The behavior you’re seeing is the behavior you’ve designed for

A simple idea about what behavior we’re seeing as we design.

I’ve given a few talks recently and by far and away the one idea that is resonating with people is the idea that the behavior you’re seeing is the behavior you’ve designed for.

It’s a simple statement, really. All it means is that what is happening on your web site or in your web application is a result of the current design you’ve created. If people are gaming the system, then your design allows for that. If people aren’t returning, then your design hasn’t given them reason to (or reminded them to). If people are signing up but aren’t getting started, then your design isn’t communicating the value of doing so or the way to do it.

The idea also subversively leads to a much closer monitoring of the behavior in question. If you start thinking in this way, you’ll find yourself asking “what, exactly, is the behavior we’re seeing?”. This alone is worth the price of admission…anything that gets designers more focused on the actual behaviors of their users is a good thing.

This idea can also change the mindset of design teams:

  • It sharpens focus on the design of the product, not some other distracting thing
    So many teams suffer from political infighting, unclear design goals, no vision for success, and many other things that simply stating that behavior is a result of current efforts really helps to bring focus to the situation. Instead of seeing design as something that certain people in the company do, we might recognize design as a response to the market and the behaviors that are happening there.
  • It puts responsibility on the design team
    This idea puts the responsibility of what happens on a site squarely on the shoulders of design teams. This produces changes in the design team: they start investigating behavior to make sure that things are going well. Unfortunately, many designers don’t do this yet, usually because they are judged not by what’s happening but by one of two other ways: by how beautiful their work is or by how much they get done. Neither of these criteria is good from an interaction-design standpoint. The only thing that matters is what’s happening on the web site!
  • It elevates design in the discussion
    Because this idea places responsibility square on the shoulders of the design team, it also elevates design in the discussion. All of a sudden we know where to go when the behavior isn’t what we want: the design team. Who do you call when things aren’t working right? The design team. Designers always seem to want a place at the table. By accepting that the behavior you’re seeing is the behavior you’ve designed for you might just get that seat…

The next time you’re in a meeting or a discussion with the folks you work with, try out this idea on them and see what happens. It might just change the way you work. I know it has for me.

Published: July 28th, 2009

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