Friday, September 24, 2010

Software design can change behavior using appropriate choice architecture

My friend and colleague Alex Joseph and I were wondering today if software can change human behavior. I argued that while software cannot change how people behave fundamentally, software can be designed to nudge people to do what they already consider appropriate by subtly influencing their behavior. Here is why I think design of software can influence human behavior.

I recently renewed my California Drivers license and chose the option to be an organ donor. I did this because the check box to opt-in was right near the place where I needed to provide my drivers license info. I believe in organ donation. I could have easily gone to the web site for organ donation at http://www.donatelifecalifornia.org/ to opt-in. But I did not do that. The design of the form however made it easy for me to do what I believed was the right thing to do.

Since that experience I read a bit more about the power of choice architecture in the book Nudge. According to the book, 12% of Germans have given their consent for organ donation, while 99% of Austrians have given their consent for organ donation. It is fair to assume that the people in Germany and Austria cannot have such a difference of opinion when it comes to organ donation. The real reason is choice architecture.

Germany has a opt-in rule for organ donation. That is, unless you opt-in explicitly, you are not an organ donor. Austria uses an opt-out rule for organ donation. That is, if you do not explicitly opt out, you are considered an organ donor.

So I believe that good choice architecture in software design can significantly change human behavior in work environment. People can be influenced to share more, collaborate more and participate more by the right choice-architecture.
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