Niamh Parsley
Kane Albarron

Interaction17: Designing for Behavioral Modes

Hundreds of the best interaction and service designers from around the world recently gathered in New York City for the IxDA’s annual conference, Interaction 17. The conference theme, “Design in Context: Make It Here, Make it Anywhere,” served as the perfect backdrop to Fjord New York’s workshop on behavioral modes, a new way of thinking about people and behavior. Personas are typically the go-to method for understanding various types of people with different behavior sets. What often goes unexplored, though, is how the behavior of a single persona changes given different contexts. In this workshop, we introduced behavioral modes, discussed how they differ from personas, and explored the value of using one versus another (or pairing them together).

We started out explaining what behavioral modes are: i.e. classifications of user needs and motivations that occur over time, in different contexts. In other words: people are not static creatures with the same behaviors regardless of environment or circumstance. Different situations change people’s needs and thus modify their behaviors. Therefore, behavioral modes are not classifications of a certain type of person, such as a market segment or a traditional persona (keep in mind that two different personas can share the same mode).

Behavioral modes should be used as a process for looking at how environment informs design decisions. They are most relevant when the context determines the experience of a brand or service.

So how do you do this?

In our workshop, we gave participants a real-world example to make the concept more tangible. We took a look at two personas:

Persona: Sharon, a 34-year-old professional who travels frequently for work and tends to like the finer things in life.

Persona: Bruce, a 21-year-old college junior who tries to stretch his budget while maximizing fun with friends.

The limit of personas is that they assume Sharon is always traveling for business and Bruce is always partying.

When we look at the behaviors of these personas, we can identify their modes. For example, when Sharon is in business travel mode, you can imagine that she might often have to book travel last minute, expense all costs to her company, and indulge in luxurious experiences where and when she can. Whereas when Bruce is in party mode with his friends, he may or may not plan the night out ahead of time but he’s almost always watching his budget.

It’s only when we realize that personas can reside in different contexts that we realize that a variety of people could share a mode (e.g. Sharon isn’t always traveling for business; sometimes, she’s in party mode, too).

Using Uber as an example, we can see how the behaviors of our two personas change depending on their context. If we stuck to the limits of personas alone, we would assume that Bruce, motivated by cost and traveling with 2-3 friends would use the less expensive UberX to get around while Sharon, motivated by quick pick-up traveling solo would choose the pricier but more convenient UberBlack to get from point A to B.

When we think about these personas as both being in party mode their behaviors could change. Since Bruce likes to show off with his friends sometimes he may select UberBlack, behaving more like Sharon’s persona. Sharon likes to cut costs when she is paying out of her own pocket so she may choose UberX, behaving more like Bruce’s persona.

We aren’t saying we should ditch the persona, but better yet, use behavioral modes to shine a brighter light on personas.

We spent the remainder of the workshop brainstorming different contexts in which someone may be doing an activity such as grocery shopping (e.g. shopping for the week, buying something for a specific meal, shopping with children, etc.) and listing out the specific needs, wants and motivations someone might have when completing that activity in that particular context.

Once we had a large pool of wants, needs and motivations, the participants grouped similar ones together through an affinity mapping exercise. The end groupings were then labeled as the behavioral modes. For our grocery shopping example that left us with things such as Rush Mode, Saver Mode, Optimization Mode, and Distracted Mode. Each team articulated the core objective of each mode and then began the design process around two of their favorite modes.

We identified four key moments within the activity, and then the groups designed solutions for each key moment for one mode and then again for the second. With vastly different solutions for the same key moments for different modes, we saw how the same user or customer may have different needs from a product or service depending on what mode they are in.

Special thanks to our colleagues Suzanne Gause, Interaction Design Lead, and Jacqueline Nelson, Interaction Designer, for leading this workshop with us!

Niamh Parsley
Kane Albarron

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