How to use the toolkit

Design with Intent toolkit: 101 patterns for influencing behaviour through design

There are lots of different ways you can use the Design with Intent toolkit. It was originally developed to help inspire brainstorming and idea generation, but people have also used it to analyse existing examples of design that influences behaviour, to look outside their own discipline, to explore and categorise design methods, as a reference that sits on the shelf, and even as a set of random provocations — in group workshops, and alone. On this page, I offer a few tips and suggestions.

Design with Intent cards and worksheets compared

Cards or worksheets?

The cards and worksheets enable slightly different activities. The worksheets are good for group work or where you want an overview of each lens, while the cards enable more detailed deliberations over each pattern — or looking at sets of a few patterns rather than all of them. They’re also great for rearranging and ordering. The landscape format means it’s easier for two people to look at a card together (earlier versions were portrait!).


Can you…? What would happen if…? How could you…?
Each pattern is phrased as a question — a provocation to invite discussion about the behaviour change question or brief you’re considering. You could go through all the cards and quickly ‘triage’ the patterns’ relevance to your brief based on whether the answer is ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘Good’, ‘Bad’, ‘not sure’, etc. The question format is based on the approach Nedra Kline Weinreich used with an earlier version of DwI, and ultimately on a style used by George Pólya [PDF] and in some of Edward de Bono’s work.
Going through lens by lens

Going through lens-by-lens

Lay out all the cards, grouped by lens (or each of the worksheets) and go through each lens seeing whether the questions inspire any concepts for addressing your problem. In groups (e.g. 4 or 8 people) it often works well for one or two people to take a lens or two lenses each and become ‘mini-experts’ for a few minutes before ‘reporting back’ to everyone else. A group discussion can then proceed to amalgamate and refine the ideas.

Annotating existing examples

Analyse existing examples and idea spaces

Try using the patterns to draw out some of the behaviour-influencing principles behind products, services or environments you‘re familiar with, and see if there are gaps or opportunities to explore further. For example (left), existing designs of kettle intended to influence more efficient use have been annotated with the relevant DwI patterns (an earlier version of the cards is shown). Printing the cards onto sticker paper can be useful here for ‘annotating’ real items.

Random pairings

Pick two patterns at random, perhaps from different lenses, and think about the possibilities of applying the ideas to your problem, both individually and together.

Models of the user

Works best with three or more people. Using the ‘Pinball’, ‘Shortcut’ and ‘Thoughtful’ categories (see below) each person should try to generate ideas sticking to one of the models, then explain (and defend) them to the rest of the group. (Pinball photo by Kate Sumbler on Flickr and Thoughtful photo (weighing scales) by Esther Dyson on Flickr, both used under Creative Commons licence.)

Target behaviours

Using the ‘Target behaviours’ (see below) as a starting point, try to frame your problem in terms of a target behaviour, and keeping this in mind, look at the patterns suggested as most applicable.

Weekly idea

101 cards means that every week for two years you could have a new card ‘on show’ as a talking point in the office to inspire creative thinking. (Thanks to Zoë Stanton of Uscreates for this idea!)

Your own way

If you’ve used the cards and found them useful (or not), or found your own way to use them, it would really be appreciated if you could have a go at a quick 5-minute survey—and leave a comment below if you like.

Design with Intent card outlines

How have people used the toolkit?

Results from DwI surveyResults from DwI survey
Some results from the first 100 respondents to the DwI survey, which asked people how they had made use of the toolkit. There is a mixture of forms of brainstorming and other uses, in commercial, personal and educational settings.

