Perception, Behavior, or Both

Design is a learning practice. We learn by designing. We design to learn. What are we trying to learn, though? What is the output of design? We design to learn if our decisions are capable of shaping human behaviour and shaping perception the way we intend to. Or are they shaping it in unintended ways?

Perception, Behaviour, or Both

Randy Hunt & Preeti Kotamarthi: Head of Design/ Behavioural Science Lead – Grab

Keywords: perception vs behaviour, outputs, intervention mechanisms, social norms, behavioural science, design, behavioural change

TL;DR: Randy and Preeti are interested in the rich potential for collaboration and overlap between insights from the behavioural sciences and the design process, specifically in the ways design can drive behavioural change. They walk through some insights from the field of behavioural design on what influences users’ perceptions, behaviour, or both, as well as some mechanisms for changing these. They then walk through a number of design interventions that they and their teams applied at Grab using these mechanisms to change perceptions and behavior for users on both the supply side and the demand side.

Grab is Southeast Asia’s Superapp, it focuses on ride hailing, food delivery, express delivery, and is looking to expand into other avenues.

R: When we think of Design it tends to be either the output of design or the process of design. Think meetings, whiteboards, post-its, etc.

R: Design is these artifacts, or design is these methods. But what is the output of design? What really do we create? Is it diagrams and workflows that tell us how to sequence recent events? Or how we intend for a piece of software to work? A set of personas about our customers, so we can understand them, have empathy for them and help others understand those customers in order to help them? Or is design the pixels and the animations that create the UI that we ship into a piece of software?

R: Design is all those things, but we’ve been thinking about design as a process of creating change – either a change in perception or a change in behaviour or both.

P: Many things go into perception. What actually changes it? Let’s look at some examples.

A simple example of perception and how it can shift is the Art Basel banana taped to wall installation]. P: What’s the difference between a banana you find in a grocery store and a banana taped to a wall as part of an art installation? The context, the situation around it. This is one factor in changing perception.

P: What’s the difference between a standard BIC ballpoint pen that costs a few cents and a ruby encrusted fountain pen that costs close to a million dollars? Functionally, both are used for the same purpose. The difference is the brand, or the associated value perception that customers have of that brand.

Ex 2: In the 1950s before review websites and the like, people going to see movies and shows tended to buy tickets to whichever show had the longest lineup. So a producer named Mike Todd employed an 80 yr old with arthritis in his ticket booth. Because she took longer to process each transaction, the queue was longer, which drove traffic to his show. The insight here is that people often form perceptions based on the behaviour of others.

In a more contemporary example, look at the loo paper shortage of 2020 due to panic buying! Wasn’t a shortage until folks saw others buying it and perceived it as valuable.

Another factor in changing perception is social norms: If you see others doing something, it changes how you think about it and makes you more likely to engage in the same behaviour. Ex: A storeowner was frustrated by children littering candy wrappers outside the store. He solved this by writing each child’s name on the wrappers. They stopped littering because they did not want to be identified. Behaviour changed because they cared what others thought of them. Social norms change behaviour. This can be a powerful tool when viewed in context of a design experience.

P: Convenience also changes behaviour: Ex: grocery stores will put candy at eye level or checkout to increase impulse buying. We often make purchases based on convenience. You can correlate this to things like choosing the first result in a search result or setting defaults. As a designer, you ask What makes the behaviour you intend so easy to do that users will do it?

There are some behaviours that we engage in because they are the right thing to do or because we believe in something. These are often unconsciously driven behaviors. Social norms, convenience, beliefs, can all influence behaviour.

R: We’ve looked at perception and behaviour separately, but what changes perception and behaviour? When designing, it’s helpful to think of these in the context of overlapping Venn diagrams. Where are the intersections between them? What can I use to change perception in the direction of the behaviour change?How can I bring about behaviour change using design while building on the perception?

Some case studies from Randy and Preeta’s experience at Grab. Ex: It’s late at night and you’re looking for a ride home. Whether it’s ride hailing or cabs, there are often delays as many people wanting a ride and few drivers. Mismatch between supply and demand, which leads to increased price. Customers don’t like the wait, and they also don’t like the inflated pricing. How do we overcome this by changing perception and behaviour using optics?

From research with customers, Grab learned that their users were frustrated with surge pricing being in effect late at night at the airport. The perception was that they were being price gouged, but the behaviour was that they paid because there was no other way home. But they were dissatisfied. How do we as designers intervene through adding context? They added a text bar for customers reading: Sleepy? Batman drivers are on the way! This changed the customers perception of the drivers to superheroes who were staying up late to help them, and they were happier to book the ride.

R: These interventions can be simple but powerful. A small content design moment can make a large impact. Also easily testable and refinable. P: Also customizable to a range of situations, Ex: If traffic was jammed due to a match ending at a sports stadium they would add context language around that.

Ex: Bringing down cancellations using a social norms mechanism. Goal= bringing down cancellations. When ordering food or booking a ride, customers have expectations around how quickly it might come, how far away the driver is, and may cancel for a number of reasons after it is in process.

R: When we started talking to passengers who cancelled a lot, a perception was that everybody cancels and it’s commonplace. The behaviour was that they cancelled regardless of being fined for it. The design intervention involved sending an SMS to frequently cancelling customers reading:

Dear [name], you are receiving this because you are in the top x% of people with High Cancellation Fees. Book your ride when you are ready and refrain from frequent cancellations. Thank you for being thoughtful on your next booking.

P: Changing the perception would change the behavior. By being perceived as outside the majority who don’t cancel, the customer reduces cancellation (=changes behavior).

R: The theme here is that there is a relationship between the supply side and the demand side. So let’s look at supply side: How do we shape drivers behaviour? Drivers want more jobs, we want to provide more jobs, so how do we get them to travel from where they are to where we want them to be? A: Use transparency of information to help guide the behaviour.

P: Research showed that drivers didn’t always know where high volume traffic areas were. But if they did, they could get there swiftly, i.e their internal maps were excellent. The design intervention here was sending drivers heat maps showing where the user hotspots were at any given time. Perception changes from: I don’t know where to go to: his area has more demand. Behaviour changes from I will follow my instincts to I will follow the map. Tech and design are used to help people understand data.

Recap: As designers, it’s useful to think about the intersection between perception and behaviour. Various mechanisms such as social norms, context, brand, and transparency can be used to create design interventions and upgrades. There is an exciting overlap and collaboration potential between design and behavioural science. Randy and Preet are looking at these at Grab and think there is rich potential for others to mine these intersections.

Thankyou for joining!