What do wearable health and fitness technologies, e-learning solutions, and financial planning sites all have in common? They all aim to motivate users to take action, stick with a program, ultimately change their behavior for the better.

In fact, most modern software systems attempt to motivate you in some way, if for nothing more than motivating you to use their app regularly, like Facebook or Foursquare, as part of your daily lifestyle.

But whether the goal is to lose weight, learn Spanish, save for retirement, or just get users to “check in” daily – long-term motivation is hard. It can take a lot more than a wearable band that nags you to get your heart rate up throughout the day!

B. J. Fogg, renowned User Experience Design thought leader and director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, has a model for behavioral change that is quickly becoming the standard for software products that aim to motivate users. Fogg advocates that technology alone cannot “magically change behavior.” Companies developing software which aim to elicit a response from users must understand how human behavior works.

According to Fogg’s Behavior Model (FBM) there are three components that simultaneously affect behavior: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger.

Motivation is degree of is the willingness to do a behavior. For example, motivations may include pleasure, pain, hope, fear, social acceptance, and social rejection.

Ability is the capability to perform the behavior. Ability, however, can be impacted by training in addition to the degree to which the behavior is perceived as being easy to perform.

Trigger is the call to action. Some triggers are natural and some need to be sparked depending on the level of ability or motivation the person has with the target behavior in mind.

According to Fogg, the best way to facilitate behavioral change is to “put hot triggers in the path of motivated people.” To assist in the design of technologies which look to affecting behavioral changes, Fogg developed the following systematic three step process:

Step 1Be Specific – Identify and establish the specific target outcomes and goals

Step 2Make it Easy: Simplicity changes behavior. How can the behavior be set up so that it is easy to accomplish?

Step 3Trigger behavior: No behavior happens without a trigger. What will prompt the desired behavior?

For example, if someone ignores their goal (motivation) of taking their blood pressure reading every morning (given their ability – i.e. they have a blood pressure machine at home) a mobile application might to remind them to do so (trigger).

According to Fogg, persuasive technology uses seven strategies to influence behavior: reduction, tunneling, tailoring, suggestion, self-monitoring, surveillance, and conditioning.

  1. Reduction – Simplification of the task the user is trying to do.
  2. Tunneling – A step by step sequence of activities that guides the user through the behavior.
  3. Tailoring – Provision of feedback to the user based on their actions.
  4. Suggestion – Provision of suggestions to the user at the right moment and in the right context.
  5. Self-monitoring – enables the user to track his own behavior to change his behavior to achieve a predetermined outcome.
  6. Surveillance – observes the user overtly in order to increase a target behavior.
  7. Conditioning – relies on providing reinforcement (or punishments) to the user in order to increase a target behavior.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. But it forms the basis for software products that actually can motivate users, if designed to these tenets.

Dexter Zhuang from Dartmouth wrote an excellent article Designing for Behavioral Change in Health, illustrating how he would apply Fogg’s principles to design an iPhone app for fitness and health improvement.

Designing a software solution for motivation can be a software designer’s. How fun to come up with creative ideas and throw them at the wall, seeing what sticks!

But there is a more reliable way of course. Creativity is half the battle, but ensuring you have the right education, experience, and the right disciplines working together is the other half.Team up a product manager, a user experience researcher, and an interaction designer; all of whom have education and experience in user research techniques like diary research and experience maps, as well as established motivational design patterns that effectively persuade and influence users, following a model like Fogg’s.

To talk to someone who is experienced in all of the above, contact me or my software creation agency Macadamian. Or read more about it yourself, if you are feelingmotivated!(sorry I couldn’t resist)

Motivational Design Patterns (Lewis, 2014, University of California Santa Cruz)

Creating Persuasive Technologies: An Eight-Step Design Process (Fogg, Stanford University)

How Journey Mapping Transforms Customer Experience

Designing for Usability vs. Motivation

Motivational Design: Changing Behavior to Achieve Business Goals

Getting People To Do Stuff – 7 Motivational Drivers Related to UX


Didier Thizy is a VP at Macadamian, a premier software creation agency, leading P&L, marketing and business development for their Healthcare IT practice. For better or worse he is an extremely hands-on software executive equally versed in business and technology. When Didier is not on the road, you can find him rocking out to 80s music, and on certain rare mornings, sleeping in because his kids decided to cut him some slack.


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