Ben Kertman

RRS Integrating behavior change science into human centered design

When we design products and experiences to encourage users to re-share an article, complete an online course, or wear their fitness tracker while exercising, we are attempting to change thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Though much of our work centers around behavior change, we have not yet integrated behavior science into the foundations of our methods. We have the opportunity to do so in a thoughtful, meaningful, and academically rigorous way.

I will walk the audience through an open-source, open-access map of academically-vetted factors that can either facilitate or limit any given behavior. This map reveals a whole world of missed opportunities to design our products and experiences in ways that have real, lasting impact on the behaviors we hope to affect.

This map illuminates a bird’s eye perspective for how the world works. It is my hope that this fresh point of view inspires how we choose to live our lives.

RRS Biography

Ben is a behavior change scientist who became a user research consultant so he could help organizations design experiences that change behaviors and improve human well-being.


Impatient with the tendency of behavior change companies to use a one-tool approach, Ben developed and published and open-source list of 39 behavior change tools for researchers and designers to apply to their work. He has spent the last 5 years honing techniques for integrating these behavior change tools into the foundation of UX.


Ben holds a masters in Social and Behavior Science and Public Health from Harvard.


Behavior Change Consultant

RRS Who is your role model, and why?

It’s fortunate that I feel no shortage of them. I have many role models who are public icons and many who I am lucky are apart of my sphere of family, friends, and colleagues.

There is a list of public icons I admire for the newness they bring to their art form, and the thoughtfulness they put into the messages they deliver. It’s a list that includes the likes of Reggie Watts, Anthony Bourdain, Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes). John Oliver, Evan Puschak (NerdWriter), Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson, Roy Choi, Katcha Blichfield, Ben Sinclair, and many others. These hybrid artist-intellectuals are pioneering the mediums they love to communicate the ideas and sentiments that, may hopefully, one day shape our world for the better.

My friends and family all brim with a variety of unique perspectives, attitudes, and behaviors that I deeply admire. Some of them are the best question askers I have ever known while others have a depth of compassion that I could only hope to glimpse. I am constantly learning from them, trying to emulate what makes them so magnificent. If I am lucky, and they keep letting me hang around, maybe someday they’ll rub off on me 🙂

RRS What is the core message of your talk?

The field of behavioral science provides us with a list of factors that are most likely to facilitate or limit a given behavior. By organizing those factors and placing them on a map, we’re able to gain a whole new perspective for how the world works. This point of view has important implications for how we work in design, and hopefully, for how we live our lives.

RRS Why is your subject matter important to researchers?

Sometimes it can be hard to see, but I believe that we, as design professionals, are in the business of changing behavior. Whether we are redesigning a website, or deciding what content to publish, we do so in the service of affecting some thought, emotion, or behavior in our audience. We redesign websites so that users can more easily find and participate in an online class, or we publish content that resonates with our users so they feel inspired to share those ideas with their network.

If we agree that we often are designing for behavior change, and we don’t incorporate insights from the behavior change sciences, then we are missing opportunities to design our products and experiences in ways that have real, lasting impact on the behaviors we hope to affect. This map shows us which factors we could facilitate or limit in our designs to most affectively impact the target behaviors. Without it, or something like it, we are designing blindly.

RRS What do you want attendees to take away from your talk?

I hope attendees walk away with the simple understanding that this map for changing behaviors exists, and that by just knowing that, they feel the incredible implications this knowledge has for our lives.


We build compassion when we use the map to try and imagine the complexity of factors that shape the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of the people around us. What caused that person to cut us off in traffic? Does the design of our roads increase the likelihood of such behavior? Is there an emergency in that person’s life that we cannot begin to fathom?


We become better problem solvers when we consider solving for those factors that lead to that behavior, rather than retaliating in kind. What’s being done to update the designs of our roads to facilitate better behavior? How can we keep all members of the road safe when an individual experiences an emergency while driving?


And most importantly, we recognize the inevitable responsibility that comes with the simple observation that everything we do impacts the maps of the people around us, affecting what they think, feel, and do. My treatment of the barista at my local coffee shop has the potential to impact the mood he brings to everyone else he sees that day. Me decision to wave back to that child peeking over the back of that bus seat next to her mom, will shape that child’s expectations of how to interact with society. I am not suggesting these are things we must do, but merely acknowledge that whichever decision we make will have an inevitable impact.


Whether we like it or not, we are constantly shaping the world around us. That power only increases as our work reaches larger audiences. It’s up to us to decide if we want to recognize this power, and if we do, what do we use it for?

RRS How can attendees prepare in advance?  Do you have a book, blog post or any other relevant information you’d like to share?

I highly recommend reading Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind”. Harari uses lenses from evolutionary biology, archeology, primatology, and more to paint a sweeping history of humankind. From the development of our frontal lobes to the rise of capitalism, Harari highlights the chain of events that explain why and how our current world exists as it does. It dovetails nicely into my talk which will illustrate how to use this information in design, and what it means to how we live our lives.


And for some shameless self-promotion, here are two articles that I’ve written: the first is on how media is shaping our behavior and the other is on how informational comedy shows like “Last Week Tonight” may be winning the fight for our beliefs.

RRS Summit Organizers

This summit is organized by research practitioners from Spatial Research & Design and Blueprint UX, local UX design companies, and global technology leaders Samsung, Facebook, and mCloud. The organizers are passionate about research that inspires new ideas and improves product design/strategy.

Our goal for the summit is to strengthen the Pacific Northwest research community by sharing research approaches, methods and ideas for contributing to better human-centred product/service design.