Behavioral Design — Resource

Open Source behavioral economics (triage) toolkit

We’ve been asked by a lot of people what tools we use in our process of crafting holistic and impactful experiences across mediums and industries. The answer, which ever way it begins, leads to behavioral economics.

In our studio’s effort to cull the most effective and influential material available, we’ve assembled this list of salient theories, effects and biases to help us navigate most public and semi private social scenarios. We’ve relied on these while working on anything from simple interfaces to immersive retail blueprints to culturally rich hospitality endeavors.

We reference this salient and evolving list when working on any project and hope you’ll find it useful in your next effort to positively affect the human experience and the course of society. — Small seeds, big deeds! Good luck!


Let’s dive right in:

We’ll look at 5 orders of influence, starting at the core of behavior theories of Self Perception, then venturing outward to our use of Attention and reference to Context. We’ll then explore the Perception of Others and fundamental Social Influences affecting engagement and experiences.



😎 Self Perception

Looking at internal thought processes we find an interplay of perceptually related patterns, some with heavy introspection and others focusing on our relationship with the space, things and those around us.

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” — Richard P. Feynman


Embodied Cognition

“Mind over matter?” Cognitive states and emotions are influenced by one’s physical state or actions. For example, smiling, even when we don’t feel like it, can lead to significant improvements in mood, while improving ones posture will invoke a greater sense of confidence.

Invoking the Self-Perception Theory

“We are what we do.” According to self-perception theory, we interpret our own actions the way we interpret others’ actions, and tend to infer our attitudes on the basis of our own behaviors, rather than behaving on the basis of pre-existing attitudes. Counterintuitive to say the least, this theory is also used to explain cognitive dissonance effects.

Soothing the Cognitive Dissonance

That uncomfortable feeling that occurs when there is a conflict between one’s belief, attitude and/or behavior. In cases of intense dissonance we usually attempt to reduce it by altering one of the beliefs, adding new ones, or changing our interpretation of the relevant evidence.

Confirmation Bias

“Looking for information that supports ones beliefs!” Confirmation bias is a cognitive error that people make when they are only willing to accept new information when it confirms what one already believes.

Projection Bias

We tend to believe that others think just like us, even when there is no justification for this belief. This can often contribute to a false consensus effect and an unjustified confidence in our predictions of group outcomes.

Illusion of Asymmetric Insight

We tend to perceive our knowledge of others as surpassing others’ knowledge of ourselves.

Illusion of Control

We tend to assign ourselves a higher degree of control over outcomes of events than we actually have, behaving as if we have control over events that are entirely dependent on chance. The illusion is strengthened under competitive situations, which is a reason everything tends to have some gamification element to it.

Spotlight Effect

“They’re all looking at me!” The tendency to overestimate the extent to which one’s own actions and appearance will be noticed by others is profound. Just as we tend to think that others are constantly thinking about us, when in fact the opposite is true.


👀 Attention and Context

Now that we’ve covered the basis of our internal judgement, let’s look further and further outward at the tools informing our external relationships and the variety of elements that guide our thoughts and decisions.

As experience designers we consider this section to be our biggest playground. You’ll notice the use of (+)( — ) as headline markers denoting theories, effects and biases we try to push (+) and those we try to minimize or dissuade (–).

“Everybody experiences far more than he understands. Yet it is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior. “ ―Marshall McLuhan


Priming ( + )

“Free will, eh?” By far one of the least discussed and most important effects, priming asserts that a stimulus can trigger a future recall, or facilitate a contextually salient recall.

Primacy/Recency Effect

Closely related to priming, this effect reminds us that people are likely to remember the first and last items in a sequence more effectively than those presented in the middle. Fun fact and a likely correlation: it deosn’t mttaer waht oredr ltteers in a wrod are, olny taht the frist and lsat ltteers be in the rghit pclae.

Anchoring ( + )

Anchoring is a form of priming whereby exposure to an initial piece of information serves as a reference point and influences subsequent judgments and estimations. The process usually occurs without our awareness.

Focusing Illusion / The Invisible Gorilla

“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.” … referring to our tendency to intensely exaggerate one component of a concept, idea, action or period in time. — quote by Daniel Kahneman

Salience ( + )

Salience refers to the perceptual quality by which anything observable stands out relative to its environment or context. This stems from our natural tendency to detect deviations in attributes or behavior and infer that certain things are important.

Choice Architecture ( + )

…refers to the practice of influencing choice by changing the manner in which options are presented. This is done by setting defaults, focusing, framing, or adding decoy options. Although less fundamental, Decision Staging becomes a vehicle for Choice Architecture, particularly for long term engagement.

