Leveraging Behavioral Science to Drive Early Product Design

As an applied psychologist and entrepreneurship educator, I aim to apply behavioral science research and knowledge to the venture realization process. In particular, I’m interested in how creativity and innovation can be better understood and supported through the lens of behavioral science. Behavioral science is a valuable tool for anyone involved in venture realization, especially those interested in facilitating creativity and innovation. By understanding how people think and behave, innovators can design environments, teams, and products that foster creativity and support behavior change.

Creativity and innovation are complex human pursuits and can be challenging for various reasons. One challenge is that our cognitive biases and limitations can get in the way of generating new and valuable ideas. For example, founders may be prone to confirmation bias, where they only look for evidence that supports their pre-existing beliefs, or suffers from the curse of knowledge, where they assume that others understand things that are obvious to them.

Behavioral science can help us overcome these challenges by providing insights into how people think and behave. For example, research has shown that people are more likely to generate creative ideas in a positive mood, so we might design work environments that foster positive emotions. Similarly, research has shown that people are more likely to be creative when working in diverse groups, so that we might design diverse teams in terms of background and experience.

The focus of this post is to highlight where behavioral science can inform innovation in the design of products and services intended to promote behavior change. By understanding how people think and behave, we can design environments, teams, and products that foster creativity and support behavior change.

What is Behavioral Science Design?

Behavioral science design is a field that uses principles from psychology, neuroscience, economics, and other behavioral sciences to design interventions that influence people’s behavior in desired ways. This field involves understanding how people make decisions, behave in different contexts, and how to design effective interventions that encourage or discourage certain behaviors. Behavioral science design is used across various disciplines, including marketing, public health, urban planning, and education, to promote healthy behaviors, encourage environmental sustainability, improve financial decision-making, and promote social and cultural norms.

Behavioral design interventions are powerful for encouraging behavior change across various domains, including health, education, and sustainability. Over the past several years, several intervention types have been researched and applied to changing behavior. One popular approach is to use nudges, subtle changes to the environment that can influence people’s behavior without restricting their freedom of choice. For instance, placing fruit at eye level in a cafeteria can encourage people to make healthier food choices.

Another effective method is to use default settings to guide people toward a specific choice or behavior. For example, this approach is common in organ donation policies where people are automatically registered as donors unless they opt out, increasing organ donation rates. Similarly, default settings can encourage sustainable behavior, such as making recycling the default option or setting energy-efficient temperature controls as the default in buildings.

Providing information about one’s behavior is also a highly effective intervention method. For instance, displaying feedback on energy consumption can motivate individuals to reduce their energy use, or showing people how much they spend on non-essential items can encourage them to save money. Reward and punishment systems can encourage positive behavior change. For instance, rewarding individuals for recycling or using public transportation can encourage them to continue doing so. On the other hand, imposing fines for littering or driving under the influence can discourage such behaviors.

In addition to these methods, social norms influence behavior. By highlighting the social expectations of a particular behavior, individuals may feel more inclined to conform to these expectations. This method has been applied to anti-smoking campaigns that use social pressure to discourage smoking.

Removing barriers to behavior change is another effective method. For example, making healthy food more accessible and affordable can encourage people to make healthier choices. Similarly, providing resources such as childcare or transportation can make it easier for individuals to attend work or school.

Moreover, behavioral science research has identified several counterintuitive observations about how people react to specific elements of their context, which can drive effective design interventions. For example, one might address choice overload by simplifying choices or providing guidance to help people make more informed decisions. Likewise, a product developer may overcome the endowment effect by designing interventions that help people overcome cognitive biases and make more rational decisions.

Behavioral science design draws on insights from multiple disciplines to design interventions that can positively shape behavior. One of the most critical aspects of this field is the prominence placed on scientific knowledge and research-informed practice. Using an evidence-based approach, product developers can better understand customers’ behavior, context, environment, capabilities, and motivations. One must understand how people think, feel, and act to create products, services, policies, and environments that are more effective, efficient, and user-friendly, leading to better outcomes for individuals and society.

Behavioral Science and Product Design

Behavioral science provides an evidenced-based foundation to explore the optimal way to facilitate behavior change towards a specific outcome. The approach is hyper-focused on what people do under particular situations and conditions. It builds on several fields that study human cognition and behavior. Behavioral science can inform product development by providing insights into human decision-making processes. For example, research has shown that people often make decisions based on heuristics or mental shortcuts rather than careful deliberation. This insight facilitates designs that are easy to understand and use, with clear and concise instructions and minimal cognitive load.

Another way behavioral science can inform product development is by providing insights into human motivations and goals. For instance, research has shown that people are likelier to engage with products that align with their values and identities. Designing products that reflect the values and identities of the target customer can create a stronger connection between the user and the product.

Behavioral science can inform product development by providing insights into how people interact with products and make decisions about them. By understanding these insights, product designers can create products that better meet the needs and preferences of users, resulting in increased customer satisfaction and sales.

Moreover, behavioral science can inform product development by providing insights into how people respond to feedback and rewards. For example, research has shown that people are more motivated by positive feedback and rewards than by negative feedback and punishment. With this knowledge, product designers can produce products that provide positive reinforcement for desired behaviors, such as completing tasks or achieving goals.

A deep understanding of customer behavior is a prerequisite before the focus shifts to the design process itself. Once you understand the customer’s current behavior in context, along with enablers and barriers that may be influencing the behavior, you can start to design an intervention to drive outcome-specific behavior change.

Behavioral Science and Minimum Viable Products

Behavioral science design can support the development of a minimum viable product (MVP) by providing insights into user needs and behavior. MVP is a product development strategy that involves creating a basic product version with only the essential features required to satisfy early adopters and gain feedback for further development. Behavioral science can help inform the design of an MVP by providing insights into user needs, preferences, and critical behaviors. For example, behavioral science research can help identify which features are most important to users and how to design those features in a way that encourages user engagement. This information can help product developers prioritize which features to include in an MVP and how to develop them most effectively.

