Behavioral design: How can UX design influence users?

Long gone are the days when design was only about colors and space. In modern software development, design deals with such a crucial part as usability and overall user experience. A good design can completely transform the way users interact with your app. Unfortunately, a poor design can ruin this interaction. To navigate these complexities, a special branch of design, called behavioral design, was developed.

What is behavioral design?

The idea of behavioral design stems from research by psychologists, economists, and even neuroscientists starting from the mid-20th century. Human behavior is affected by numerous factors, which can be grouped into external and internal. Affecting internal factors is a futile effort in most cases. The external factors are a different matter. By crafting an environment of the app or website, UX designers can direct users’ actions.

One of the simplest models to explain is called the CAR Model, an acronym for cue, action, and rewards. By creating specific cues in the environment, designers can tie them to specific actions. If these actions lead to rewards, the pattern keeps being repeated by users, thus forming a habit.

Another popular model to explain behavior is B=MAP or The Fogg Behavior Model. Developed by Dr. BJ Fogg from Stanford University, it explains that for any behavior (B) to happen, three conditions should be met. A person should have enough motivation (M) to perform an action, sufficient ability (A) to perform it, and a prompt (P) to trigger the whole process.

A smart designer can create and affect all three elements.

Motivations: for action to occur, a person should have a high enough level of motivation. While designers can barely affect internal motivations, it’s fairly easy to create external motivators in the form of rewards.

Ability: another critical factor that affects actions is a person’s ability to perform it. If your app has a confusing, hard-to-understand interface, your users won’t stick for long. Ability Is the easiest factor for designers to affect.

Prompts: any action begins with a prompt. The simplest example would be a regular notification, but it can also be more complex than that.

The 7 factors of User Experience (Morville’s Honeycomb)

Another great model to explain how people are affected by design is Morville’s Honeycomb. Peter Morville, a UX veteran who has worked with several Fortune 500 companies, created this model to cover the factors he believed had a major influence on user experience. It consists of seven factors arranged like a honeycomb.


The reason people would use your app or website is to fulfill a need of theirs or to solve a problem. If your solution can’t do that, if it’s not useful, people simply won’t have a reason to use it. This factor is huge, in fact , a whopping 35% of startups fail because they aren’t useful and don’t solve a problem that customers have.


If your solution can fulfill a need, what it should do next is to be easy to use. As mentioned before, the user’s ability to perform an action directly affects the chances of success. If your product is hard to use, some people will still use it, but you can lose them to an easier-to-use alternative.


You’ve created a product that’s both useful and usable? Good. What’s next? Well, your customers should have a desire to use it. To achieve this, your product should not only be functional but also aesthetically pleasing. This is done by a mix of design, brand identity, and overall image. Companies operating in a premium segment, such as Apple or Mercedes, excel at making their products desirable.


Findability refers to two vital aspects of the product’s design: 1) a product itself should be easy to find and 2) any information within it should be findable too. If your potential customers can’t find you, all your previous efforts will be in vain. Having a findable product means you have all the infrastructure in place. Your social media accounts are organized, your website works, and is optimized for relevant searches. Findability within the product is mostly reserved for informational and software solutions. It implies that all information is logically organized and easy to find and refer to.


One billion people, 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. Making products and services accessible to these people isn’t only a sound business idea, but it’s also a morally right thing to do. When designing the solution, you should strive to make it easy to use for people with visual impairments, hearing loss, mobility impairments, and learning impairments. Improving the accessibility of your product will almost certainly improve usability as well. Another important consideration is that nowadays, accessibility is legally required in many countries.


Credibility is a measure of trust the customers have in you and your product. Are you always delivering on your promises? Can they expect that you’ll be there if something goes wrong? Are they sure you won’t trick them with hidden fees, unclear labels, fake reviews, and vague terms of service?


Last but not least, the design of your solution should generate value and contribute to the bottom line of your business. Without it, all your previous efforts won’t matter as you’ll be out of business fast. The important measure here is what types of problems you solve for your users. If you have an inexpensive solution that can deal with a $1000 problem, you’re in a good place. But if you have a complex and expensive solution to a mundane problem, things won’t go well for you.

Dark patterns and ethical implications of behavioral design

The term “dark patterns” was coined in 2010 by a UX specialist Harry Brignull. It refers to deliberately misleading design elements meant to trick users into doing something they wouldn’t do otherwise. It’s not just a poor design. Dark patterns are carefully crafted (often by using principles of behavioral design) flows meant to mislead people.

Among the most common examples of dark patterns are bait and switch, when a user’s action has an unexpected outcome; disguised ads, when ads are disguised as common page elements (e.g. download buttons); and forced continuity, when after a free trial user’s credit card is charged with no reminders or notifications.

Behavioral design is a powerful tool in the arsenal of any business. If used ethically, it can make the company’s products much more profitable, provide an outstanding experience and enrich the lives of the end-users. However, when misapplied, it can be used for malicious acts, and even get your company in a trouble. Wield these powers responsibly and use them only to benefit your users. With time your efforts will be rewarded.