Behavioral Heuristics: You ‘Like’ Me! You Really ‘Like’ Me!

“So, yeah, I’m having trouble getting people to ‘like’ me.”

The room erupted in laughter as our colleague concluded his story.  HE was not the problem.  HE is a very likeable guy!  The like button on a Facebook page though? THAT was a different story. He needed a lot of people to mash the like button. And they weren’t. Why?!

Cartoon of a person holding up a like button sign.

WANTED: New Sources of Inspiration

I feel like the UX practice has hit a significant plateau in recent years. It’s a deeper discussion I don’t feel qualified to write about because I’m not a “noted authority”, but it has pushed me to look to other disciplines for inspiration. I’ve ended up in fields like anthropology, ethnography, sociology and psychology searching for methods that I can apply to my work.  I blame people like Stephen Anderson and his Mental Notes cards and even my own grandpa, George A. Kelly for inspiring me.

I’m adding Dan Lockton to my inspiration list.  His Design with Intent blog post If… describes a method for developing “behavioral heuristics” which can be used to design systems that influence people to behave a certain way.

In this case I wondered if the method could help us get more people to click the ‘like’ button on a Facebook page.

Recreating the Design with Intent Workshop

I tried recreating Dan’s Design with Intent workshop that he gave at Interaction 12 in Dublin. (I wasn’t there. I had to wing it.) There were a few differences between Dan’s workshop and mine.  I didn’t have 3 hours.  I had a 1 hour lunch break.  And we weren’t lucky enough to be in Dublin so there were no pints to drink.

But like Dan, I had 5 wonderful people from my organization who explored behavioral heuristics with me.  And if you haven’t read his post, you’re going to want to do that now or the rest of this won’t make sense.

Seriously, go read If… now.  I’ll wait.

Hey, thanks for coming back!

Remember Dan’s deconstruction of the Amazon recommendation engine?  That’s what I showed my colleagues during our lunch break.

Showing my colleagues the screenshot below I asked, “What things might have to be true about human behavior that would explain how this website influences them to buy more books?”

Amazon screenshot

It was pretty easy to come up with a list similar to the one in Dan’s post so we explored this behavior further:

People will do what they see other people doing.

A behavioral heuristic follows a straightforward pattern:

If [behavior] occurs, then [action].

(I may have oversimplified the pattern, but let’s roll with it.)

Thinking about the “people will do what they see other people doing,” behavior, can you see how you could turn the behavior into a heuristic?  It might look like this:

If other people do it, then I’ll do it too.

Look at the Amazon example.  See how the ‘Frequently Bought Together’ area shows perspective buyers what other people have already bought?  This design technique tries to address the behavioral heuristic, “If other people do it, then I’ll do it too.”  The design is trying to influence people to take action.  In this case, Amazon is trying to influence people to buy more books.

But if you think about that heuristic, it’s making a broad generalization.  You haven’t really explored your audiences’ motivations if you stop at this broad heuristic.  It’s worth digging deeper and asking, “Why? Why do people do what they see other people doing?”

The Five Whys Game

Dan suggests playing Five Whys with each behavior you come up with.  It’s an easy way to dig deeper and get more detailed heuristics.

If you have a 3- or 4-year-old in your life, you know how to play this game.  You play it every day.  (I think I learned the game from IDEO’s Method Cards.)

This transcript is from an actual Five Whys game I played with my child the other night:

“Why are those cars stopped, Mommy?”

“Because they have a red light.”

“Why do they got a red light?”

“Because we have to take turns sharing the road.”


“So we don’t have an accident.”

“And break our cars?”

“That’s right.”

Woohoo! Mommy wins this round!  We only got three Whys deep!

So why will people do what they see other people doing?

Back at the lunch table we thought about our own life experiences as we tried to answer this question.  It wasn’t too difficult to dig deeper and tease out more detailed heuristics.  Plus, we had Dan’s blog examples to see if we were on the right track!

So with this incredibly brief introduction to design heuristics, could we use the method to address our colleague’s challenge?  Could we come up with heuristics and corresponding design techniques that would influence more people to push the ‘like’ button on his Facebook page?

Sort of.

What I Learned:

  • We needed more time. No surprise there. We needed more time to work through the examples and get comfortable pairing the heuristics with design techniques and patterns.  For now, I don’t think I would call this method lightweight or rapid.  And don’t misunderstand, this is not a criticism.  It felt like I couldn’t do the method justice without being a little more methodical.  Remember though, I was winging this.  With practice this method might become more lightweight, or I might find ways to make it lighter just like I did with the FIDO method.
  • Reality bites.  We were able to come up with some behavioral heuristics, but when we had to connect those heuristics to design techniques in a very constrained environment (Facebook), we hit the wall.  And because we had a real issue to try and address it was easy to put the method aside and focus on giving our colleague ideas regardless of whether they addressed the heuristics we came up with.

What I Want to Try Next

I’m anxious to try this again under different conditions.

I want to try this with developers.  I have a gut feeling the “if…then…” format will be appealing and the method could serve as a bridge between two disciplines that are sometimes at odds with one another.

To get more comfortable with the method I’d like to try it with a project that is just getting started.  Or even a pretend project! I’d like to try coupling the method with field interviews and persona development.

So in true scientific form I’ll simply say that more research is needed…and I can’t wait to do it!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s