Change Agency and Transformologies Part I

Understanding the power of design to facilitate positive change in the end-user. By Eric Bailey, Principal Designer, frog San Francisco

I believe that people carry with them hidden notions of the self and what they can and should be – concepts that are packed deeply into the background of their behavior. Even while performing the most mundane tasks, there is some element that is motivated by a vision of what they might accomplish and who they might someday become. Psychologist Abraham Maslow placed this natural inclination towards self-actualization at the apex of his hierarchy of human needs. But for many people, these possibilities remain mere concepts, their realization thwarted by habit and deliberation.

At the most basic level, the role of the designer is to create products and services that address human needs. But as our field advances, we must find new ways to extend this calling further, beyond basic needs for survival or even higher-level needs for aesthetics and belonging to this critical desire for self-improvement. Can personal development be better shaped by the technologies we, as designers, create? What if products and environments were designed to acknowledge individual aspirations and facilitate the realization of users’ potential? Could our products not only change users’ behavior, but actually foster within them the qualities that they seek?

Virtuality offers an interesting testing ground for these notions. Millions of people have turned to online environments, such as Second Life, World of Warcraft, and Spore, in order to experience life as an alternate self; in many cases, an avatar can represent the ideal self whose actualization has proven challenging in the real world. These worlds provide a safe space for rehearsing ideal behavior and achieving preferable outcomes.

Although the virtual world holds value in depicting human aspiration, I believe that technology can play a more generative role in defining and fulfilling human potential in the real world. It can support our physical and cognitive development, helping us grow stronger, wiser. As the stewards of technology, designers must begin to see even the most basic design problem as an opportunity for facilitating human transformation.

Persuasion and Designing Experiences

As a designer of digitally integrated experiences, I’m intrigued by this “change agency” perspective, which transcends typical design issues of efficient use and enjoyment to provide a more aspirational view of products’ potential influence on people.

Personal transformation occurs through an alteration of thought and behavior. But facilitating change that endures beyond the moment of direct user-product interaction requires some knowledge of human motivation – in order to effect ongoing change in a user’s actions, we must also shape her values and beliefs. The rational model of persuasion can be a useful framework for understanding how design might assert its influence in the fulfillment of users’ aspirations.

(What I understand as fact. What I know.) + Values/Motives
(What I judge as good/bad. What I want. My self interest.) = Attitudes
(What I like and dislike.) —> Behavior
(What I do. How I do it. What I say. How I say it.)

Can we shift these attitudes, and thus behaviors? How do we, as designers, make this happen? Experiences and perception play a pivotal role in the success of this equation. While someone may believe that a particular action is beneficial, and value that behavior, if the experience itself is unpleasant, it may never be adopted. Designers shape experience. We control how objects and ideas occur to an individual. In doing so, we have an opportunity to define experiences that engender specific attitudes, and ultimately change the individual.

Designers can look to theories in education and communications for tactics in exerting influence.

These can be useful to us in guiding users toward certain behaviors, but must also be supplemented with an understanding of the unique stated and latent aspirations of our audience.


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