4.208: Special Topics in Computation and Architecture
User Interface Design Studio
Fall 2004 Topic:
Designing Persuasive
Environments and Technologies

Instructor: Stephen Intille, Ph.D., (Get email), 617-452-2346
Units: 3-0-9 (H Grad credit), Advanced undergraduates welcome
Meeting Time: Tue, Thu 5-6:30 
Meeting Places: MIT Room 56-167
Course Website: http://www.media.mit.edu/~intille/teaching/fall04/syllabus.htm

Introduction   Goals   Prerequisites   Format and Requirements   Project and Paper   Readings   Schedule   Grading   Assignments   Late Policy   Academic Integrity  Office Hours


This graduate seminar course explores the design and evaluation of environments and technologies that motivate behavior change.  Topics covered include the study and application of theories of persuasion and behavior change, application of those theories to user interface design for mobile computing devices and ubiquitous computing environments, and strategies for evaluating the effectiveness of spaces and technologies designed to motivate change. During the last two-thirds of the course, students will design and implement a either a computer system or a change to an environment that demonstrates how interface design can be used to motivate and sustain behavior change. This course is a multi-disciplinary seminar designed to facilitate collaboration between students with diverse backgrounds such as computer science, architecture, psychology, preventive medicine, business, and engineering.


The primary goal of this course is to provide the participant with a solid understanding of existing and emerging theories and strategies for explicitly or implicitly motivating people to behave differently and to have the participant explore how these ideas might be employed by the design of environments and technologies to purposely motivate behavior change. A secondary goal of this course is to strongly convey to participants the importance of user evaluation during the design of future computing technologies and environments. 

Students should leave the course with a firm understanding of the following topics:


This course is strongly multi-disciplinary. The primary prerequisite is an interest in designing human-computer interfaces and/or environments that motivate behavior change. This environment/technology might help keep people healthy, help people save energy, help people improve personal safety, help people offset other persuasive forces one is exposed to each day, etc. 

The student should have experience in at least one of the areas below: 

Programming experience is not necessarily required but increases the number of options for course projects.  Introductory courses in social psychology, user interface design, AI, advertising, and/or product design are not required but would be helpful. 

The course has been designed for graduate students but advanced undergraduate students are welcome. 

Format and Requirements

The course will consist of a few lectures in first few weeks, but the majority of the class time will consist of student presentations and discussion of research papers. There will also be some class time spent on project design critique sessions and presentations. Weekly readings consist of selections from texts and published research papers. 

Course requirements include (1) readings for class preparation and class participation, (2)  several in-class presentations of research papers and leading of class discussion (3) a few of short individual brainstorming exercises in the first part of the course, and (4) the final project and paper (described below). 

Project and Paper

Although there are some small assignments along the way, this is a project-based course. Each participant will be required to either: 

For any option, students are expected to produce a 6-8 page conference-quality paper submission in CHI format describing the problem addressed by the design, the theoretical motivations, what was learned during the design process, and the operation of the technology or the experimental methods used to test the intervention. Quality writing is a requirement of this course. 

Students will have the option of using some MIT-based technology, including the House_n: Project's ubiquitous living room with computational sensing systems such as people tracking and an IBM Everywhere Display (see a photo of the environment). It may also be possible to use the PlaceLab, a unique residential observational facility with ubiquitous sensing that recently opened in Cambridge. Also available are portable wireless sensor devices for iPAQ PDA devices (e.g. GPS, pedometer, accelerometers, wireless connection, and/or a bar code scanner).  Students are encouraged to use technology from their own research/labs as well. 

More project details

Paper grading criteria.
Project grading criteria


(Tentative) Schedule

IMPORTANT NOTE: The reading list is still very tentative. Final readings will be added/removed shortly. 

Thu Sep 9: Introduction to the course 

Welcome; Overview of course and project; What is persuasion?; What you will learn in this course; Expectations and  possibilities for the final project and paper. [Slides]

Introduction and interests email (due 9/14),
Rapid design 1: flossing (due 9/16)

Tue Sep 14: Future computing environments

Where are computing systems and human-computer interfaces headed? What are some examples of visions of the future of computing? How might new sensors and display technologies be exploited by user interfaces designed to motivate behavior change? 

Completed readings: 

  • Bellotti, V., Back, M., Edwards, W., Grinter, R., and Lopes, C. (2002). Making sense of sensing systems: five questions for designers and researchers. In Proc. of CHI, pp. 415-422. [PDF]
  • Edwards, W. and Grinter, R. (2001). At home with ubiquitous computing: seven challenges. In Proceedings of the Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, pages 256-272. [PDF]
  • S.S. Intille. Designing a home of the future. IEEE Pervasive Computing, April-June 2002, pp. 80-86. [PDF]

Hand-in: Introduction and interests email

Thu Sep 16: The study of persuasive technologies; examples 

What are the basics of the science of persuasion and behavior change? What examples exist today of computational systems that explicitly attempt to persuade? What is captology?  Why do computers that use emerging sensing technology have significant persuasive potential?

