Covid-19 - Use behavioural design for healthy choices

Behavioural economics to nudge better decision making

Covid-19 is a behaviour changer. Suddenly we have to shift our behavioural patterns to look after the health of our society. So how can we make it easier for people to take the right precautions during a pandemic? One approach is to take inspiration from behavioural economics; the study of how people make decisions and apply it to design. Here we share four different examples of how we can use behavioural economics to nudge better decisions to stay healthy.

Hero image: By Kjetil Ree – Eget verk, CC BY-SA 3.0

Social norms

Being influenced by others to do good is called a social norm. We apply social norms as a way of influencing people to cut down on energy usage, to filling in tax returns on time. So could we apply social norms to COVID-19? What if we encourage people to self-isolate by showing that the majority of their neighbours are at home?

You want to take the right choices if you see that the people around you are taking the right choices.

Imagine receiving the following text message:

Default options

The power of applying default has been shown in countries where the default for organ donation is opt-out rather than opt-in. These countries have a far higher number of organ donors. So where can we apply defaults when it comes to Covid-19? What if online money transfer services such as the Norwegian Vipps becomes the new default over cash and card payments? No longer do we need to touch hands or press our pin into a card terminal, and by doing so, we reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Default options can have a powerful impact on what people choose.

Instant rewards

People tend to favour immediate rewards rather than future, later rewards (present bias). So when it comes to hand-washing, we don't always see an immediate pay-off, it's only several days or weeks later that we might show signs of being sick. One way to counter this is to create an instant social reward for each time we wash our hands. After we wash our hands we might log it on an app that enables us to compare how our hand-washing frequency and duration compares to our family and friends, making it into a friendly competition, with a prize set by the group.

Instant rewards are one way to incentivise good hygiene practice and create a social connection to friends and family while in isolation.


We tend to overestimate our performance in relation to others, so probably many of us think we are better at hand-washing that our peers. How can we ensure our overconfidence doesn't get in the way of maintaining an excellent hand-washing practice? One way could be to create a simple filter to add to our mobile phone camera light. The filter might help you see what usually is not visible, thereby giving you a better idea of what's on your hands before and after washing.

Overconfidence is a bias where we misjudge our value, opinion, beliefs or abilities and we have more confidence than we should given the objective parameters of the situation.

Covid-19 challenges to solve with design thinking

While these principles and ideas might help people to stay healthy, COVID-19 brings with it a whole heap of other challenges that would benefit from design-thinking. Here are some examples of questions we've been discussing in EGGS:

  • How might we make it safer for people to be at work?

  • How might we reduce loneliness?

  • How might we help parents who have to work from home while looking after their children?

  • How might we help low-income households during a period where they cannot work?

  • How might we ensure that people who do not have a safe home are safe during times of quarantine?

Join our idea challenge on Instagram

These are just a few ideas and questions, but if you are hungry for more, check out our Instagram Covid-19 challenge. We are gathering ideas in response to questions (like the ones above) to make an open-idea-bank on how can we prevent the negative impacts of COVID-19.

Here I am in the process of sketching up ideas for this weeks challenge: How can we keep services running safely? What other problems related to Covid-19 do you think we should be addressing?

Sounds interesting?

Georgina Seviour

Have a chat with our Senior Service Designer
Georgina Seviour
+47 919 05 664

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