Some things I’ve learned from running idea generation workshops with the toolkit

  • For one facilitator, 40 participants divided into five groups is probably the largest size where it is possible for every group to receive sufficient attention.
  • Enabling each participant to become a mini-expert in some way can help where groups contain some participants who might otherwise feel their voice is not being listened to (e.g. where there are particularly dominant group members).
  • If time and numbers allow (e.g. where there is only a small number of participants), each person’s reporting back can be done to the whole room, thus again helping participants feel they are being listened to.
  • Cards or worksheets both work; worksheets are possibly more applicable where participants are less confident about their ‘design’ expertise, since they present a more clearly ‘finite’ set of patterns.
  • Again in cases where participants are less confident about their ‘design’ expertise, or have not considered behaviour change previously, allocating just one (different) lens per group, with all groups addressing the same brief, can reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed, and allow each group to come up with substantially different perspectives on the problem.
  • For small or quick workshops, limit the number of briefs to enable groups to explore them within the time available.
  • For very small or quick workshops, where participants will not be able to consider more than one or two patterns from each lens, cards are better than worksheets since a selection of cards (rather than the full 101) can be used.
  • Cards overall appear to be more ‘fun’ for participants to use, particularly where the workshop is being seen as something different to everyday work. Cards also provide affordances such as being able to pick (or combine) patterns at random more easily — again, enabling a more fun slant.
  • If using worksheets, make it clear that participants can annotate them, e.g. using Post-It notes.
  • Ideally, one person from each group should be confident at sketching or at least recording the group’s ideas.
  • It is possible to use a matrix or otherwise exhaustively to try applying every pattern (or a pre-chosen subset of them) to the brief, and this may work where participants want to generate as many concepts as possible (even if unrealistic), to show that a wide range of perspectives have been taken, or where participants are especially confident about their creativity.
  • At the end of the workshop, every group should present its (self-chosen) ‘best’ concept(s) to the whole room, if necessary explaining the brief first. This can be done purely verbally, via sketches, or even through the group members ‘acting out’ their concept, perhaps using simple props, and with some group members acting as part of the system. This last method can work well where the concepts are services, or include products which are already present in the room.
  • ‘Typical’ workshop timings have converged on:
    — a 20 minute introduction to design for behaviour change and the toolkit
    — 45 minutes in groups generating concepts
    — optionally, 15 minutes to put together scenes for acting out the concept(s) if this format is used
    — 10 to 20 minutes for groups to explain or act out their concepts to the whole room
    — 10 minutes for whole room discussion and reflection

Models of the user

The different approaches to influencing people’s behaviour outlined in the Design with Intent toolkit are pretty diverse. What’s become apparent to me in seeing how designers think when thinking about influencing behaviour through design is that these different strategies each embody particular models of, and assumptions about, human nature. Three main ways of thinking about users – models, if you like – that emerged from early workshops with the toolkit are the pinball, shortcut and thoughtful user, but of course there are lots of ways that these models could be articulated.

This paper based on a workshop I ran at UX London explores the ideas in more detail, and relates the models of the user to different kinds of feedback within a cybernetic context.

The ‘Pinball’ User

In Designing for Interaction, Dan Saffer notes “designers have to give up control (or, really, the myth of control) when designing a service process.” Nevertheless, many products, services and environments have aspects where a degree of control is desired, often for safety or security reasons. If a bank has a row of ATMs, it doesn’t want customers at adjacent machines to stand too close together, so it spaces them far enough apart for this not to happen: the actual affordances of the system are designed so that only certain behaviours occur. In 2009 Nepal‘s Tribhuvan Airport issued staff with trousers without pockets, to reduce bribery by making it harder to hide cash. This approach models users as ‘pinballs’, pretty much, very simple components of your system, to be shunted and pushed and pulled around by what you design, whether it’s physical, digital or service architecture. This view basically doesn’t assume that the user thinks at all, beyond basic reflex responses: there is no requirement for understanding. The interlock on a microwave door prevents using the oven with the door open, yet does not try to educate users as to why it is safer. It just silently structures behaviour: users follow the designers’ behaviour specification without necessarily being aware of it.

While architectures of control like deliberately uncomfortable benches or the Mosquito act against the Pinball User – effectively treating users like animals – this view need not always take such a negative approach – lots of safety systems don’t mind whether the user understands what’s going on or not: it’s in everyone’s interests to influence behaviour on the most basic level possible, without requiring thought. A hospital which fits medical gas bottles and hoses with errorproofed ‘indexed pin’ connectors — keyed to fit together only in the right combinations — is restricting nurses‘ behaviour, but making the job easier and providing a safer patient experience. So, the pinball approach is not always as user-unfriendly as it might initially seem, but does risk challenging people’s autonomy, and potentially reducing their engagement in the process.

This view can lead to poor user experience, when the priorities of the designer and users conflict. Disabling the fast-forward button on your DVD player, to force you to sit through trailers and copyright threats, provokes significant discontent. However, where interests align, better experience can result.

Some relevant patterns: Converging & diverging, Conveyor belts, Feature deletion, Hiding things, Positioning, Roadblock, Segmentation & spacing; Choice editing, Interlock, Matched affordances, Task lock-in/out; Bundling, Degrading performance, Forced dichotomy; Coercive atmospherics, Threat of injury, Threat to property, What you can do, What you have, What you know, What you’ve done, Where you are, Who or what you are

The ‘Shortcut’ User

Here, you think of users as being primarily interested in getting things done in the easiest way possible, with the least effort. So you assume that they’ll take shortcuts, or make decisions based on intuitive judgements (Is this like something I’ve used before? How does everyone else use this? I expect this does what it looks like it does), habits, and recognising simple patterns that influence how they behave.

