Motivational Design

Group discussing the role of motivation in design and how designers can better support their own motivation and that of their clients and customers.

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Motivation and Design

Started by Fergus Bisset. Last reply by Jess McMullin Mar 17, 2011. 8 Replies

Thought I'd start things off with a couple of straightforward questions, would really welcome any thoughts we might have on these issues...Motivation is described as the 'direction and energisation…Continue

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Comment by Fergus Bisset on January 3, 2010 at 15:00
I am currently writing a short chapter for the forthcoming Service Design textbook This is Service Design Thinking. In the spirit of co-creation and participatory design which this publication is attempting to embody I would be very interested to hear what you think about my introduction and the scope of the chapter I am writing. I would really welcome your feedback and suggestions. Presently, it reads as follows:

Motivation has been described as the “energisation and direction of human behaviour” (Reeve, 2005). A fundamental concept in the understanding, regulation and support of human behaviour, Motivation has been debated and discussed for time immemorial. From Confucian and Sanskrit philosophy in the East to that of the Greek political philosophers and Christian biblical scholars in the West: The symbiotic relationship of the individual and their environment and attempts to understand the governing principles of this relationship have been one of the most central questions to ‘energise and direct’ humanity’s thoughts, beliefs and creativity. Defining not only the social structures of the societies in which we live but the political, educational and creative philosophies that govern and sustain them.

Mook (1987) provides a fuller account of the historical evolution of Motivation and in turn the recursive nature of Motivation within society. History builds a case for how significantly a society or community’s conception of ‘motivation’ underpins its philosophical and political stance and behaviour. For example Pre-Enlightenment era Europe was governed by the Christian church and thus the values of the church transcended national boundary, in much the same way that for example modern day Islam and Judaism often transcends or paradoxically in the case of countries such as Iran and Israel respectively, epitomises national or political identity.

There is little escaping the fact that our motivations or how we explain and conceptualise them digs deeper into our own psyche and that of our societies than very often as designers we are prepared or entitled to look. Furthermore, if Design Thinking and Service Design hold the key to solving larger more complex social problems as (Burns, Cottam, Vanstone, & Winhall, 2006), Brown (2009), Martin (2009), Loevlie (2009) and Miller and Rudnick (2009) have claimed, do we need to start being more capable and comfortable at asking those questions and visualising and conceptualising the responses?

This chapter seeks to explore as succinctly as 8000 characters allows what modern day psychology and its literature can contribute to overcoming these sometimes uncomfortable ethical, political and social conceptualisations and how, in addition to existing and established Service Design tools and processes, it might be able to support us ‘design thinkers’ as we seek to ‘energise and direct’ human behaviour through the design and creation of innovative products, systems and services.

Thank you all in anticipation of your help and really looking forward to hearing from you, either via Twitter or via the comments form below:
Comment by Fergus Bisset on October 4, 2009 at 13:28
That would be brilliant Matt - I would really appreciate that as I do all the time and comments you've shared on this thus far, insight from people like yourself who are 'in the field' as it were, is so value for helping refine these tools/documents - thank you!
Comment by Matt Currie on October 4, 2009 at 2:39
Hi all - I'd made a few comments on this topic over on and would like to join in the ongoing conversation that's happening here.

First a quick intro: I'm a service designer (currently employed in the public sector) passionate about creating service experiences that delight people, deliver profit and sustain our physical and social environments. I live and work in Hamilton, New Zealand.

I've only recently made a real entrance into the social media realm as a design thinker, so please excuse me for just "dropping in" on this conversation (I'm a little unsure on social media etiquette).

Fergus - I've checked out iteration 2 of the motivational personas framework and feel it's lost a bit of usefulness for me (over iteration 1). Hard to put my finger on exactly why that is, but I find that there's a lot going on now with multiple layers of info - a lot to interpret.

If it would be helpful to you, I can look at the diagram some more and come back with some more specific thoughts...
Comment by Fergus Bisset on October 2, 2009 at 14:30
Wow Adam - my mother is a singing enthusiast so I am used to anecdotes and metaphors of the singing variety - but that one in particular...awesome!

Thanks again for your comments, I really think you (and Theo...) are onto something with that point, I guess I'll need to go and ponder that a little to see how that integrates, if at all. But I think in principle you are's always easier to be demotivated by people who you think should be on the same wavelength as you....I've experienced that this week myself. Whereas, as you say, if someone is obviously being obtuse or from another planet, they are easier to distance yourself emotionally from.

Increasingly I see that middle area as the area of 'engagement', almost the area where designers play the most significant role, helping people in at one side and hopefully helping move them towards the right of the image. But I think as you say, in it's current representation it is perhaps a bit vague - I think I need to dig deeper into there to clarify it yet further.

