Why digital behaviour change?

The Digital Behaviour Change project came with a shared interest in how we can improve the use of behaviour change in physical activity. At a collaboration workshop with the Get a Move on Network we brought our experience of behaviour science, HCI and design to consider how we may better understand the interdisciplinary collaborations needed to create suggestions for developing ‘theory-driven’ technology combining design process with the Behaviour Change Technique (BCT) Taxonomy .

What is the BCT Taxonomy?

The Behaviour Change (BCT) Taxonomy provides a classification of active ingredients of behaviour change interventions. These are observable, replicable, irreducible and  can be used alone or in combination. There are total 93 Behaviour Change Techniques (BCTs). In its typical format this is a pdf of techniques grouped according to the type of intervention. While this is well known in the field of behaviour science is has rarely been used by designers, potentially due to the format but more likely as there are simply not many examples of it to draw from.

What can it look like in a face to face & digital experience?

For an example of a face to face behaviour change technique, in “4.1 Instruction on how to perform a behaviour” might be a gym instructor with you at the gym showing you how to perform a sit-up. For a digital example, we can consider “6.1 Demonstration of Behaviour” in a video of someone performing an exercise on an app. BCTs we have probably seen before in digital applications include “1.1 Goal setting” (e.g how many steps will you walk per day) and “2.2 Feedback on Behaviour” (e.g how fast you ran).

Digital-Behaviour Change workshops

Most everyday technologies such as fitness apps often do not incorporate behaviour change science into the design process, so it’s not surprising that people’s use of them is often short-lived and does not lead to sustained behaviour change. Interventions that are based on behaviour change science can be more effective. However, there are no practical guidelines on how to implement behaviour change techniques into the content of digital interventions.

We explored this gap through a series of design workshops with experts across the disciplines of physical activity, behaviour science and design. We observed how they worked together and used BCT to create effective design suggestions to overcome real barriers to physical activity. Three workshops took place online with a total of nine experts, our analysis of which demonstrated both the roles that experts take throughout the process and the potential of the behaviour change taxonomy to be used a tool in the design process.

So what happens When Designers meet the BehaviourChange Technique Taxonomy?

Bringing the Behaviour Change Technique taxonomy to designers has been an interesting exercise in observing how the long list is tackled. Some have used it as inspiration for design, some have used it as a “checklist” to review existing designs and some have rejected it altogether brandishing it too limited for creative thinking.

We are currently working on publishing an upcoming paper on our workshops, running some student projects and launching our project website where we aim to tackle the ongoing challenges of bring behaviour change into technology (www.dbcproject.com). We see it as a relatively untapped source for many potential use cases in design and through the Digital Behaviour Change project the aim is to develop contextual case studies in a range of settings to establish a methodology and resources for successful, effective and empowering combinations of behaviour change and design in digital experience. 

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