Completed readings: 

  • Fogg, B.J. (1998) Pervasive Computers: Perspectives and Research Directions, Proceedings of the Conference on Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) 1998, pp. 18-23. [PDF]

Hand-in: Rapid design 1: flossing
Assignment: Observation exercise (due 9/23)

Tue Sep 21: Theory overview /  "just-in-time" information

What is known about human behavior and persuasion? What are some of the established theories about ways to influence people that have been studied by researchers from social psychologists to advertisers? 

Many successful behavior change devices operate by providing people with "just-in-time" information at points of decision, behavior, or consequences. 

  • Chapter 2: The ABCs of Behavior and pages 70-81: Graeff, J., Elder, J., and Booth, E. (1993). Communication for Health and Behavior Change. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA. [Handout]

  • Chapter 2: What constitutes persuasion?: Gass, R.H. and J.S. Seiter (1999). Persuasion, Social Influence, and Compliance Gaining. Allyn and Bacon, Boston.[Handout]
  • S.S. Intille, "A new research challenge: persuasive technology to motivate healthy aging," Transactions on Information Technology in Biomedicine, vol. 8, 2004. (To appear) [PDF]

Thu Sep 23: Observation strategies

What are some new UI challenges when creating persuasive technologies? How can observation strategies help design better interfaces?

Completed readings: 

  • Ch 1, 3 - 7. Underhill, P. (1999). Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. New York, NY. [Handout]

Hand-in: Observation exercise 
Assignment: Rapid design 2 (due 9/30)

Tue Sep 28: Motivation, conditioning, and behavior shaping

What can be learned from animal trainers about the power of positive reinforcement and stimulus response training? 

Completed readings: 

  • Pryor, K. (1999). Don't Shoot the Dog. Bantam Books. [Required book]
  • Pryor, K., R. Haag, et al. (1995). The creative porpoise: training for novel behavior. On Behavior : Essays & Research. North Bend, WA, Sunshine Books. [Handout]

Thu Sep 30: Sustaining behavior change: stages of change

What are the stages individuals go through when changing behavior and how can knowledge of these stages be exploited by behavior change interfaces to not only create but to sustain behavior change? 

Completed reading: 

  • Detailed overview of the Transtheoretical Model [Website]. Also look at the measures section
  • Friedman, R. (1998) Automated telephone conversations to assess health behavior and deliver behavioral interventions, Journal of Medical Systems, 22(2), pp. 95-102. [Handout]
  • Winett, R. A., J. F. Moore, et al. (1991). "Altering shoppers' supermarket purchases to fit nutritional guidelines: an interactive information system." Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 24(1): 95-105. [Handout]

Hand-in: Rapid design 2
Assignment: Project idea brainstorming (due 10/7)

Tue Oct 5: Compliance gaining strategies

What are known strategies (many used by sales people) that can be used to persuade someone to do something? 

Completed readings: 

  • Cialdini, R. (2001). Influence: Science and Practice. Allyn & Bacon, Boston, 4th edition. [Required book]

Thu Oct 7: Class "brainstorming" presentations and discussion

Short presentations of project ideas followed by questions/critique and discussion. 

Hand-in: Project idea brainstorming
Assignment: Rapid design 3 (Due 10/14)

Fri Oct 8: Last date to add

Hand-in: COUHES application (if experimental project) 

Tue Oct 12: Motivation via fun: strategies for learning via fun and exploration

How can a behavior change device exploit the power of fun and curiosity for educational learning? 

Completed readings: 

  • Malone, T. and Lepper, M. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. In Snow, R. and Farr, M., editors, Aptitude, learning, and instruction: Cognative and affective process analyses, chapter 10, pages 223-253. Erlbaum, Hillsdale, N.J. [Handout]

Thu Oct 14: Class revision presentations and discussion

Short presentations of revised project ideas followed by questions/critique and discussion. 

Hand-in: Rapid design 3
Assignment: Project planning (Due 10/28) 

Fri Oct 15: COUHES due (if experimental project) 

Tue Oct 19: Rapid prototyping and UI design (Late class: 6PM)

What might "typical users" of the project design idea think of those designs? What issues should be considered when designing interfaces/environments for the future? 

