Desire Code Themes


Behavioural economics is the study of the factors that influence what people do. It’s a field of work that aims to understand how our “humanness” influences our behaviour, motivation and decision-making.

Humans are not robots. We are not capable of rationally predicting and processing all the possible outcomes from every course of action we take. We make thousands of decisions daily, some of them relatively large, like what to wear and what to eat, and some of them so tiny we barely notice we made a decision at all. The process of choosing one thing over another uses mental effort, and to reduce the load on us and free up cognitive capacity we have developed a remarkable and fast subconscious system of mental shortcuts.

If the human mind was like a computer processor, ours would have two distinct operating systems - two types of thinking. One type is ‘conscious thinking’ where we are present, rational and aware of what we are doing. It is slow, deliberate and logical and takes a lot of cognitive effort. The other type of thinking is our ‘subconscious thinking’, mentioned above, which experiences our world through the lens of social, psychological and emotional factors. It’s super-fast and instinctive but prone to predictable biases or errors.

Research from the last 40+ years has uncovered a couple of hundred cognitive and behavioural biases already, and more will be identified in the future.

Desire Code is a framework, a design approach, that allows us to harness this knowledge and apply our understanding of behavioural biases into the practical design of services and products. It is made up of the following 5 broad themes:

Emotional - People are more persuaded by an emotional message than a rational one.

Short-Term - People prefer things they can have now, or soon, over things they can have in the future.

Certain - People have a poor understanding of risk and probability and prefer things they can definitely have over things they may or may not get.

Positive - People prefer to aim towards the things they want rather than avoid the things they don’t want.

Simplified - To really engage with customers, services need to be both desirable and easy to access.

The majority of articles I publish in this blog series will be related to one of the five themes above, identified by the relevant icon for that theme. My hope is that you will find the examples I share and the questions I pose to be thought-provoking and interesting.

If they lead you to think of ways to improve your own services, you can print and use these Desire Code cards to record your ideas, one card for each idea. (Click here or on the icon to download - size 596kB)

This PDF is one of several downloadable tools which will become available in this series of blogs. Each new tool as it is introduced will also be added to the tools page.