Think I might also go and hunt for some lit. on emotional contagion...thank you. Yet another example where performance is such a useful tool and metaphor for exploring the field of design, thank you!
Comment by Adam StJohn Lawrence on October 2, 2009 at 14:10
Hi Fergus,

I like the new version a lot - though I don't immediately see what the left ("observed" etc) column is telling me.

In my work, this stuff is crucial. A service design which is not well over to the right of the chart will not stick, and if it is not extreme right edge, it will not grow. The problem is, the behaviour associated with a lot of the midfield levels is very similar - and easy to confuse. Worse, someone who is going through the motions can very easily "infect" people who are more self-motivated.

This may seem a bit esoteric, but I just came out of a masterclass with the singer Theo Beckmann (most googleworthy). He had us holding one note while he played or sang others. Notes that were very different to ours were no real problem, even if they were disharmonic. But the semitones above and below our target note were really seductive. It sounded almost like our note, but was that little bit easier... and soon sucked us off track. Sometimes I think motivation work is like this. It's not the scowler in the corner who is the problem, but the guy who is just a little less motivated than me..


Comment by Fergus Bisset on October 2, 2009 at 13:55
The original link explaining a bit more about my justification for this can be found here:
Comment by Fergus Bisset on October 2, 2009 at 13:46
I have just iterated the next visualisation of my research into Motivation, both as a tool to test and consolidate my own thinking, but also so that I can share with you more easily what I perceive as the role of Motivation in Design succinctly.

This differs from the previous document I posted in that it is starting to acknowledge the question most users and designers might have once they understand something, ok so how do I use it? It also maps the model of motivation I have adopted against more established or existing ideas of which I'm sure some of you will have heard such as 'Flow State'. As with all my work posted so far, it's early days - would really welcome your thoughts on this framework:


- Is it useful?
- Is it accurate?
- How does it fit with how you might already perceive motivation in your work as a designer, is it more or less specific than any methods you might already use?

Original Link:

I'm really keen that this should develop into an ongoing discussion, so let me know if you completely disagree, don't understand, don't see the value of this - it'll be really useful for my own learning (and hopefully everyone else's!!)
Comment by Fergus Bisset on September 21, 2009 at 14:32
I really appreciate your time in commenting on the pdf, this iteration one so will take on board your comments as I draft no.2.

I agree greater distinction is required between WHY? and HOW? is required but the point that you've raised regarding these two questions is exactly the distinction I was aiming to make...

Obviously the difference between why a user or designer does something and how they do it has a profound impact on their motivation and engagement with a product, system or service and is a fundamental usability issue in it's own right. - If it's too difficult to associate the WHY? and HOW? then people won't bother and will thus exhibit demotivated behaviour.

That said and as I explored in my previous comment, I think there is a fine line between making things straightforward for people and not challenging them enough - if people are not challenged they don't reflect on their abilities. This can result in them feeling like they haven't learned anything or developed their skills, which in the long term is as much a barrier to behavioural change.

This idea can also be found in the literature on flow state and also related to the 'performance analogy' we discussed earlier.

Thanks again for your feedback and contributions to this fascinating discussion. :-)

Comment by Adam StJohn Lawrence on September 21, 2009 at 14:24

"Furthermore, how does this idea fit with the common trend in the industrial era of 'making things easier' and 'usable' for users - surely rather than generating user awareness of their capabilities and skills this is actually preventing them from experiencing this..."

The things that are made more "useable" are largely tools. My MacBook is more useable than my PC, so it frees my creativity. Perhaps our job as designers is not to try and play down the complexity of the world, but to give people useable tools and strategies which they can use themselves to understand and work with that complexity.
Comment by Fergus Bisset on September 21, 2009 at 14:17
Great thoughts Mariya,
I'm a huge proponent of increased user empowerment/autonomy but I think this also has a huge implication on the role of designers which perhaps needs as much support as the users themselves - I guess that's where it really needs to be a shared goal for both users and designers. Perhaps this has always been the implicit aim of UCD/HCD methods but somehow these methods always seem to be highjacked and become an issue of user 'needs' as opposed to shared 'capabilities' between user and designer.

From my perspective this relates to your next, hugely valuable point, regarding user self-efficacy and perception of ability. How much is the designers role simply awaking this self belief and capability in their users?

Furthermore, how does this idea fit with the common trend in the industrial era of 'making things easier' and 'usable' for users - surely rather than generating user awareness of their capabilities and skills this is actually preventing them from experiencing this...How do we as designers encourage a greater degree of challenge and user self-reflection without overwhelming or intimidating them?

Thanks again for sharing these fascinating ideas.


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Discussion Forum

Motivation and Design

Started by Fergus Bisset. Last reply by Jess McMullin Mar 17, 2011. 8 Replies




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