Technique vs behaviour

A recent exchange I had with @chrisfinley was a comment on a post by Joshua Porter about the conflicted state some designers get into when they are confronted with the concept that they are changing behaviour. It does sound manipulative and could strain the moral fiber of people who are sensitive to questions of free will, but the fact is that we as marketers do need to advantageously affect behaviour if we are to be successful. But is behaviour the right term?

Perhaps behaviour has picked up a certain patina thanks to the work of B.F. Skinner and other behaviourists. In simplistic terms his theory was that behaviour was conditioned through environmental inputs and that consequently this behaviour could be controlled through an increase in positive or negative stimuli. The subject’s thoughts were considered in the behaviour, but there was a heavy focus on the receipt of the conditioning. The thought of pushing buttons (or applying electrical shocks) to manipulate the marketing target in a calculated manner is not an appealing idea to someone with dualist leanings. Perhaps UX designers that recoil from the idea of changing behaviour have a propensity to believe in a separation between the brain and the mind. That is best left for another post.

Despite the patina, the term behaviour may be too simplistic to accurately represent the complexity inherent in the interaction someone has with a marketing touchpoint. I am currently reading a great book that explores the relationship between technology and technique. I would like to explore the idea that rather than influence behaviour we are trying to influence technique.

“If we define technology as a modification of the environment, then we must recognize the complementary principle of technique: how the modification is used in performance.” (Tenner, 2003)

All communications through touchpoints are brokered by a technology. That technology requires a learned technique to be able to engage, interact and pull meaning from the touchpoint. It is pointless to create a thirty second spot if the target can’t operate the remote control. This base level of technique is the cost of entry for a member of society to participate in the channel.

If the technology being deployed is a widget, website, tool, appliance or other product that directly engages with the target then we as experience designers should be considering how we support the target in adopting or creating a new technique to use it. These techniques are personal and meaningful and support adoption of the product. A technique may encompass many behaviours – many that we may not be able to capture in research and testing. Rather than focusing on a simple set of behaviours, we should consider them in aggregate as a technique and devise our design methods accordingly.

Technique also has room to allow for the application of free will by humanizing the target. A positively engaged target will engage in the variety of behaviours inherent in a technique on their own accord. The idea of technique also allows for an evolution of that technique based on the input of the user. A behaviour may be too narrow to allow for variations that still ensure the same goal.

“The interaction of inventors…with participants…allows technology and technique to produce striking results envisioned by neither…” (Tenner, 2003)

Technology and technique are not static but are engaged in a constant evolutionary dance. We should embrace that complexity, temper our desire to reduce interaction to behaviours, and focus on creating marketing that supports the creation of identity through technique.

“When we use simple devices to move, position, extend, or protect our bodies, our techniques change both objects and bodies. And by adopting devices we do more. We change our social selves. In other species, natural selection and social selection shape the appearance of the animal. In humanity, technology helps shape identity.” (Tenner, 2003)

Tenner, E. (2003). Our Own Devices: How Technology Remakes Humanity. Vintage Books: New York.

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  1. We were discussing this issue today in the office after watching Robert Fabricant’s IxDA talk http://vimeo.com/3730382

    • cuthbertsteel

      It is a great subject, and a conversation that all of us need to reconcile at some point. Thx for the link.




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