Andy Vaughn

A Sport Psychologist’s contribution to user-experience design

An Event Apart Seattle 2007
I attended An Event Apart in Seattle this last week and had a great time. The presentations were engaging, and all of them inspired further thinking and reflection.

In particular, Andy Budd’s “Are you experienced” and Jeff Veen’s “Designing the Next Generation of Web Apps” made me think about the parallels between user-experience design and an often-used behavior-change model in sport and exercise psychology.


The transtheoretical model (TTM) is used to assist people with behavior change, specifically by addressing how prepared they are to making the change.

This behavior can be exercising, smoking cessation, or–in the case of the web–purchasing a product, joining a community, or posting a video.

For example, our hypothetical user is a 42 year old father of two with an annual household income of $72,000. Here, our examination of this persona, different from traditional user-experience-design, is that he will not be seen as a representative of 42 year old middle-class fathers. Rather, he will be representative of users in his “stage of change.”

How this is done

The TTM has six stages.

Stage one is the pre-contemplation stage.
In this stage, our user has yet to consider adopting the new behavior, and is often oblivious to how this change would benefit him.

This experience can be common when our user comes to a web site for the first time. He may not be familiar with a company or product, or how it might benefit him. So, his user experience should be tailored to giving him information, helping him consider the benefits of the change, but not yet pushing action.

Stage two is the contemplation stage.
In this stage, he has started to realize the benefits of adopting this new behavior, but is still far from planning on making the change himself. His user experience needs to have the benefits hit home, be tailored to why he specifically should be making this change, and help him prepare for the change. We are still not pushing him to act – he is not ready.

Stage three is the preparation stage.
Here, our user is planning on adopting the behavior in the near future, and has acknowledged the benefits to him. His user experience needs to be a call-to-action. Help lift him that extra step and make it easy for him to do.

Stage four is the action stage.
This is a key stage. We have helped the user make the change. Now we need to help him keep it up, tell his friends, and maintain this new behavior. His user experience needs to be aimed at removing potential obstacles to future action, keeping him enthused, and reinforcing the benefits that initially brought him to making the change.

Stage five is the maintenance stage.
Our user is committed to the behavior, he is returning on a regular basis, and does not plan on stopping. Beautiful! But…

That’s it, right?

All parties have reached their goal. Our user is reaping the rewards of the behavior change, and your business or community has a new loyal member. Everyone is happy.

What happens when he leaves? He finds a better offer, stops seeing the benefits, or just stops participating.

The sixth stage is relapse.
His user experience should help motivate him to re-adopting the behavior, and provide future strategies that will prevent relapse. This involves community support, reinforcing contact, and similar “touching-bases” strategies.

Now we’re there.

I’ve outlined a rough method for contributing to the web user experience through the Transtheoretical Model of behavior change. This is nowhere near a complete treatise on the subject, or a golden solution that all companies should adopt. However, I think this outline could be a useful asset to anyone considering an in-depth examination of the user experience in their design.

Useful Resources

Posted by Andy Vaughn on June 25, 2007

Leave a Comment