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Can an app make us behave better?

Tim Harford with an excellent and thought-provoking piece in the Financial Times on behavioural design.

Modern software is fascinating because of the rapidly evolving way in which software designers try to make complex tools intuitive to use. The results are patchy but, at their best, rather brilliant. And the way in which the best software is created is fascinating, too: it’s a potent blend of thoughtful design with constant experimentation. The design gurus brainstorm and create; the experimenters see what works. In fact, this process – supported by the relentless improvement of our silicon infrastructure – has become so successful that when somebody says “technology”, we immediately think of computers and phones, rather than aeroplanes, vaccines or nuclear reactors.

Perhaps it is no surprise that “behavioural design” is becoming a buzz-phrase. Nick Chater, professor of behavioural science at Warwick Business School, argues that the combination of basic scientific research with user-oriented design thinking is a powerful one. Behavioural scientists in the fields of psychology and economics are producing reams of research about human behaviour, and designers have the skill and experience to turn those insights into products and services that make our lives happier or safer.

“When we combine the slick influence of design-based thinking with a humble willingness to test, learn and adapt, we have a powerful alliance,” Harford concludes.