About The Research

Below is a  list of resources on the use of psychology in product design & development, especially on product-mediated behavior change.  Please add your own  — just send me an email or  add a comment below!

There are two main sections, so far: applied work, and the underlying research.

Psychology applied to Product Design

How products can change behavior

BJ Fogg’s Persuasive Technology & Behavioral Model

BJ Fogg is the father of modern product-mediated behavior change. He founded the field of Persuasive Technology  – the use of computers to persuade – in the 1990s. More recently, he’s developed a model of what’s required for intentional behavior to occur (the Fogg Behavior Model) and a method for building habits (Tiny Habits).  There’s a lot more out there, but his work is a good place to start.

His writings, sites:

  • Fogg Behavior Model: Motivation, Ability, and a Trigger are needed for intentional behaviors.
  • Behavior Grid:  a typology of 15 types of behaviors (with guides on how they can be changed), based on the frequency of the behavior, and whether it is to be started, stopped, increased or decreased.
  • Fogg’s personal website with links to his “Bootcamp”, or intensive training sessions.
  • Fogg’s Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford, where Fogg is a half-time professor.  The site has links to numerous videos and articles.
  • Fogg’s 2002 book on Persuasive Tech.

Other writings about  Fogg’s work:

Stephen Anderson’s Seductive Interaction Design

seductiveInteractionStephen’s book, Seductive Interaction Design, provides thoughtful, powerful examples of how psychology can be used to affect behavior via product design. He groups these applications into a set of themes, which provides a useful structure to the otherwise overwhelming research literature.

Dan Lockton’s Design with Intent

Dan has developed a toolkit for “designing with intent”, described in his PhD thesis. The toolkit is a set of 101 cards showing “patterns” for influencing behavior through design. They are organized under a set of eight “lenses” for thinking about, and designing for, intentional behavior change.

Susan Weinschenk’s Neuro-Web Design and 100 Things

Susan  has two interesting books in this space, one on web design specifically, and one on the cognitive mechanisms and ways in which the mind works that affect web behavior. The latter book provides a valuable considerable list  mechanisms, but doesn’t help to structure that list or give a method to select and target behavioral goals.


There are a handful of blogs on how psychology can be used in product design to help change behavior.  Please send me an email or add a note below if you know of any more:

Design Trickery

Dark Patterns

There’s only one site I know of that identifies the nasty tricks not-so-ethical designers sometimes use (and shames them for it):

A new book also covers “evil” design patterns and how they work:

Underlying Research

In recent years, there has been an explosion of research in Behavioral Economics and a rediscovery of solid work in the psychology of Judgment and Decision-Making. Much of it  can be applied to product design & development, after some translation and experimentation. The links below are for books and sites intended for a general audience, not the academic journal articles.

Explicit Behavior-Change Approaches in Behavioral Economicsnudge

Most of the behavior econ research is on how the mind works (and makes financial decisions, in particular), but here are a few works that explicitly look at  behavior-change:

  • Thaler and Sunstein’s Nudge.  This is the best popular press behavioral econ book out there.  It introduces the concept of “Choice Architecture”, or how our decision making environment affects our choices. Check it out. Also see The Nudge Blog
  • Benartzi’s Save More Tomorrow.  This describes one of the most effective financial interventions out there – having people commit to use their future income increases for savings. (The most effective and problematic one is probably 401(k) auto-enrollment.  But that uses a very different type of behavior change — ensuring the user doesn’t have to do anything.)
  • Karlan et al.’s paper “Getting to the Top of Mind“, on the incredible power of simply reminding people to do what they said they want to do (note: this is an academic article).
  • Kim Ly et al.’s “Practitioners Guide to Nudging” is a new e-book on how to use behavioral econ for behavior change.

General Behavior Economics / Judgment and Decision Making Books 

  • Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.  I love this book. I don’t love very many books, I must admit. I got a copy for everyone on my team. This is a wonderfully detailed and thoughtful analysis of how the mind works, from Dual Process Theory to how various cognitive mechanisms and heuristics affect behavior. It’s a long one, though.
  • Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational. A fun read, and good introduction to behavior econ experiments.
  • Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. An easy read, which is less thoroughly grounded in the research but still a useful summary of Dual Process Theory and mental heuristics.
  • A good list of resources on behavioral economics can be found at CFED.

Research on Habit Formation

Habit formation has many names, and was studied in much of the old behaviorist literature on conditioning. Most of the modern work I’ve seen is explicitly on addiction. But, three works are bringing the study of habits into broader areas of application, including how to help people change their (non-addictive) habits:


  • Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. An overview of how (many) habits form, how they can be changed, and how something very similar to habits function within organizations and companies.  The anecdotes reach a bit too far, but he cites much of the research out there.
  • Jeremy Dean’s Making Habits, Breaking Habits.  He reviews the research on habit formation and change, and stays closer to the research than Duhigg’s work.   A solid, informative book. Also check out his very popular blog on psychology.
  • Nir Eyal’s Hooked.  Nir is currently working on this book, which will hopefully be out soon!  Hooked focuses on a) habits and “the desire engine” as a core driver of behavior change, and on b) building a business model that uses it responsibly.

For the underlying research, see Neale Martin’s great resource list on habits.

How to Apply to Behavior Change Ideas To One’s Own Life

In Switch, Chip and Dan Heath apply the psych literature (esp. Dual Process Theory) to changing one’s own behavior. It uses the metaphor of the Rider (conscious rational mind) and the Elephant (intuitive reactive mind) throughout, to explain what we need to do in our daily lives to align the rider & elephant and “switch” our behavior. Check it out.

Behavior-Change Approaches from Marketing and Sales

Research in this space is way too close to manipulation and involuntary behavior change for my taste. But we can learn from it, and apply the research in other areas.

  • Influence. Cialdini’s classic on the ways to influence people (especially in Sales). Despite his showmanship, Cialdini did some truly solid and important research.
  • Yes! Noah Goldstein, a protege of Cialdini, published a book with a longer list of influence tactics.
  • Marketing Sciences Institute’s Consumer Insights 42 tricks that marketers use to influence buying decisions.
  • Neale Martin’s Habit: The 95% of Behavior That Marketers Ignore.

These two don’t give “how-to” instructions like the previous books, but they are useful summaries of the tricks and research used in sales and marketing:


Here are some blogs on behavioral science, often with  humorous applications in daily life:

Toolkits and Reference Cards

There are a few practical toolkits / quick reference materials to draw from

  • Dan Lockton’s Design with Intent http://www.danlockton.com/dwi/Main_Page
  • Stephen Anderson’s Mental Notes http://getmentalnotes.com/
  • Irrational Labs http://irrationallabs.org/the-workbooks/
  • Brains Behavior and Design http://www.brainsbehavioranddesign.com/
  • Artefact’s Behavior Change Strategy Cards http://www.artefactgroup.com/content/tool/behavior-change-strategy-cards/
  • Nir Eyal’s Hooked Model Workbook http://nirandfar.com/download/hooked-workbook.pdf
  • My (Steve Wendel)’s Action Design toolkit http://actiondesign.hellowallet.com/documents/2014/03/toolkit-designing-behavior-change.pdf


A Lot of Books

Here’s a Shelfari list of relevant books, in case it helps you find some of these titles:


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