11.08.2014

Recommended reading list for behavior change technology

I've been asked several times for a reading list for behavior change. Here goes.

Long story short
If you're going to read one book, read Designing for Behavior Change. It's a fantastic book that hasn't got the attention it deserves.

If you're going to read three more, I recommend The Power of HabitEnchanted Objects, and Microinteractions. They'll give you the tools to triangulate form several different directions.

Above all, read and build with humility. Remember that the science of behavior change is a rapidly moving target. It's at the watershed moment where a scientific field goes from being a collection of curious findings, to a discipline with widespread practical applications. Expect wonderful, astonishing, and occasionally frightening things in the next few years.


Designing nudgeware
BJ Fogg's original work on "captology": the practice of persuasion via technology. This was a groundbreaking book at the time (2002), but it's starting to feel dated. We've learned a lot since then. I recommend Designing for Behavior Change as a good ten-years-later update to these ideas.

If you're marooned on a desert island and want one book to learn about nudging behavior, pick this one. Stephen Wendel does a great job drawing together research on attention, motivation, and habit formation and using it to inform a broad, balanced approach. The book combines lots of examples, plus a deep awareness of existing theory---and its limitations---plus a stiff does of personal experience. This is the single best summary of the current state of the art in nudgeware.

A short treatise on developing addictive social/mobile products. Compared to the field at large, Hooked is a bit simplistic---focusing on one very specific recipe for habit change---but I'm persuaded that this recipe works. More than most other books on nudgeware, Hooked embraces the potential for evil and profitability from manipulating habits.

Examples of Smart Devices
A wax museum of before-their-time ideas for the Internet of Things, with lots of details and pictures. Read it once to get a lot of interesting ideas; read it a second time to understand the underlying market/technical constraints that have slowed adoption of smart devices.

Read this as a reboot of Smart Things: a catalog of interesting IoT concepts. The fairy tale framing feels gimmicky to me, but David Rose has earned the right to an opinion in this field. His diatribe against the black hole of screens contains a lot of truth---he's done a great job capturing the way smart objects can (and should?) feel.

User interactions
An oldie but goodie on UX design (mostly for the web). You'll read it with new eyes after you absorb all the academic work on cognition.

This is more UX than behavior change, but it's worth a read anyway. This book revels in the details of progress bars, password boxes, and the like. It's more web-focused than I'd like, but does address mobile development. A challenge to UX designers: bring this same level of craft and care to smart devices. (They haven't written books, but I recommend Alfred Lui, Mike Kuniavsky, Tristan Harris, and Raph D'Amico as people doing very good thinking in this area.)

Academic research
This book is a very readable introduction to the psychology of habits. The first third of this book contains a large quantity of Science; the second and third sections are mostly storytelling and conjecture. The appendix on habit loops (available for free online) is pure gold.

I'm out of time. Will summarize these other books when I get the chance. On the whole, they're more academic/economic/stuffy---they lean towards the development of theory, instead of the development of practical tools.


More?
I'm sure this doesn't cover all the books on the subject of technology-enabled behavior change. What did I miss? Help me out in the comments.

Also, I deliberately kept this list to just books---no papers, news articles, or blog posts. I'd love to expand to include all of the above.

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