The Shortcut User is assumed not to want to think too much about what’s going on behind the scenes, beyond getting things done. He or she’s not always thinking about the best way of doing things, but a way that seems to work. If systems are designed well to accommodate this, they can feel very easy to use, intuitively usable, and influence user behaviour through these kinds of shortcut mechanisms rather than anything deeper. But there’s clearly potential for manipulation, or leading users into behaviour they wouldn’t choose for themselves if they weren’t taking the shortcuts. While people are not fully predictable, there is enough psychological evidence that we are, at least, predictably ‘irrational’ (Dan Ariely’s term). There are recurring patterns of decision-making heuristics and biases, and designers with an understanding of these have a powerful tool for influencing behaviour. In an economic context, this is the premise behind Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s bestseller Nudge, but designers can apply many of the same insights, with the benefit of a wealth of user-centred research methods to test our assumptions.

People take shortcuts. We make decisions based on how choices are presented to us, and can’t devote the same mental effort to engage with every decision (we satisfice, to use Herbert Simon’s term). If something is the default, whether print quality or presumed consent for organ donation, most people probably stick with it. In fact, as Gerd Gigerenzer and colleagues point out, this may be, in many circumstances, evolutionarily adaptive. I have written a bit here about how some of these ideas can apply in design.

Individually these acts might not bear analytical scrutiny – and none of us acts like this all the time – but shortcut decisions do determine how many people behave when interacting with systems, whether products, services or environments. We can design choice architecture to help people navigate the options available in a mutually beneficial way: e.g., if your research shows that your customers make purchasing decisions based purely on price, it makes sense to present your choices in a way which makes it easy to determine which is cheapest. On the other hand, we can also use design to help users overcome biases which are preventing them getting the best result, e.g. re-framing food choices to make healthier options more appealing.

Of course, modelling users like this risks the designer becoming part of a ‘nanny state’, making moral decisions about ‘what’s best’ for users. To some extent this is inevitable: we just have to be more mindful about how the choices we make affect the lives of others, and, perhaps, bear “first, do no harm” in mind when planning to influence behaviour.

Some relevant patterns: Mazes, Simplicity; Defaults, Opt-outs, Portions; Partial completion, Tunnelling & wizards; Make it a meme, Rewards, Unpredictable reinforcement; Colour associations, Contrast, Implied sequences, Mood, Perceived affordances, Prominence, Proximity & grouping, Similarity; Decoys, Do as you’re told, Expert choice, Framing, Scarcity, Social proof; Anchoring, Serving suggestion, Style obsolescence, Worry resolution

The ‘Thoughtful’ User

This is the most optimistic view of ‘what users are like’: engaged, motivated, thoughtful people who will take every opportunity to learn more about the world around them and their impacts on it.

Thoughtful Users are assumed to think about what they are doing, and why, analytically: open to being persuaded through reasoned arguments about why some behaviours are better than others, maybe motivating them to change their attitudes about a subject as a precursor to changing their behaviour mindfully. If you think of your users as being Thoughtful, you will probably be presenting them with information and feedback which allows them to explore the implications of what they’re doing, and understand the world around them better.

Most of us probably like to model ourselves as Thoughtful Users, even though we know we don’t always fit the model. It’s probably the same with most people: so knowing when it’s appropriate to assume that users are being mindful of their behaviour, and when they’re not, will be important for the ’success’ of a design.

It may be that the best (and least naïve) way to look at this is to appreciate that designers working on behaviour change have the opportunity to move people from a less engaged (pinball or shortcut) mindset, towards a more reflective, motivated, thoughtful relationship with a product, service or environment (these ideas are explored in this paper written with Fergus Bisset). Many of the patterns which I’ve listed here as being relevant to the ‘thoughtful’ model are really about trying to get people involved or interested in their own effects on a system, rather than assuming that everyone already cares.

Some relevant patterns: Conditional warnings, Did you mean?, Are you sure?; Feedback through form, Kairos, Peer feedback, Real-time feedback, Simulation & feedforward, Summary feedback; Leave gaps to fill, Role-playing, Storytelling; Nakedness, Watermarking; Emotional engagement; Provoke empathy; I cut, you choose; Surveillance, Peerveillance, Sousveillance

Target behaviours

‘Target behaviours’ were a tentative attempt to introduce a more formal ‘prescription’ mode to the DwI toolkit: matching patterns to particular kinds of behaviour change. Inspired by the TRIZ problem-solving method, the target behaviours are ‘ideal’ intended outcomes: particular behaviours which a designer (or client) wants to achieve through design. They’re an abstract classification for behaviours, expressed as goals — the 11 example target behaviours in the table below have been identified by deconstructing real situations, but this is only scratching the surface of what could be done with a more wide-ranging analysis. There are clearly an infinity of ways that target behaviours could be abstracted, but some descriptions will be more useful (and common) than others.

