Time Out for Examples!

By Ken Smith, Senior Research Scholar and Director, Mobility Division

“If there is such a thing as good leadership, it is to give a good example.”
– Ingvar Kamprad, Founder of IKEA

Before we move on to looking further into habit formation, I want to take a time out to respond to some early feedback we’ve gotten through our social media channels. We’ve received a number of inquiries asking for a little more clarity on the topic and what sort of designs we might be hoping to receive.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, one way to approach the problem is to pick a behavior you want to change from among the 26 Sightlines Project measures. They are listed in detail here. Think about ways you can encourage people to do more of the positive behaviors and less of the bad ones.

Sometimes it’s easier to jump-start thinking by sharing some examples. When we were contemplating this topic last spring, we were fortunate to have the help of Laura Lee, a Stanford student enrolled in our Center on Longevity practicum class that allows students to work on projects related to the work of the Center. I asked Laura to search the web for examples of designs that would fit the criteria for the challenge. She found a LOT of examples, and I’d like to share some of them here as inspiration for our design teams (in no particular order).  These are not endorsements for these products, as many have not been scientifically evaluated, but they do represent good thinking about influencing behavior through design.

The Topo Desk Mat

This mat, which is used with increasingly popular standing desks, helps users stand in varied positions, increasing the comfort of standing and by extension encouraging people to sit less at work.


This design is highlighted on IDEO’s excellent “Designs On” website, which is well worth a visit for a wide range of thoughtful design ideas. The site describes Sprouts as “a simple program that turns the untended gardens of the elderly into a learning opportunity for school children. As with the Girl and Boy Scouts, young Sprouts develop skills and earn badges that help cultivate a new appreciation of nature, particularly for urban children. In turn, the elderly benefit by having their gardens maintained. The seniors determine the level of engagement they would like to have — be it sharing their passion for plants with the kids or merely enjoying the sounds of their happy chatter through an open window.”

Keep the Change

This program, launched by Bank of America, encourages users of their debit cards to save by rounding up purchases to the nearest dollar and automatically putting the “change” into a savings account.

The Acorns application takes a similar approach, but focuses on micro-investing instead of basic savings.

Gululu Habit Kit

This design encourages good hydration in children through the use of a virtual pet game. Check out this review of the design for the complete story.

Pit Stop Posts

Another design featured on the Design On site, these posts shaped like walking sticks are placed on urban streets to give seniors a chance to grab a moment’s rest as they walk – and makes them more confident about venturing out.


For my last example, I’d like to highlight a design that could be extended beyond its original intent. The E-traces ballet shoes were created by Spanish designer Lesia Trubat González, who integrated motion sensors and communications technologies into pointe shoes, allowing dancers to “paint” with their motions. It is not hard to imagine using the same basic approach to encourage people to create art with other movements, encouraging both movement and creativity.

If these examples are helpful in forming your thinking, let us know either through a comment below or through social media.  We’d also like to know if you’ve heard of a particularly good example of a design that encourages a healthy habit that you’d like to share with our design community. Keep the dialogue going!

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Ken Smith joined SCL in July of 2009 as a Senior Research Scholar and Director of Academic and Research Support. He currently is Director of the Center’s Mobility Division. He works closely with SCL’s faculty colleagues to determine where Stanford expertise can best be used to drive change. He brings a broad background of over 20 years of management and engineering experience to his role, including positions in the computing, aerospace, and solar energy industries. He developed a special expertise in working closely with university faculty to develop projects while at Intel, where he was deeply involved in the creation and management of their network of university research labs. He serves on the Advisory Council for AgeTech West. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois with an M.S. from the University of Washington.