Completed readings: 

  • Rettig, M. (1994). Prototyping for tiny fingers. Communications of the ACM, 37(4):21 - 28. [PDF]

  • Alben, L. (1996). Quality of experience: Defining the criteria for effective interaction design. interactions, 1113. [PDF]

  • Preer, R. (2003). Signs point to big things to come. Boston Globe. Boston: B1. [Handout]

Thu Oct 21: More on theories of behavior change (Late class: 6PM)

We will discuss readings that we have not had enough time to address. Please catch up on anything you missed.  

Tue Oct 26: Evaluation and analysis 

What are the statistical tools commonly used to evaluate behavior change interventions? 

Thu Oct 28: Project plan presentations

Mid-term project presentations and in-class critique. 

Hand-in: Project planning
Assignment: Project formal description and theoretical justification (due 11/16) 

Tue Nov 2: TBD based on class interest/progress (guest instructor)

Thu Nov 4: Tools for studying behavior change (guest instructor)

How can technology be used to measure behavior change? What is the PlaceLab and how can that be used? 

Tue Nov 9: Establishing credibility

What does it take to assert credibility and how does it impact persuasive ability? 

Completed readings: 

  • G. Taubes, What if Fat Doesn't Make you Fat?, New York Times Magazine, July 7, 2002, Section 8. [HTML]

  • Editorial (2002). Getting Exercised. Boston Globe. Boston, MA: A10. [Handout]

  • Fogg, B. and Tseng, H. (1999). The elements of computer credibility. In Proceeding of the CHI 99 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems : the CHI is the Limit, pages 80-87. ACM Press. [PDF]

  • Ten tips to website credibility

Thu Nov 11: Veteran's Day Holiday

Tue Nov 16: Message learning/framing

How can the behavior change process be thought of in terms of message construction and delivery?   

Completed readings: 

  • Petty, R. and Cacioppo, J., The Message-learning Approach, Chapter 3 from Attitudes and Persuasion: Classic and contemporary approaches, Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Company. pp. 59-94 [Handout]  

Hand-in: Project formal description and theoretical justification  

Thu Nov 18: Project updates/critique

Presentations on project progress, in particular theoretical justification. 

Assignment: Project preliminary demo (due 11/30) 

Wed Nov 17: Last date to drop 

Tue Nov 23: Space and behavior motivation

What makes a product or experience seductive? How does design of the physical environment influence behavior change? How does this relate to space and architecture? What can be learned from a case study of stair and escalator designs? 

Completed readings: 

Thu Nov 25: Thanksgiving Holiday - No class

Tue Nov 30: Being persuasive: tips from self help; message framing

Can strategies for being persuasive be tweaked so they apply to technology designed to motivate behavior change? 

Hand-in: Project preliminary demo
Assignment: Final project and paper (due 12/9)

Thu Dec 2:  Ethics and Protecting Privacy 

When does a persuasive technology become an unethical technology? 

Completed readings: 

  • Berdichevsky, D. and Neunschwander, E. (1999). Toward an ethics of persuasive technology. Communications of the ACM, 42(8):51-58. [PDF]

Tue Dec 7: Subliminal persuasion?

Does subliminal persuasion exist? How can technology be used to create near-subliminal persuasion? 

Completed readings: 

  • Chang, K. (2002). Muzak Influences buying, ABCNews.com. 2002. [website]
  • Chapter 7: Influence, Awareness, and the Unconscious. Zimbardo, P.G. and Leippe, M.R. The Psychology of Attitude Change and Social Influence, Temple University Press. [Handout]
  • DeVaul, R. W. and A. Pentland (2002). Toward the Zero Attention Interface: Wearable Subliminal Cuing for Short Term Memory Support. Proceedings of the Sixth International Symposium on Wearable Computers, IEEE Press: 141-142. [PDF]

Thu Dec 9: Final Presentations (extended 5-8pm)

Final project presentations to the class and an invited audience.  

Due: Project final implementation, presentation slides, and paper



Prior experience suggests that work in this course will generally fall into one of four categories: 

Course work falling into these categories correspond roughly to A, B, C, and D grades.  The final grade for the course will be computed by weighting the results from each assignment according to the following formula:  

The course is not graded on a curve, but based on past experience with interface design courses grades in this class are likely to range from A to C. 

Late policy

Late assignments will be reduced by the equivalent of one letter grade each late day.

Academic integrity

All students are expected and encouraged to discuss the topics raised by this course with each other. Ideas incorporated from an outside source or another student must be documented appropriately in write-ups or presentations. 

Office hours

Students are encouraged to use office hours to discuss the assignments and/or course topics. Hours: Wednesday 9-11 AM  or by appointment (617-452-2346, (Get email)) at NE18-4FL

Last modified: Tuesday, September 06, 2005