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Both written communications and design can be greatly improved with the knowledge of behavioral science. Armed with such knowledge, it's possible to design communications that are more effective at influencing the decisions people make.

The RESPONSE practitioner's playbook, available on the UK local government website – –provides a nice behavioral insights checklist to use when designing communications. In brief, the acronym RESPONSE represents for the following:

R - Recipient (understanding who needs to perform the desired behavior)

E - Effect (defining the goal)

S - Sender (consider who sends the message, how it is sent, and when)

P - Pain points (conduct a behavioral audit - does it grab attention? is it easy to understand? is there a clear call to action? does it use the right tone? are the consequences for not taking action clear? does it provide a feedback loop? etc)

O - Opportunities (make adjustments and find solutions that address the pain points found in the previous step)

N - Nudge (draw upon insights from psychology to make it easier for people to make optimal decisions).

S - Spillovers (perform a pre-mortem to imagine possible negative spillovers, in order to plan for them and anticipate barriers)

E - Evaluate (conduct an evaluation to measure the impact of the designs)

Many graphic designers intuitively understand and already apply the several concepts of behavioral science to their work. That said, the fields currently operate pretty separately and there are great possibilities for collaboration and cross-pollination.

Some ways that insights from behavioral science can be applied to both communications and design relate to:

  • Anchoring

  • Cognitive ease

  • Defaults

  • Ambiguity aversion

  • Authority bias

  • Commitment

  • Empathy gap

  • Framing

  • Less friction

  • Mental accounting

  • Present bias

  • Saliency

  • Loss aversion

  • Optimism bias

  • Priming

  • Social norms

  • Color psychology

  • Use of imagery and icons over text

Behavioral science can contribute at an even greater scale by turning outward to partner with other disciplines—in particular, with the field of design.

Sarah Reid and Ruth Schmidt (


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