Gene Lu's Portfolio

Changing Behaviors

So why do people do the things that they do? During a brief conversation with Rob Faludi (thesis advisor and SVA IXD faculty), Rob touched on four points that motivated people to act out certain behaviors:

  1. The experience from point A to point B
  2. Goals that are set out to be achieved
  3. Feedback provided to create a sense of progress
  4. The social aspect involved when doing things with others

In this post, I’ll briefly talk about existing products and services that have successfully leveraged each of these points. I’ve also included some sketches of what this all might mean in terms of getting urban commuters to be more physically active.

The Joy in Getting from Point A to Point B
An example of a product that demonstrates how the joy of getting from point A to point B encourages ones behavior is the lottery. There is a general consensus that it is practically impossible to win. According to, chances of winning the Mega Millions is 1 in 175,711,536. You actually have a better chance of getting into a car accident, plane accident, or struck my lightning.

So what exactly drives this behavior of purchasing tickets? Besides the positive skewness of spending a dollar for the chance of winning millions, the purchase of a lottery ticket also provides an outlet to fantasize about being wealthy from the time they buy the ticket to when the numbers are drawn. Similar behaviors can also be observed in gamers. In a brief interview with an avid gamer, the reason why he played video games was to escape reality. According to him, he “took the longest path in order to complete a game” because “the steps in-between were more fulfilling than achieving the goal.” Once the goal is accomplished, there is no more game.

The various paths leading from Point A to Point B

The various paths leading from Point A to Point B

To push this point a bit further, this behavior can also be observed in those that are addicted to online tv series, specifically Korean dramas. If you are new to Korean dramas, they all have a fixed number of episodes and they are very formulaic. At a discussion panel about Asian Entertainment at Comic Con 2010 in NYC, the panelists all agreed that even though the ending of dramas were predictable, the addiction came from the slight variations in the familiar plot, from start to finish.

How can we make our commute more physically active and engaging?

How can we make our commute more physically active and engaging?

Achieving Goals and Feedback
Online location-based companies such as FourSquare and GoWalla have successfully encouraged people to participate in using their services by providing badges and rewards for achieving certain goals. These digital rewards provide users with status, (in some cases) free goods, a sense of progress within a subdomain, i.e. Gowalla Trips, and promotes competition within their online communities. If you are new to these services, Jeff Croft does an amazing job in explaining the differences between the two. He also points out a major flaw that is inherent in FourSquare, which made him less motivated in wanting to compete.

For me personally, this ruined Foursquare. I was really enjoying the game for a while, competing for mayorships with my friends, until I started to see people checking in one place, and then checking in five miles away immediately after. It really affected my motivation to compete at Foursquare.

One feature that I think is worth taking note of is GoWalla’s Trip feature. A trip is made of check-in spots strung together where after visiting all the spots within a trip, you receive a pin. Croft expects “trips to become one of the most engaging features of Gowalla.” There is an interesting pattern between this and that of (tada!) Korean dramas. How?

  • Both have a fixed start and fixed end point, e.g. 5 spots for a trip, 15 episodes for a drama
  • Between each trip/episode, there is an experience involved
    Something to consider: Episodes within a drama share a similar pattern, e.g. inciting conflict, climax, resolution. Can this pattern be applied to the experiences in between spots within a Gowalla trip? How will users benefit from this?
Drawing a parallel between trips and dramas

Drawing a parallel between trips and dramas

Social Interaction Equals Motivation!
An example of how social interaction encourages a particular behavior can be seen in weight loss programs such as Weight Watchers. According to a report at,

Sixty-one overweight or obese men and women participated in a 6-month Weight Watchers study that included education on a lower calorie diet (a food plan), exercise (an activity plan) and weekly group support sessions. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that participants who attended the most sessions, had the most success, reinforcing the importance of group support in lifestyle change.

Besides social support structures, interaction within a community also provides opportunities for competition, which is one of FourSquare’s differentiator from Gowalla, e.g. mayorship. In any case, I think it’s pretty obvious that there needs to be a social aspect to whatever I come up with within the context of city commuters.

Yup, That’s It For Now
Although this took me about 5 hours to write, it helped me to think a bit more about each individual point as discussed with Rob earlier last week. There are plenty of models in different industries with similar patterns that encourage specific behaviors. By studying the successes and failures of different companies, it’ll help guide me in coming up with a platform that encourages changing behavior for the better.

Comments are closed.


  • 10 Oct 2010

Filed Under

Recent Articles

Lead UX Designer on Nike+ Running at R/GA.