Asymmetric Dominance ( + )

Choices often occur relative to what is on offer rather than based on absolute preferences. Also known as the decoy effect, this introduces the idea that we can be nudged to choose one of several options more reliably through the introduction of options that are inferior to the desired one in every way.

You’ll notice most online services showing you inferior and superior purchasing options flanking the choice they’d like you to make — usually right down the middle. “Free but limited, Economical and good, All round competitive, Unnecessarily expensive.”

Ambiguity Effect ( — )

Just play it safe… The Ambiguity Effect describes our tendency to avoid options for which the probability seems unknown. This can cause to make conservative decisions and avoid risk in novel situations.

Distinction Bias ( — )

“They look nothing alike!” This is the tendency to judge two options as more dissimilar when they are judged simultaneously than when they are judged separately. This can lead to irrational attributions of quality that depend on the way in which we compare options.

Inter-temporal Choice

…is concerned with the relative value people assign to payoffs at different points in time. People are biased towards the present and tend to discount the future.

Pain of Paying ( — )

“Every time we part with our money, it inflicts psychological ‘pain’.” People experience Pain of Paying, because we are loss averse. But, pain can be reduced by layers of abstraction. Since credit card purchases are less tangible than cash purchases, the depletion of financial resources are less visible and thusly less painful.


Scarcity is an economic term that describes the mindset people develop when they have many needs and not enough resources to meet those needs. When people operate out of a scarcity mindset, it can greatly impair their decision-making abilities. While we see this effect playing out against our better judgement, it is also a salient signal used to bring attention and presence to deserving experiences.


🤼 Perception of Others

And now, looking outward beyond time and place towards one’s peers, we’ll find that things become very delicate very fast.

We put a lot of effort in crafting environments where people feel safe, comfortable and their true selves… and as free from external judgement as contextually possible.

“Wouldn’t economics make a lot more sense if it were based on how people actually behave, instead of how they should behave?” 
― Dan Ariely


Illusion of Transparency / False Consensus Effect ( — )

“The world is my mirror” …referring to our tendency to overestimate the degree to which our thoughts, beliefs, feelings and emotions, are clearly understood by others, and conversely our own ability to discern the mental states of others.

Intergroup Bias ( — )

Intergroup bias describes the idea that we can irrationally and unknowingly favor members of a group of which we are also members, over even the friendliest outsiders. While this bias may sound like it allows for favorable and comfortable experiences, it also leads to forgetful and bland experiences.

Group Attribution Error ( + )

The tendency to believe that the individuals making up a group reflect the preferences and characteristics of the group as a whole. Just because a person can be associated with a defined group, does not mean they necessarily support positions, ideas, or beliefs, commonly associated with that group.

Correspondence Bias

Also known as Fundamental Attribution Error, this refers to our tendency to interpret that people’s actions are driven by internal motivators, before considering the effect of their context or the influence of external factors.

Extrinsic Incentives Bias

Extrinsic Incentives bias refers to our tendency to presume that other people are more motivated by external factors (money, promotions, public praise, etc.) than intrinsic one’s (personal growth, increased sense of well-being, sense of relevance, etc.)


👨‍👦‍👦 Social Influences

“They seem to like it. Let’s try it ourselves!” The spectrum of people roaming this planet have a very complex and personal relationship with reactivity and proactivity. As a species, we do things in groups and when we experience things for ourselves, we tend to report back to our community. So, our last behavioral pillar focuses on our dynamic social relationships.

“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.” 
― Daniel Kahneman


Social Proof ( + )

“Even the most progressive amongst us usually require some validation.” as we tend to conform to socially acceptable behaviors or attitudes. People often prefer concepts or ideas that already exist, or that are easy to conceive, over ones that have not been implemented or may seem counterintuitive. — aka Existence Bias, this is a major one.

Herd Behavior ( — )

This effect is evident when people do what others are doing instead of using their own information or making independent decisions. The idea of herding has a long history in philosophy and crowd psychology. It is particularly interesting when seen through the lens of collective irrationality.


When we sense any external attempts to persuade or change our attitudes or opinion, we perceive the attempt as limiting to our choices or actions and reactively strengthen our initial position in order to reinforce our autonomy –even if it may not be in our favor to do so.

Social Desirability ( + )

Referring to our tendency to shape our behaviors and reported attitudes to conform with socially desirable norms.

Bandwagon Effect ( - )

The tendency to adopt commonly held beliefs or behaviors simply due to their popularity. So lame but so true.

Authority ( + )

People can be influenced to engage in otherwise unlikely behaviors merely because a perceived authority figure requests or endorses it.



Further Reading:

https://www.learning-theories.com— the mother load

http://beworks.com/Toolkit — fantastic all round

toolkit https://www.behavioraleconomics.com — url says it all

For an even more fundamental perspective on behavior and biology check out Robert Sapolsky’s Sanford Lectures