, again, you
fail the business by losing customer faith and therefore retention.

When I take on a project, business has to fulfill PET for me, too. If
they can't persuade me of the value, with passion, or if it's
downright snarky, I push back because it's not just bad design,
it's bad business.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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9 May 2009 - 12:40am
Andy Polaine
2008

One of the principles of interactivity that I'm just finished up in
my theses (which uses play theory as a powerful approach to
interaction design) is "Delivering the Promise". The first
principle is "The Invitation to Play.

Almost all jarring interactive experiences come from essentially
thinking you are playing in one environment and set of rules and
finding out that the developer/designer/company are actually using a
different set. This can be quite subtle sometimes, but sometimes it
is huge. It's like going to a party in fancy dress only to find out
everyone is in chic suits.

The reason I use play as the lens through which to approach
interaction design is because much of it is pre-verbal and thus
"feels" instinctual and intuitive. But play is also based on a set
of explicit and implicit rules that guide behaviour. It's impossible
to play without some rules and many of them are unspoken.

It's not possible to practice any design %u2013 and not really
possible to live in the world - without influencing behaviour. At
their essence, interactions are conversations and conversations are
always about trying to influence the other person. This can either be
trying to put an image in their mind so that you can explain what you
are thinking to them or it can be more insidious and be about you
trying to force them to do something against their will.

Interfaces can "control" behaviour by the nature of their
affordances and rules (think of those lines painted on the ground at
immigration to force people to keep a distance). Of course, someone
can usually just stop using the thing or break the rules, so
"influencing" is a better way to think about it.

Neither controlling nor influencing is ethically problematic in an of
itself. The Poka Yoke principle usually involves controlling behaviour
to prevent accidents or damage, which is the ethically correct thing
to do. It is always in the application.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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9 May 2009 - 6:32am
Amol Sood
2009

Isn't the ubiquitous login form with a user password a control element?

Aren't the iPod interface(scroll wheel), iPhone interface (touch- zoom-flick), Blackberry thumbwheel instances of interaction elements that have influenced behavior (the way we access information on these gadgets)?

In my opinion, as Interaction designers, we need to devise and employ control / influence mechanisms in the best interest of our users and the products we design. That's the only way to move forward.

9 May 2009 - 4:13pm
dirtandrust
2008

I believe we don't control interactions but instead facilitate them. More on my blog here:

http://thesalon.blogspot.com/2009/03/interaction-design-simplify-it.html

10 May 2009 - 9:30am
Jared M. Spool
2003

On May 8, 2009, at 1:42 PM, Brad Nunnally wrote:

> Some claim there is an ethical issue that arises any time someone
> tries to
> influence another with or without their consent. Being a student of
> philosophy I can see the gray line that separates the ethical issue,
> but I
> rest that on the shoulders of the individual designers rather than the
> community as a whole.

B. J. Fogg discusses this in great length in his awesome book,
Persuasive Technology: Using Computers To Change What We Think And Do.
Sorry for not giving an Amazon link -- I'm on a train with no wifi
(The Humanity!).

B. J. has really explored this in depth and really does a fabulous job
of exploring the ethical and technical perspectives.

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks Twitter: @jmspool
UIE Roadshow: Seattle, Denver, DC in June: http://is.gd/gxwe

8 May 2009 - 9:00pm
Lisa Trager
2009

The behavior of the targeted audience should influence UxD. That is
why it is so important to do due diligence by researching and
interviewing users in order to incorporate their "Mental Models"
(ref Indi Young). For me good design is about integrating the tasks
of the users with the messaging and CTA of the business.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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8 May 2009 - 2:13pm
Christopher Monnier
2009

I think it is the interaction designer's responsibility to ensure
that any influence on behavior is done so without misleading the user
to their detriment. I explored this idea in greater detail on my
blog* (see below), but I think it comes down to ensuring that the
cost to the user associated with a given behavior is proportional to
the amount of transparency given to the user in facilitating that
behavior. In other words, if the cost of following a particular
behavior is low, then the designer's burden of providing sufficient
transparency is also low. However, if the cost associated with a
particular behavior is high, it is incumbent on the designer to
ensure (via transparency and an unambiguous mental model) that the
user is making an informed choice to participate in that behavior.

* Blog post mentioned above:
http://everythingsdynamic.blogspot.com/2009/04/product-design-ethics.html

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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