We’re using ‘behaviour modes’ to keep users at the centre of decisions

Over the past 18 months, the Digital team has been working with the Food business on an online delivery and collection service. During the crisis and lockdown, there has been an increased demand from shoppers wanting to avoid spending time in physical stores. This means our online growth has accelerated significantly in the last few weeks.

Prioritising user needs, always

As designers and researchers, we know we need to keep the needs of users at the centre of the development process. But it’s particularly important right now – at a time when we’re probably working a bit more quickly and iterating faster than normal – to remind ourselves and stakeholders to keep coming back to user needs.

But how do we keep user needs in the forefront of everyone’s minds? We’ve been looking at ‘behavioural modes’. And although we started this work way before lockdown, it feels very relevant to talk about it now.

Personas = ok(ish)  

One technique design teams use to make sure services are user-centred is to create persona documents. These typically describe people segmented by demographics.

For example, Jane is 70 and shops mid-week. Since Jane is an older person, we need to design something that doesn’t rely on technology.

But beware! Demographics become problematic when designing for needs as they introduce biases and assumptions.

At Co-op we have the Insights team and others dedicated to understanding shopper segments – all of which have their own specific purpose and value.

Introducing behavioural modes 

Focusing on behaviours rather than personas helps us:

  • think about the context that people are in
  • think about how decisions are made
  • understand that behaviours can be exhibited by anyone at any given time
  • design the user experience around different behaviours we’ve seen in research

Researcher Indi Young writes in her 2016 post Describing personas that to understand a user’s world and better meet their need, we must be able to empathise with them. And that creating personas for users is not as conducive to this as insights into their behaviours. She writes:

Cognitive empathy requires not a face, not preferences and demographics, but the underlying reasoning, reactions, and guiding principles. Without these you cannot develop empathy. And if you cannot develop empathy, you cannot wield it — you cannot walk in someone’s shoes.

Early on in the project our researcher Eva Petrova helped the team to develop behavioural modes. They were based on what we learned from a diary study looking at how people make choices and decisions around buying food, planning meals and what influences them. (You can read more detail on the diary study in Eva’s post). We’ve subsequently validated the modes with further research to make sure they still hold true.

Here’s our first attempt at creating posters out of our behavioural modes.

photograph of 5 a4 paper printed out attempts at behavioural modes work.

How to communicate behavioural modes

Communicating ideas with everyone who’s involved in the service is challenging at an organisation as big as Co-op.

However, this article by Spotify’s design team describes how they approached a similar challenge to ours:

Representing personas poses a tricky challenge: we want them to be relatable, but they’re not 1:1 matches with real people. Believable human traits and flaws help create empathy with problems and needs. But we don’t want groups to be wrongly excluded based on the characteristics we’ve picked. So finding a balance is a crucial step if we’re to create useful and believable archetypes.

To communicate them, they created an interactive website, shared across Spotify offices through announcements and posters because they “wanted to create fun, playful ways for the teams to incorporate them into their workflows.”

This inspired us. We agreed that to communicate the importance of behavioural modes to the wider teams, we needed to create something that:

  • explained what behavioural modes are
  • avoided making the behaviours seem prescriptive (or like the personas some stakeholders may be familiar with)
  • invited collaboration through wider team’s insights
  • is distinct, memorable and visually engaging
  • doesn’t stray too far from the Co-op style

We brought them to life

We’re lucky to have user researcher Maisie Platts working with us who – as part of her MA studies – had been investigating different ways of visualising personas as part of a design process.

Together with interaction designer Mehul Patel we set out to bring our behavioural modes to life.

Our first route used robots to personify each mode. Robots can convey expression while avoiding any associations with specific demographic characteristics such as age, gender. Here are Maisie’s initial behavioural mode robot sketches.

white paper with 5 blue pen hand-drawn robots

In the initial sketches the robots have screens which display something relevant to each behavioural mode.

However, we decided that the message is lost as it’s relatively small. So, we tried combining simplified versions with playful typography to communicate each behaviour instead. For example, ‘Strive for a balance’ takes the form of weighing scales. Here’s how we explored robots and playful typography.

5 posters with bright colours, playful typography and robot doodles not the focus but incorporated.

It’s OK to push it too far, you can always pull it back

We felt this first visual route had the potential to alienate the very people we were hoping to share the behavioural modes with. The danger arises from the introducing something different, it’s often the case that the unfamiliarity creates uncertainty and an initial reluctance of people to accept it – it’s only natural, and specially so in the case of radical robots!

Next, we tried an illustrative style that was more of an extension of Co-op’s own internal illustrations. This time we featured only hands to achieve the distance from demographic characteristics, while keeping the connection to the representation of ‘real people’.

After feedback and further iteration, we realised that the illustrations felt flat especially given that we’re trying to communicate behaviours – that is to say; an action, a ‘doing’. We introduced a sense of movement to help to bring them to life. For example, the fingers pulling the ribbon and the stack of foods toppling over.

So here’s where we are now – a much more familiar style.

the latest version of the posters in coop style

Before lockdown, we started to print them out as posters and put them up all over the place and to get wider feedback on them. There’s no physical place for that since everyone is remote for the time being, and everyone’s focus has understandably been on reacting to the pandemic.

But here we are, posting them in this digital space.

Each poster has a different behaviour and asks:

  1. Are there any opportunities for your team to target these behaviours?
  2. Do you have any insights or data to share that support these behaviours?

Here’s a close up of the reverse.

close up of the reverse of the poster

I extend these questions to you! Speak to ‘Digital design team in Food’ on Teams or post your comment here. We’d like your feedback.

James Rice
Lead designer

7 thoughts on “We’re using ‘behaviour modes’ to keep users at the centre of decisions

  1. Jo Hargreaves June 8, 2020 / 3:10 pm

    Very interested in whether you looked at psychographic bases for the segments? My view is that while demographics describe who they ARE and behaviour modes what they DO, only psychographics tells you WHY they do it and it is understanding these drivers that can help you best meet their needs, so without this understanding these personas feel a bit thin

    • James Rice June 12, 2020 / 11:33 am

      Hi Jo, great question.

      Our modes include additional information that aren’t shown in the posters featured in this blog post. One snippet: people give themselves permission to have an indulgent treat as a reward for previous good choices. This example covers why they exhibit that particular behaviour.

      We absolutely could do much more to flesh out the psychographic angle. My personal view is that it is tightly related to our marketing team’s efforts and so my intention is to mature our understanding in step with them as we improve the service going forward.

  2. Barbara Holligan, Co-op Members' Council June 8, 2020 / 3:12 pm

    Hi! I have to admit that often these blogs go over my head, but this one absolutely fascinated me – thanks. I particularly liked the AGM social media image with the hand holding the Coop card -and wonder if this was influenced by this work.

    • amymcnichol2 June 15, 2020 / 9:41 am

      Cheers for including, Simon 🙂

  3. Steve (@stevenjmesser) June 29, 2020 / 6:31 pm

    Gonna go out on a limb and say that behaviour modes explain the concept of a job-to-be-done better than that video about milkshakes.

Comments are closed.