MA UX meets the Digital Behaviour Change Project

In February 2021 masters level UX students from University of the Arts London took part in a live brief from the Digital Behaviour Change Project. The aim of engaging the student group was to help us explore new contexts and models for bringing together behaviour science and design practice.

Marion and Paulina delivered a provocation to the students groups showing high numbers of digital applications available on the market (At the end of 2017 there were 325,000 health apps on the market, this number is growing) designed to “support” or “improve” lifestyle change through fitness. These products continually rely on self regulation to enable behaviour change yet how often do we give up on an app because we are not seeing the desired change? Simply put, if the right combination of ingredients is used in the application–the combination which lead to sustainable behaviour change, would we really need so many similar looking, similar functioning products?

What’s the problem?

The students were introduced to the Behaviour Change Taxonomy with emphasis on the techniques which are less commonly used in digital design and inquired about why those techniques were less commonly used. Was it because they are less effective? Its not that the techniques are known to be less effective, but that because they are less commonly used there is less evidence for their effectiveness! The common BCTs we see in digital products are what we call self-regulation techniques. These rely on our decision-making system to regulate itself and just like your motivation, self-regulation is a limited resource.

Brief : Interpreting BCT for Design

Over 6 weeks, 2 student groups researched lifestyle changes and behaviours to address using the Behaviour Change Techniques taxonomy. The task was to use the BCT as part of individual design process to develop experiences to support behaviour change. Students were encouraged to use a combination of BCTs (common and less common) to design experiences or interventions.


Group 1 chose to address the issue of food waste and developed a prototype application using social support to enable productive use of left over food in domestic settings.

I had an initial idea of the words “Behaviour Change” butI had never designed a solution that focused on it in such structured detail

Gabrielle Bennet

Getting to work on the Behaviour Change Project was a very rewarding and challenging opportunity for myself. Our Initial brief was to “Use the taxonomy of behaviour change techniques (BCTs), design a digital system that encourages behaviour change.” I had an initial idea of the words “Behaviour Change,” but I had never designed a solution that focused on it in such structured detail.

I started off by reading some behaviour change literature and studying different methods, strategies and frameworks from 18 universities and technical labs around the world, trying to understand the key components of behaviour change.

Once I understood the fundamentals, our team discussed and decided to focus on the behaviour of wasting food for our direction.

 I did some inventive research techniques such as a Food waste diary, a graffiti wall in my bin room with the question “What efforts could be made to change your food waste behaviour?”, blending up wasted food and baking it into cakes for the birds, and making Kaleidoscope design recipe papers to encourage users to use their excess food.

Food Waste Diary by Gabrielle

 After many different directions, we decided to focus on the idea of “Food waste and Love,” an attempt to create a sense of community during COVID-19. I designed part of our system encouraging solidarity where people would be matched in a buddy programme and would receive at least one hot meal a week.  After testing the buddy system with our target audience, I made some revisions but I was still struggling to fully eradicate food waste.

Mapping Behaviour Change Techniques to Food Waste Behaviour

 “This 6-week project was a helpful learning opportunity for myself and I am happy to have this knowledge to use in future design opportunities.”

Read more on Gabrielle’s blog

Group 2 explored how behaviour change could be used to harness procrastination and created a catalogue for designers using behaviour change.

Prototype Positive Procrastination tools: Ana, Eda, Ula, Vanessa

The Digital Behaviour Change Project team was particularly interested in process of analysis and how the BCT are first interpreted then translated and applied for design. The results showed the complexity of thinking through behaviour change for design however the groups clearly demonstrated where specific techniques from the taxonomy were used in the design. The outcomes illustrate firstly how BCTs manifest inside a digital design object and secondly how designers used the BCTs as part of design processes.


Michie et al. 2013 BCT Taxonomy (V1)

research2guidance (2017). mHealth app economics. Current status and future trends in Mobile Health

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