Behavioral science can also inform an MVP’s user experience (UX) design by providing insights into how users interact with technology and how to design for their preferences and behaviors. These preferences include factors such as the layout, color scheme, and functionality of the product, as well as the messaging and marketing strategy.

Additionally, behavioral science can help inform an MVP’s testing and feedback process. For instance, one can apply A/B testing and other experimental design methods to test the effectiveness of different design features, messaging, and marketing strategies. This method can help product developers gain valuable user feedback and iterate on the MVP to improve its functionality and user experience.

Founder Prompts

  • What new habits or behaviors do you want to shape in your customer?
  • What features of your product may contribute to shaping the new habits/behaviors?
  • How will you test these features’ efficacy in driving behavior change?

Behavioral Science Informed MVP Design & Testing

Infusing behavioral design into a minimum viable product (MVP) can help increase user engagement and adoption. Here are some steps to incorporate behavioral design into an MVP:

Define the desired outcome. In behavioral science, an outcome refers to the result or consequence of a particular behavior or set of behaviors. It is the observable and measurable result of an action, such as achieving a goal, completing a task, or experiencing a consequence. A customer outcome is a specific goal or objective a customer seeks to accomplish through behavior or actions. This desired outcome may be related to the product or service, such as achieving better health or improving productivity. It may be related to more abstract goals, such as feeling a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction.

Identify the target behavior. The second step is to define the essential behavior the product is trying to encourage, leading to the desired outcome. A key behavior refers to an observable and measurable action or activity. An individual’s actions can be observed, recorded, and analyzed to understand the underlying motivations, intentions, and beliefs that drive the behavior. Key behaviors are typically targeted for change because they are a direct precursor to the desired outcome.

For example, if a design intervention aims to increase physical activity, a critical behavior might be taking a daily walk. Identifying a fundamental behavior is essential as designers focus on specific actions leading to meaningful change. Additionally, one can measure the impact of an intervention on those behaviors.

Identify any enablers or barriers that impact the key behavior. This step is critical in most design scenarios. Enablers and barriers are factors that can facilitate or hinder the performance of a specific behavior. In behavioral science, enablers and barriers can refer to various factors, such as environmental, social, cultural, cognitive, or emotional influences.

Enablers are factors that facilitate or promote the occurrence of a particular behavior. They can include resources, support, motivation, skills, and opportunities that make it easier for people to perform the behavior. For example, having access to healthy food options can be an enabler for someone who wants to eat a balanced diet, or having a supportive social network can be an enabler for someone who wants to manage their weight.

Barriers, on the other hand, are factors that hinder or prevent the occurrence of a particular behavior. They can include obstacles, challenges, limitations, or negative influences that make it more difficult for people to perform the behavior. For example, a lack of transportation can be a barrier for someone who wants to attend regular medical appointments, or social stigma can be a barrier for someone seeking treatment for a mental health condition.

Identifying and understanding enablers and barriers can help inform the development of effective interventions to promote or change behaviors. By addressing the specific factors that enable or hinder a behavior, interventions can maximize enablers and minimize barriers, thereby increasing the likelihood of behavior change.

Prioritize Product Benefits & Features. A product benefit is a specific way in which the product or service helps the customer achieve their desired outcome or solves a problem they are experiencing. Product benefits enable the customer to accomplish specific, measurable results. Therefore, benefits should be quantifiable as much as possible. Defining the benefits of your product allows you to differentiate a product from its competitors and persuade customers to choose it over others. For example, a customer outcome might be to improve overall health. A product benefit that helps the customer achieve this outcome might be a specific set of features that enables them to manage weight loss goals. 

Features are specific characteristics or attributes of the product that will allow a particular benefit. Features describe the technical aspects of a product and how it works. While features describe what a product does, benefits describe how it can help customers achieve their goals or solve their problems. In the above example, a feature of a weight loss program might be that it has a chat function that connects you with a health coach. This feature is part of the product functionality that enables the benefit of weight management. Together, product benefits and associated features support the desired customer outcome.

When designing a minimum viable product, you want to prioritize the benefits you have determined that the customer values the most. Then, determine which features the early product must possess to enable these benefits. At this point, you want to choose the minimum set of features to provide the desired result. One of the prompts we have founders consider is what product attributes will contribute to shaping specific new habits/behaviors of importance to the customer.

The relationship among these three concepts is that a customer’s desired outcome drives the essential behavior, and the product benefit and associated features are how the customer achieves that desired outcome. Therefore, by understanding the desired results of the target audience, companies can tailor their product benefits to effectively communicate the value of their product or service and meet the consumer’s needs.

Test and iterate. Once you decide what specific features you want to test, you can select the MVP approach that best fits the current state of development and determine what target customers will participate in the trial. Founders should continuously test and iterate the MVP to ensure it effectively encourages the desired behavior. These iterations can involve user testing or running A/B tests to identify the most effective design choices. The MVP design should also possess a feedback loop that provides users immediate feedback on their behavior. This feedback can be through notifications, progress bars, or gamification techniques.

By incorporating the above steps into the design process, a product design team can effectively infuse behavioral design into an MVP and improve user engagement and adoption. Founders must remember that an observable and measurable behavior leads to the desired customer outcome.


This post explores how behavioral science informs product design for behavioral change. Behavioral science helps to identify key customer behaviors for an MVP, helping designers prioritize features that encourage desired behavior. Incorporating behavioral science into product design increases user engagement and adoption by appealing to their motivations and decision-making processes. Behavioral science design is essential for creating innovative and engaging products for behavioral change.

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