The Incidental Effect: Exploring New Methods in Behaviour Change

– By Ingrid Jager

Nick Stanhope, in his paper The Incidental Effect: Exploring New Methods in Behaviour Change, proposes that the best way to create positive behaviour change is for designers to design the behaviour into desirable products.

Stanhope identifies that in regards to many environmental and health issues, the general public has become overwhelmed and confused by the problems that face society and the ways in which we can create positive change.  He suggests that the enormity and complexity of the issues that are raised has resulted in “disengagement with the effects of our everyday behaviour”.  In order to work with this disengagement, he proposes that we move “behaviour change aims from the primary features of public communications to the secondary or totally hidden features of a product”.  Nick Stanhope places the responsibility of sustainable behaviours and practices in the hands of designers.

“There are many layers to the collateral impact of a product across it’s environmental footprint, the ethics of its supply change, its employment practices, its role within the community and many more.”  As designers we are able to engage with the lifecycle of a product and through research and education we are able to identify ways in which to minimise a products impact on the environment.  Rather than placing the responsibility of the impact of that product on the general public, Stanhope implores us to design with intent.  He asks designers to design responsibly to ensure that a product creates positive change within the community.

Stanhope proposes that by designing products with their environmental and health benefits at the forefront we are already facing the battle of requiring the consumer to first engage with the problem.  With the vast amount of often conflicting information regarding the great number of issues, society has come to question the benefits of various behaviours and quite simply “what is the right thing to do?”.  By designing positive behaviours into a product we negate the requirement of the consumer to think about the problem, they simply choose to utilise a product because it is enjoyable.  Stanhope propose that “when new behaviours become incidental to a product experience that is useful, enjoyable and credible, the popular associations with those behaviours change.”

It is not about deceiving the consumer but rather about integrating positive behaviour and practices into products.  Stanhope is asking us as designers to change our practice and to think about the products we are releasing into the world and the effect they have on it.  If incidental effects become engrained in our practice and are promoted in a credible and enjoyable manner, the new and beneficial behaviours will be thought of positively and will be more easily transferable.

Design has the power to create massive change and as designers it is up to us what that change is.  If we design with incidental effects at the forefront of our thinking but subtly or invisibly integrated into our products, we can engage the mass consumer in positive change in an enjoyable and desirable manner.