Why Gamification Could Be The Key To Building Engaging Tech For Good Products

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Why Gamification Could Be The Key To Building Engaging Tech For Good Products

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2020 has shone a blinding light on the power of tech for good. Environmental sustainability and healthcare have long been vitally important, but the pandemic has hammered home the fact that too many of us don’t exercise enough and struggle to understand how to make a meaningful impact on the environment

For entrepreneurs and technologists looking to solve these problems, digital tech for good products are becoming a big part of the approach. But how should they approach these issues?

Affecting positive habit change is the scourge of governments and private business alike, whether it’s encouraging people to leave the car at home, exercise, or recycle more.

The act of designing gaming elements into popular apps, or gamification for short, has long been popular with past successes including productivity app Forest and location sharing app Zenly.

But for the health and sustainability issues currently assailing popular consciousness, what’s important for developers and designers to consider and include? Here’s what we think.

Gamifying the user experience

Approaching product design in a user-centric fashion is the key to creating products answering users’ needs and to therefore inspire behaviour change. Users expect a product to be intuitive and delightful in use, and one user experience (UX) technique to achieve this is gamification.

Gamification requires at least five key elements.

The mechanics designed should include goals to build a sense of purpose into the system, rules to provide limitations that enable creativity and achievement, feedback to allow users to track their progress in the context of the goals and rules set for them, rewards such as a points or achievements system to provide a return for the time and investment they’ve made, and motivation - creating a story for why users should act in the first place.

With these gamification guidelines, product designers are able to achieve a change in users' behaviour. 

Creating sensations of delight and fun are also important where gamification is concerned in order to effectively drive behaviour change. This requires a deep understanding of what makes people tick however.

Motivation and hierarchies of needs

Creating motivation for users to use products is a key part of effective gamification. Motivation theory has long provided useful principles to think about when designing products, with Maslow’s 1943 paper on the hierarchy of needs is one of the earliest examples of useful conceptual frameworks. 

Gamification focuses on the top three layers of the needs pyramid - belonging, esteem and self actualisation. Collaboration and connection form part of the belonging layer and are some of the most fundamental human needs, whilst motivational theorist Daniel Pink adds an additional three layers to the self-actualisation layer  - purpose, autonomy and mastery.

Another useful framework is Aaron Walter’s hierarchy of user needs which pitches that superior needs (such as pleasure and delight — at the very top of the pyramid) can only be achieved after more foundational ones (such as functionality and usability) are fulfilled.

The smash-hit nature of Pokemon Go provides an excellent case study of the power of incorporating the above to drive positive change in people's lives.

Whilst the fact it used an iconic piece of intellectual property provided an initially compelling narrative for the product, just as vital was the way it created opportunities to fulfill esteem and belonging needs, for example the leveling up of players as well as facilitating the collaboration of users, for example to identify where specific Pokemon were located to catch them. It also helped build a community of like minded players that crossed the boundaries of age and sex. 

At the peak of the buzz , everyone from grandmas to teens and four year olds could get involved in the activity as all it required was walking from location to location. In the process, it made people healthier and more active.

Purpose and partnership

Effective product design requires purpose to be at the centre of all efforts, and this is no less true for tech for good products. For example, POMMINE’s mission of helping the user take action to help the planet was central to its approach in designing the 10 Steps to Mars step counter app.

To guide their thinking, businesses can look to existing governmental and non-governmental (NGO) frameworks.

The UN actively encourages businesses to advance the aims of their Sustainable Development Goals, a list of seventeen goals which as a whole provide a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030".

Product designers can then create specific in-app mechanics that gamify these goals and contribute to a sense of achievement for the users. 10 Steps to Mars  is centered around three of the goals - Good Health and Well-being, Climate Action and Life on Land.  

Another way to achieve a product’s intended purpose is to partner with an organisation that helps fulfill some of the user needs the product intends to meet.

For example, companies can partner with bodies like Climate Action and Trees for the Future to help promote causes such as the long-term health of land, families and communities, breaking the cycle of generational poverty and leaving a legacy of hope for the future.

The value of designing engaging tech for good products lies in understanding human nature effectively to drive meaningful experiences and engagement time after time.

By understanding what drives people and their needs, as well as craft engaging, gamified experiences, designers can develop better products and services that drive effective habit change - and make the world a better place.

Elodie Swanberg, CEO and co-founder, POMMINE

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Why Gamification Could Be The Key To Building Engaging Tech For Good Products

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