Design with Intent

I’m not a designer, duh.

As humans we have the tendency to put ourselves and others into boxes in order to make sense of the world. “Designer” is one such categorisation. Design, however has been a human activity for centuries and not one that is reserved for those with round glasses and baggy shirts. 

When you build Papercut, integrate Xero or reshuffle the office space, you are designing a system, a process, an environment that shapes behaviors and consequently achieves an intended purpose. 

This is called “Design with Intent” - or using design to influence behaviors. It’s one of the many methods we can use to solve problems at Grain.

The who, when, how of Design with Intent

Who is it for? Design with Intent can be employed by anyone to benefit the users of a product, process or service or to benefit the designers themselves. A match made in heaven is when the design serves both the designer and the user. 

When should you use it? Whenever your problems involve influencing people, much like compliance, Design with Intent can be used to manipulate, change and drive actions. 

How to use it? A toolkit or pattern library has already been developed to help guide designers in exploring the solution space of behavioral change. This supports idea generation by giving a broad understanding of the people involved and methods that can be employed towards your solution. 

1. The people:
There are three different models to use when identifying the people to design for.

  • Pinballs: This model assumes people don’t think for themselves and there’s no requirement for understanding, often for safety reasons.
  • e.g. The interlock on the washing machine door when it’s running

  • Shortcut: One of the most frequently recurring patterns in human behavior is that people take shortcuts. We make decisions based on how choices are presented to us. 
  • e.g. Chef recommendation items on the menu

  • Thoughtful: This is an optimistic view of the users, assuming that people are motivated, thoughtful and engaged. 
  • e.g. Providing people with nutrition information to make their own food choices
  • Understanding who you are designing for helps identify the most suitable Design with Intent method. 

2. The methods:
There are many lenses through which a solution can derive from. 

  • Architectural: Designing or changing the environment and positioning to shape users’ path
  • e.g. No trash bins at MRT so people won’t litter

  • Error proofing: Implementing safety measures to avoid errors
  • e.g. “Are you sure you want to delete this?” popup

  • Security: Introducing countermeasures to prevent undesired user behavior 
  • e.g. Park bench with dividers so people can’t lie down on

  • Interaction: Showing or providing feedback or visibility of system to help users make decisions
  • e.g. Progress bar in softwares

  • Ludic: Using games or playful interactions to encourage actions
  • e.g. Rewards programs on Grab