Anna Iurchenko on Changing Users Health Behavior Through Design

Interview with Anna Iurchenko

In this interview I talked to Anna Iurchenko, UX Designer at Stanfy, about the psychological perspective that drives behavior change and how she is combining UX design and psychology to change users’ health behavior and influence habit-forming processes.

Your work on applying gamification and behavioral design principles in mobile apps is very inspiring. How do you approach the challenge of influencing people’s behavior?

One of the first questions I want to answer when I start working on the new project is, “What is the best way to solve the problem that we have identified?” And the best way to answer this question is to understand the people we are designing for, their needs and current behavior, and the context in which they will use the product.

Research helps to identify important motivational factors that may drive behavioral change.

Someone can be driven to do something either by external factors (extrinsic motivation), like the prospect of receiving a reward or by internal factors (intrinsic motivation), like the enjoyment derived from doing something.

For example, if an app encourages people to drink water regularly and offers a reward whenever a user drinks a glass of water, it creates an extrinsic motivation for the person to show that behavior. This approach works especially well for people who do not enjoy the activity.

Rewards are a powerful way to get people to change their behavior in the short-term and applying gamification methods and techniques has been proven to be effective for helping to drive behavioral change.

Don’t you think that the trend toward gamification often reduces a game to its simplest components, such as badges, levels, and leaderboards?

Games can be powerful experiences, leveraging both motivation and engagement. But to be successful, it must include game design, not just game components.

There are seven core ingredients of gamification that have clear linkages to proven behavior changing strategies. The persuasive architecture of gamification is the combination of ingredients and persuasive strategies that make a product fun and engaging.

  1. Goal setting — committing to achieve a goal.
  2. Capacity to overcome challenges — growth, learning and development (using levels).
  3. Providing feedback on performance — receiving constant feedback throughout the experience (allocating points).
  4. Reinforcements — gaining rewards and avoiding punishments (giving rewards, providing badges for achievements).
  5. Compare progress — monitoring progress with self and others (showing progress).
  6. Social connectivity — interacting with other people (showing the game leaders).
  7. Fun and playfulness — playing out an alternative reality (giving a story or theme).

Which game design elements impact the behavior?

The technology works when it employs specific behavior-change ingredients that encourage people to shift their beliefs, attitudes, and actions.

In order for gamification to be effective, gamified technology must outperform other design patterns and influence people’s beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors. Moreover, gamification must sustain these impacts over the long-term, and offer more than a short-term novelty effect.

For a specific behavior to occur, three elements have to be present at the same time: motivation, ability, and triggers.

A trigger can be a notification that reminds a user to drink a glass of water or a visual cue, like a bottle of water at the desk. Triggers work effectively only if the person’s levels of motivation and ability are sufficiently high. Simply reminding someone to drink water, even if they have access to it (i.e. have the ability), will not be effective if a person has no or very little motivation to do it.

Lots of companies now use various game elements to retain and entertain users, but when is it really suitable to apply gamification?

One of the biggest misconceptions about gamification is that any technology that employs game tactics will be more engaging.

The problem with this thinking is that it mistakes game tactics for deeper psychological strategies. Badges won’t motivate users if you do not consider the persuasive strategies and value of that badge for a person or a community.

There are several criteria to consider when evaluating whether or not gamification is suitable to a particular use case:

  1. Users profile (demography, cultural background, behavior etc)
  2. The users’ social context
  3. The final psychological and behavioral outcomes
  4. The compatibility of the interaction design, users, and community with gamification tactics

What would be your recommendation to designers who want to influence users’ behavior?

If we want to provide a solution for users that will change their behavior, we first have to understand where they are coming from and what motivates them to change their behavior. This goes beyond asking about simple demographics like age and gender.

  • Why do they want to change their behavior now and not tomorrow?
  • What have they tried before, and what has worked for them?
  • Where will your users most likely be when they use your product?
  • What tasks will they most commonly perform?

Only by gaining a deeper understanding of our users and how they will interact with our product are we able to create an interface that is usable and delivers value.

Start from diving deep into the problem space, conducting interviews with stakeholders and potential users, studying competitors. Identify when and where your users are likely to engage with your product. During your research, work with the users to find motivating triggers that may induce a behavior change.

Customer experience maps, personas, and user journeys are useful tools for capturing these insights, and they serve as a great reference throughout the UX and design process.

Main takeaway

  1. Identify your customers motivational factors through user studies — observations, interviews, co-design sessions. Use these insights to understand which game design elements will have the biggest impact on the behavior and then define the game flow and integrate it into the usage scenarios.
  2. The persuasive architecture of gamification is the combination of ingredients that make a product fun and engaging. Look at popular gamification mechanics and apply those that are relevant to your particular case.
  3. Do not forget that the users are the ultimate judges of the gamification mechanic that you’ve designed, so any ideas will require user testing and an iterative approach to determine if they can work or not.

Author: Mark Mill

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