Design to influence user behavior

Recently, I came across the concept of using design to influence how a particular thing is used, how a particular area is managed and so on. Some good writing is on wikipedia and Dan Lockton website; particularly the architectural lens toolkit.

While I was vaguely familiar with the concept, I did not know how well entrenched it was in architecture and how cleverly it is designed that you can no longer separate the functional design with the part which influences your behavior around it.

Some examples would be in order.

An air draft near the end points of an escalator. It causes slight discomfort in an otherwise cool surrounding and hence causes people to move away and not block the entry/exit points of the escalator. I remember experiencing it in a mall in Delhi where I actually noticed it.

Park benches with arm rests in-between or with gaps in individual seats. Causes discomfort if anyone attempts to lie down and sleep.

Super market aisles which are visible from the cash counter thus forcing any shop lifter to think twice before stealing.

Such design does not take away anything from the functional aspect of the thing in question, you can still sit on the benches or use the escalators; but in an almost invisible way, these designs force you to act in the manner designed by the designer.

In fact the best designs would go completely unnoticed while still influencing human behavior.

While reading about such examples on the net, I felt so proud that, without knowing, I too had such a brainwave recently.

The courtyard in front of our house had two levels with one section being around 3 inches higher than the other. Recently, we got it renovated and put “Kota Stone” all across while still keeping the two levels.

The visitors to the house would stumble there as they would not notice the different level.  My dad was worried that one of these days someone will fall and get injured but getting the whole yard to be leveled also meant considerable expense.

So I suggested putting a separator of white marble where the two levels met. This meant that the white line was conspicuous and even if the person was not focusing specifically, the mind would register that something was different.


The diagnosis was correct and visitors to our house no longer trip there. Felt quite good that I was following some fancy design psychology while recommending such a small change.

Do tell me if you have come across such designs or have designed something to influence its usage. It would be interesting to know.


About Writer

Being based in India, I will focus primarily from that perspective.
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