Apr 3

What Is Behavioral Design?


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“Don’t make me think.” You’ve undoubtedly heard this phrase before. It’s practically the basis for all things UX — specifically behavioral design.

Everyone has different thinking patterns and problem-solving skills, but we can spot some common behaviors across demographics and tailor products around them. This helps us include design elements or trim the fat in the product’s flow.

UX design is all about catering to a unique audience’s capabilities. But every human has instinctive actions that our brains trigger when presented with options. Behavioral design taps into those basic instincts to create digital products that are intuitive and practical in everyday situations.

So, what is behavioral design? And how does it influence users while they interact with your product? We’ll touch on all that, plus our favorite design elements that inspire action every time!

What Is Behavioral Design?

Behavioral design is a combination of user psychology and product strategy. When assembling the product, its designer seeks to understand why users do certain things and determine how to activate those behaviors throughout flows. 

We’ve touched on behavioral design briefly in our “Designing Addictive Apps” blog, but it’s based on Fogg’s Behavior Model (which was heavily influenced by Aristotle’s philosophy of pattern-seeking.

BJ Fogg, a psychologist, designed his model to motivate users through wants and (by extension) needs. In short, his methods revolved around “putting hot triggers in the paths of motivated people.”

To put it in a simple formula: Motivations + Abilities + Triggers = User Behavior

We can see several examples of behavioral design supporting user experience in real life, from power buttons to door handles (although someone might still “push” a “pull” door even with signs. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.)

Pretend you’re about to make yourself some delicious frozen taquitos for lunch. You take the bag out of the box and see an easy peel tab to open the bag and toss it in the air fryer. The peel tab saves you from ripping the bag open and making a mess or finding the nearest scissors. 

You are motivated by your need to eat and your craving for taquitos, you can open the plastic bag, and the easy peel tab (AKA the trigger) gets you to your goal quickly. All that’s left to do is cook them and pour the hot sauce!

The same idea applies to digital products. Users come to your product motivated by a goal, your navigation shows them everything they can accomplish, and it’s on the designer to define the right triggers that drive the behaviors.

Behavioral Design Examples

As you can see, behavioral design influences usability in real-life and digital products. With this approach, companies can dive deeper than the basic principles of UX by designing for user psychology (along with preferences).

Think about how satisfied or relieved you feel when you accomplish a goal. We can deliver that feeling instantly by building a product design around instinctive behaviors. It’s a shortcut to positive reinforcement, rewarding the user through quick actions.

With all this in mind, let’s look at some design patterns that give users that feeling of satisfaction in just a few clicks!

Safe Searching

Safety is a huge deal when it comes to digital experiences. Not just in the sense of security and privacy, but navigating the product as a whole. Users need reassurance that they won’t be led to actions without their command. They also don’t want to lose their progress if they make a mistake or navigate away for a moment.

The trick to safe searching is presenting multiple options in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the user. This gives the user more control over their input and editing. Back buttons (or an “undo” feature) are an easy way to fix mistakes, but you should also make sure they can find editing options and save their work for later.

Instant Gratification

We want everything and we want it now — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Digital products exploded in popularity because they helped us accomplish everyday tasks in a few simple steps. Nowadays, we’re conditioned to want instant gratification and the most popular products are built around it.

Think about ways to make users feel rewarded when they use your product. This can happen through interactions with other users (likes, comments, badges, etc.) or with simple gamification. Anything that releases that feeling of contentment when we finally finish our daily to-dos.

Image Source: TechJunkie

Social Proof

Have you ever bought something or used a product because of a good endorsement (from a friend, family member, celebrity, etc)? None of us are immune to influence and many users require some validation instead of taking marketing claims at face value. 

Actual, qualified social proof is essential to show new customers that your product has the seal of approval from its target audience. It gives the user extra reassurance that your product is the right fit for them by showing success stories from people with similar backgrounds and interests. So, give them that extra push to make a purchase or profile!


If it aint broke, don’t fix it. We accept certain practices and methods because they’re so deeply ingrained in us from the beginning (brushing our teeth back and forth, reading left to right, scrolling up and down, and so on). When presented with another way to do something, we sometimes reject it because of the habits we’ve built.

Focus your product interactions around standard digital product practices to ensure frictionless adoptions. Swipe left to right, CTAs in contrasting colors, underlined embedded links, and red error messages automatically clue the user into the purpose of the design element. As we said earlier, don’t make them think.

Down-Time Design

Users don’t have to sit down in front of their computers to experience everything your product offers. In fact, many digital products are designed for quick two-minute interactions. Scrolling through Instagram, swiping through a dating app, making a one-touch payment, ordering a rideshare, you name it.

These streamlined designs answer a need in a few seconds or less. This ensures maximum usability on the go. If the user can navigate the app while they’re resting, on the bus, waiting in line, or even walking down the street. Make any time their downtime!

Image Source: Protocol

The Ostrich Effect

In psychology, the ostrich effect is our tendency to ignore information with negative implications. Hence sticking our heads in a hole in the ground and not resurfacing until the bad news disappears. 

Users abandoning an app isn’t the worst thing for them, but it’s a major blow for the company behind it. Through push notifications, we can hopefully entice the user back with a gentle (keyword: GENTLE) reminder about their progress and tasks that still need to be completed.

Image Source: Normcore Tech


We get it, your content creator probably wrote some killer copy for your website. But as great as it may be, your users probably won’t read past the headline. It’s up to you to grab their attention quickly and hold it long enough to get them where they need to go.

User interfaces should always be attractive and scannable. Present each option obviously with headings, subheadings, CTAs, and bulleted lists to visually break up the possible actions. Your content hierarchy should also be structured to present the users’ primary goals the second they land on the page.

Image Source: YourChicGeek

Design For People, Not For Bots

While we all enjoy looking at an entertaining or visually appealing design, we tend to gravitate to digital products that are adaptable and easy to use. When you can balance graphic design with human-focused interactions, your product will inspire quick adoption and loyal, repeat usage.

It’s easier said than done — especially when considering the branding, UX best practices, and stakeholder and user feedback. However, these behavioral design elements will help you adjust your design to your audience’s mindset and instincts, creating a much smoother experience.

Want to know more about your audience's behaviors to simplify your product? We know a thing or two about that. Start your project with us today!

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