Ambiguity and Open-Endedness in Behavioural Design

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Design is increasingly concerned with changing people’s behaviours. A common characteristic to behavioural design approaches is their directionality: products
provide clarity about or guidance towards the designer’s intended behavioural outcome. In this paper we propose an alternative perspective that emphasizes
ambiguity (i.e. affording multiple interpretations) and open-endedness (i.e. affording multiple courses of action). We build on two design cases in pediatric healthcare in
which the aim was to stimulate young children’s physical activity during hospitalization. Instead of commonly used exercise-based approaches, our focus was
on physical activity in the form of spontaneous and unstructured play. We describe how interactions with ambiguous and open-ended playthings gave rise to intended
behavioural outcomes. The findings are explained by drawing on Activity Theory, suggesting products can direct and leave things open on different levels of interaction.
With our contribution we open up a new design space for behavioural design that reconciles designer’s intentions with end user’s appropriation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of DRS 2018
EditorsC. Storni, K. Leahy, M. McMahon, P. Lloyd, E. Bohemia
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherDesign Research Society
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)978-1-912294-19-0
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventDRS 2018: Design as a catalyst for change - Limerick, Ireland
Duration: 25 Jun 201828 Jun 2018

Publication series

NameProceedings of DRS
PublisherDesign Research Society
ISSN (Print)2398-3132


ConferenceDRS 2018


  • appropriation
  • design for behaviour change
  • openness
  • research through design


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