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Designing for Behavior Change

If you’ve tried changing something you to do to be healthier, you’ve probably used an application or device to assist you. What was once an obscure and fringe market is now mainstream. A whole range of tools and techniques are now available to help you change your behaviour. Being able to keep track of what you do and how things change over time is one of the best ways to develop the habits that you want to have.

Devices like Fitbit and applications like Lift make a big difference in my development and maintenance of different behaviours. It’s fascinating to get a glimpse into how to design to change behaviour. In Stephen Wendel’s comprehensive, research-based book, Designing for Behavior Change, he gives a solid overview of the most effective ways to make change happen. While it may be too detailed for someone who is casually interesting in the topic, I found it very interesting. If you are doing just about anything were someone needs to take action, it can provide great advice for creating interactions that result in achieving goals.

One of the refreshing parts of the book is in how there is an ethical component. Behaviour change can be seen as a way of manipulating people, but Wendel comes back to developer responsibility often. Those who create software need to be ethical in how they help people change. The book isn’t targeted at someone who is making the next Farmville, but someone who is working to make the world a better place.

The casual writing is interspersed with colourful diagrams reinforcing the ideas in the book. It’s a great place to start if you are working on a project where you need people to act. It is a productive way to find practical methods for honing the process that you’ll follow to get started. If you need to go deeper, it provides a comprehensive overview of the research in the field, so you can explore the ideas and research in greater depth. While I don’t have any immediate plans to develop something, I have a deeper understanding of how the tools that I love work now.

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