MPACT: Creating a framework to promote behavior-based design


MPACT: Creating a framework to promote behavior-based design

Imagine that you’re designing a financial planning app. Which persona gives you the most actionable information?

Option #1
A 40 year old attorney who’s married, lives in Portland, Maine and makes $80k a year.

Option #2 
A person who’s not detail-oriented, prefers a hands-off approach, delegates decisions to others, and is overwhelmed by complexity

There’s a striking difference between the two options. Option 2 is a behavior-based persona, which provides far more actionable information. That’s why we created MPACT, a framework to help teams build personas in an agile and collaborative way.

Building a better persona

As human-centered designers, we devote a good portion of our early project hours trying to understand the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of the people we’re designing for. Without this understanding, our designs may end up being ineffective and unsuccessful.

That’s why we’re often asked to create personas for our clients. Many times, the personas they have in mind are based on demographics. We’ve all seen them. They focus on age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, education, and geographic location. They have witty names like “Soccer Mom” or “Tech Bro.” And, unfortunately, they’re often — purposely or not — rooted in stereotypes.

Human behavior is central to our work. Some projects require us to understand how people currently behave, and create experiences that work best for them when they do that. Other projects aim to change behavior, and create experiences that support more positive habits. Both types of projects require us to identify and understand key behavior attributes.

Making an MPACT

MPACT began as a toolkit, a “board game” of sorts that guides design teams through a series of steps, culminating in a set of 3-5 project-specific, behavior-based personas. The kit contains an in-depth facilitator’s guide, a board, several card decks, and templates for empathy mapping.

The first version of MPACT focused on financial behaviors and contained cards for 15 sets of behavior attributes related to how people manage their personal finances. These attributes include decision-making approach, attitude toward complexity, service preference, and fiscal responsibility.

After debuting MPACT at the Financial Experience Design Conference in 2017, we created a second version, this time focusing on health behaviors. MPACT for Health contains a different set of behavior attributes, including certitude, communication style, health focus, and utilization.

The behavior attribute cards for both the Health and Finance kits include concrete, actionable Design Tips. As teams work through the persona-creation process, they gather design tips for their selected attributes, then affinity map them to uncover themes. The goal is for the team to align on a design direction. Once aligned, they have a “North Star” to guide their future designs.

What you get with MPACT

While the MPACT toolkits come with a robust Facilitator’s Guide with prompts, guidance, and step-by-step instructions, we realized that the best path to adoption included providing hands-on training for facilitators.

MPACT is a collaborative design tool, designed to bring stakeholders together and help them reach consensus on such weighty topics as business objectives and how to measure them. Bringing many voices — and their competing goals — to the table means facilitators must feel comfortable with the process and their ability to keep it moving along.

When we lead an MPACT workshop, we’re training the facilitators, letting participants guide their teams through the process to get a feel for how it should flow “in real life.”

Expanding the vision: MPACT for all

Over the past two years, we’ve presented MPACT at numerous conferences, and every time the interest was incredible. People clearly understood the value of behavior-based design and were hungry for tools to help them do it on their own.

We’d offered a free, stripped down version of MPACT, the “lite kit,” for a while, but at the end of 2018, we began to reimagine it — and MPACT in general. We added more robust DIY instructions, a research guide, and sample moderator’s guides.

And at this point, we realized that MPACT is much more than a toolkit. Or a board game. It’s a framework that helps non-designers understand design thinking and learn to use it in their organizations.

We love design thinking! And we love that MPACT might help more people get excited about it. We hope to see many more folks using the framework in the future. If you do, please feel free to reach out with questions, comments, or feedback!

Want to learn more about MPACT? Watch these videos.

MPACT announcement from HXD 2018

MPACT presentation at Boston CHI

CHXD Webinar: Agile Behavior-based personas for better design

Contributed by
Dana Ortegón
Job Title
Senior Content Strategist
Priyama Barua
Job Title
Experience Strategy Director