Designing for behaviour change: Tip 3 - Design interventions that facilitate, not communicate - RSA

Designing for Behaviour Change: Tip 3


  • Creative economy
  • Design
  • Higher education
  • Behaviour change

Tori Flower is Creative Director of Shift (formerly We Are What We Do), a behaviour change organisation that designs products for social change. She also set the RSA Student Design Awards 'Everyday Well-being' brief in 2013-14 and 'The Daily Diet' brief this year. In a series of seven short blogs aimed at student designers released each day this week, she shares her insights into how to approach designing for behaviour change.


TIP 3: Design interventions that facilitate, not communicate


In my previous blogs, I discussed how to:

Identify the Outcome, Action and Actor

Identify Barriers and Motivations

In this blog I am going to talk about designing interventions that facilitate, not communicate the Action.


Traditional approaches to Behaviour Change

Traditionally, behaviour change interventions have taken the form of posters, TV adverts and other forms of information put out to the public sphere. The Ministry of Information (later called the Central Office of Information - COI) did a lot of this work. Here are some old posters, which I love:

I remember from my childhood TV adverts discouraging drink driving, encouraging wearing seatbelts and warning of the dangers of AIDS.

The tactics of campaigns like these are to raise awareness of a problem and describe what people can do to help, with the expectation that, equipped with this information, people will change their behaviour.

Flaws in this approach

Work by psychologists and behavioural economists, particularly over the last fifteen years, has given a lot of new insights into how we actually make decisions, and the flaws in this approach to behaviour change.

Raising awareness and giving people the logical argument why they should do something doesn’t always lead to behaviour change - I’m sure we can all think of something that we know we should do and yet don’t always do.

Organisations report this drop off between awareness and behaviour change:

The NHS, for example, say 85% of people know that you should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but only 47% reported eating five or more portions of fruit and vegetables on the day before the survey.

80% know about climate change and want to reduce their CO2 emissions, but 60% of people report doing something about it and even less probably actually do anything.

Other factors - like what our peers are doing, what the environment around us enables us to do, what the default option is, what will give us immediate satisfaction - play an enormous role affecting our behaviours.

This is why simply raising awareness of the Action you want your Actor to carry out isn’t always the most effective method.

The difference between communicating and facilitating

Think about the difference in these approaches:

A poster campaign encouraging people to cycle, versus the introduction of a cycle hire scheme that overcame many of the barriers people had to cycling in the city (buying a bike, worrying about fixing flat tyres, having somewhere to store it etc).

A poster and TV campaign telling you to eat healthily versus the prominent provision of fruit in local stores, both part of the Change 4 Life campaign.

A poster urging people to save water, versus a product for hand-washing clothes aimed at the developing world that produces less suds so requires less water to rinse it away.


A comms campaign encouraging people to reuse, reduce and recycle, versus the online business Ebay, which brokers relationships between buyers and sellers of second hand goods, encouraging and facilitating the reuse of products. (Note that Ebay does also facilitate the selling of new goods, so isn’t a perfect behaviour change tool).

Communicating vs Facilitating

This isn’t to say communications campaigns aren’t good solutions. They can be highly powerful. But when designing for behaviour change think of them as just one weapon in your arsenal, and consider how you can not only  inspire, inform and encourage people to change their behaviour (via communications campaigns), but also facilitate behaviour change, making it easier for the Actor to do the Action. Often a product or service is an interesting solution.

See more

Check out our CEO Nick Stanhope’s blog on why Shift has moved from communications to product design.

Also worth a read is his paper entitled The Incidental Effect which explores the difference between overt communications campaigns and products and services which have incentives for the user to use them and “incidentally” also tackle social problems.

In my next blog

My next blog will explore other behavioural insights you can build into your designs.


>> Find out more about the RSA Student Design Awards

>> Find out more about Shift

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