Fun Theory and Behavior Design

Behavior Design field marries design and behavioral science and economics. Today, Fun Theory links up with game design, since it focuses on understanding, quantifying, gauging the impact of funs (as the opposite of boredom). It tries to answer problems such as how we should quantify of fun. Of course, it has strong links with behavior design since it maintains that routine behaviors can be impacted by introducing elements of fun. Volkswagen made the concept of Fun Theory when it promoted experiments that proved the theory. The experiments also constitute great examples of behavior design. In fact, fun theory can be seen as a strategy in designing behaviors. 

One important aspect of behavior design is the Fogg Behavior Model (FBM) The FBM has three-parts. For a behavior to occur three elements must be at play: Motivation, Ability and Trigger. Motivation is self- explanatory: what do I expect to gain or avoid by engaging in the behavior? Ability are the aspects of the current context or design that enable –or not– a behavior. Lastly, triggers are reminders, something in the environment that indicates that a behavior should happen now. The aspect of kairos, greek for opportune persuasion, is what needs to be remembered when looking at trigger. Is the trigger coming at a time when motivation, ability and trigger are working together to ensure the behavior?

Let's look at three Fun Theory experiments through the FBM.

  1. Bottle Bank Arcade Machine: This idea makes the return of plastic bottles and cans a fun activity. In this context there is no payment for the return of glass, as there is with things like cans and plastic. The video shows an arcade-type container that makes sounds and provides points to the gamer. The result is the container gets used 500% more times. By incentivizing the recycling of cans and plastic yet not doing the same when it comes to glass the designers of this behavior (planners) are possibly making the activity pale in comparison. The behavior of recycling plastic and cans become something that people remember to do because it's an easy way to make pocket money. And some people might be thinking that it's unfair to get not money for a very similar activity for which they do get money. The experiment in the video shows an increased result during one night of usage. The problem is how do you make that game sticky so there will be a reason to use it more than once. Without knowing the game itself and what long term potential it has, it's difficult to ascertain what long term usage it will have in the community where the machine would stay.  Looking at the  FBM, there's a lot right with the design in terms of the trigger. The container is noisy and flashy (literally) and in the short experiment, they are shown to attract attention. However, these to aspects could become annoying with time because they are triggering (reminding) everyone independently of whether the passerby can possibly address the trigger. He might or might not have glass bottles. So the kairos might be off. 
  2. The Worlds deepest bin. A bin is rigged so that when used it makes a sound that makes the person outside think that the object is falling through an extremely deep hole.  As a result, it collected 41 more kilos of trash than a nearby bin.  This idea is working, like the previous one, on the curiosity of passersby. If this area has a large number of people who are first time users, for example if the bin is located at a tourist attraction the design is likely to increase collection long term. A better solution could be letting people know that other people threw the trash there. Knowing that others engage in a behavior makes it socially sanctioned and is one of the most potent strategies for behavior design. 
  3. The play Belt: This idea restraints passengers in their ability to use the entertainment centers in the car. They can only do so when they use their safety belts. My thoughts: strictly speaking, this is what behavioral economist call paternal libertarianism, which is the belief in designing "nudges" into products and services that push the user to make the right choice. I would posit that this behavior is not fun per se, but that the prize for engaging in the behavior is. 

In conclusion, though these examples show that you can change behavior through fun, there will frequently be better ways to attain the same results by thinking beyond fun an at a behavior long term. I would say that in these three examples, I have no reason to believe that there was actual long term behavior change (learning) taking place.