This paper from 2010 uses a worked example around cash machines (ATM) to apply the target behaviour approach. In this paper from 2012, I discuss the inherent determinism implied by the notion of target behaviours being matched to particular design ‘solutions’.

I’m not convinced that this is a way forward for DwI, because quite apart from how reductive the concept is, in the workshop trials I ran, designers really didn’t seem to enjoy using this kind of prescription method, at least in comparison to using the cards for free-form inspiration (and they came up with fewer ideas). But even as a starting point for a different kind of target behaviour classification, it seems worth reproducing here. There’s also the likelihood that while ‘creative’ designers themselves may not enjoy using this sort of prescriptive method, it is still useful for other situations where ‘means-end relations'(to use Kaptein & Eckles‘ term) need to be evaluated – for example, at a different stage of the design process, or situations involving stakeholders who want to know, fundamentally, which techniques are more appropriate, in different circumstances.

BJ Fogg and his team at Stanford have a different take on target behaviours, based on schedules of occurrence, with the Behavior Wizard and Behavior Grid. The kinds of target behaviour they describe are sufficiently general to be more scaleable than those I’ve outlined here, with the wizard being a clever way of ‘tunnelling’ to the most applicable description of the behaviour. This is potentially a more promising way of thinking about target behaviours, although the ‘resolving contradictions‘ nature of TRIZ is also appealing. I can imagine someone trying to create a BehaviourTRIZ at some future point, just as BioTRIZ emerged from work on biomimetics. However, given the inherent variability in human nature, a whole orthogonal dimension of individual profiling would perhaps come into play, making for a very difficult matrix indeed…

The realistic alternative is probably something closer to the ‘traditional’ design pattern form, with a balance between being entirely prescriptive (“Use this when…”) and inspirational (“If you’re looking to influence people like this, here are some patterns which others have found useful”).

User–system interaction: influencing interactions between a user and the system
Target behaviour Example Some relevant patterns
S1 The user follows a process or path, doing things in a sequence chosen by the designer Customer places order via website without missing out any steps Mazes, Positioning, Interlock, Tunnelling & wizards, Implied sequences, Serving suggestion
S2 The user follows a process or path that’s optimised for those particular circumstances User only spends as much time as really needed in the shower Conditional warnings, Did you mean?, Are you sure?, Task lock-in/out, Tailoring, Possibility trees
S3 Decision among alternatives: a user’s choice is guided Diners choose healthier meal in office canteen Defaults, Opt-outs, Kairos, Simulation & feedforward, Colour associations, Prominence, Proximity & grouping, Similarity, Decoys, Do as you’re told, Expert choice, Framing, Scarcity, Anchoring, Forced dichotomy
S4 Only certain users/groups of users can use something Only users who know PIN can access bank account via ATM Coercive atmospherics, Who or what you are, What you know, What you have
S5 Only users already behaving in a certain way get to use something If a driver’s travelling below the speed limit, the next set of traffic lights turn green, otherwise they stay red Degrading performance, Threat of injury, Threat to property, What you can do, What you’ve done
S6 No users can use something in a particular way, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done before Park bench fitted with central armrest to prevent anyone lying down Feature deletion, Hiding things, Choice editing, Matched affordances, Coercive atmospherics
S7 Users only get functionality when environmental criteria are satisfied Office lighting cannot be switched on if ambient daylight adequate Interlock, Where you are
User–user interaction: influencing interaction between users and other users, mediated by the system
Target behaviour Example Some relevant patterns
U1 Multiple users are kept separate so they don’t affect each other while using a system Traffic follows one-way system into/out of car park Material properties, Converging & diverging
U2 Users (and groups of users) do interact with, and affect each other while using a system Staff from different departments mix socially in a building’s atrium Converging & diverging, Make it a meme, Provoke empathy, Reciprocation, Social proof, Peerveillance
U3 Users can’t block or dominate a system to the exclusion of others Wide pedestrian concourses prevent groups blocking passage for others Segmentation & spacing, Peer feedback
U4 Controlled rate of flow or passage of users Visitors to popular museum exhibit routed past it slowly on moving walkway Conveyor belts, Roadblock, Slow/no response