Decoding the Integrated Behaviour Model for designers

Lena Pietsch • 03.06.2021
Lena Pietsch

Can we foresee how our users will behave? The most crucial predictor is intention. No intention, no action. But intention alone is not enough. The Integrated Behavior Model outlines five factors that explain how intention and context shape behavior.

What designers can learn from theoretical models about user behavior

  • Behavioral Psychology
  • Information Design
  • Website Structure

When one of my coworkers is not focused on UX or his family, he uses teeny-tiny rails to construct the track for his model railway's teeny-tiny locomotive. It sounds crazy, even to us, but this man has managed to create a section of a picture-perfect town out of nothing but miniatures. And so he briefly escapes the daily chaos that we UX designers experience in the real world. 

Such models are not only there for physical play, but can also be used in a theoretical way. Typically, it’s not hobby locomotive drivers or UX designers who busy themselves with such things, but scientists. In science, a model is an attempt to create a simplified representation of reality.

  • A model is a representation. It's not the truth. Thus it is comprehensible: it makes connections tangible, that we otherwise wouldn't be able to touch or see in their entirety. 
  • A model is condensed. It is reduced to the bare minimum. Thus it is sustainable: it provides precisely the level of detail from which we can infer reasonable conclusions about our own behavior. 
  • A model is pragmatic. It is versatile. Thus it is sustainble: we can reuse it repeatedly in various situations without having to start from scratch each time.

Thankfully, psychology already provides broad models for how people behave. However, it's still a little challenging to handle in design contexts. It’s like building a model railroad using grippy Duplo bricks, rather than using detail-oriented construction kits. But don’t worry: I took care of the transfer work for you. I've finished my master's thesis after three months and many sleepless nights, but it was worth it! Here are the 5 elements that will enable you to judge user behavior more accurately in the future.

Integrated Behaviour Model: 5 factors that explain human behaviour

The model I examined comes from behavioral psychology. It was developed in 2008 by Daniel Montaño and Danuta Kasprzyk, making it one of the most up-to-date models in this field from a research perspective. It is based on the theory of planned behavior, one of the best-known theories of the behavioral scientist Icek Ajzen from 1991 (mentioned for the completion’s sake).

Five factors are listed in the Integrated Behaviour Model (IBM) by Montao and Kasprzyk as having a direct or indirect impact on people's actual behavior:

Das Verhalten von Menschen ist abhängig von ihrem Wissen und ihren Fähigkeiten, ihrer Salinz, ihrer Verhaltensabsicht, ihrer Umwelt und ihren Gewohnheiten
Integrated Behavior Model: 5 Factors

The direct influence: behavioral intention. 

  • Behavioral intention. This results from the drive to accomplish a task. And in the end, it results in a specific intention, or a binding choice for a particular behavior. 

The indirect influence: a person's knowledge and skills, salience, environment, and habits.

  • Knowledge and skills. This can be thought of as a toolbox with which each person is uniquely furnished. Our life experiences, education, and other learning processes determine exactly what is in it. 
  • Salience. This is a term used to describe how easily something can catch our attention and how clearly it stands out from its surroundings. 
  • Environment. This refers to any external influence on behavior. This includes the concrete natural or technical environment, as well as social contexts.
  • Habit. This is a relatively automated response mechanism that has developed over time as a result of practice and learning. 

Don't worry; you don't need to fully comprehend the meaning of these terms just yet. Now that we have transferred the model to users, let's examine what this means for us UX designers. It informs us of the intention of use (direct influence), and context of use (indirect influences).

Factor 1: Behavioural intention

Die Verhaltensabsicht von Menschen ist abhängig von ihrer Einstellung, den von ihnen wahrgenommenen Normen und ihrer persönlichen Handlungsfähigkeit.
IBM: Composition of behavioural intention

No matter what else happens: Behavior cannot exist without direct influence. The behavioral intention determines whether the entire thing stands or falls. It is the strongest driver. Or, to put it another way: No behavioral intention, no observable behavior - regardless of context. Conversely, this also implies that there is an intention behind every behavior. It is the key factor and has the strongest influence on how we act. It arises from the drive to accomplish, or at least work towards, a specific goal. We call the outcome an intention. By this, we mean a state of mind in which one is determined to carry out one or more particular tasks in the future. Future can also mean "right now, next!". 

The model is further broken down to show that in addition to the goal, three additional factors have an impact on behavioral intention:

  • Attitudes. To make decisions and consider potential outcomes, people rely on their unique experiences. 
  • Perceived norms. The definition of what constitutes appropriate behavior can vary depending on the situation, the individual, and the culture. 
  • Personal agency. The main concern here is the sense of control that individuals feel over the process of achieving their goals. They evaluate whether all necessary resources are available for the following action, and whether their own capabilitie permit them to advance toward their objective. 

The goal or the motivation may also be at odds with these three elements. In extreme situations, defensive attitudes brought on by negative experiences, conflicts due to deviations from perceived norms, or even a sense of being out of control can prevent the emergence of any behavioral intentions at all. 

As you notice, this is where things get a little complicated. However, it is crucial to bear these things in mind when developing goods and services. 

Here, a succinct example to summarize all of behavioral intention and provide examples of the factors:

Draufsicht auf zwei ausgeschnittene Schlitze auf einem Parkplatz, einer davon mit der aufgemalten Nummer 197.

Assume that I need to get from Cologne to Munich, in order to sign a sales contract there.

Eine gerade Straße, die von einem einzigen Auto befahren wird, führt mitten durch einen Wald.
Behavioural intention

I choose to drive to Munich by myself.

Draufsicht auf ein asphaltiertes Parkplatzdach mit in weiß aufgemalten Parkplätzen und Fahrtrichtungspfeilen.
Personal agency

I have my own car and I am a very competent driver.

Eine zweispurige Serpentinenstraße schlängelt sich durch eine Bergkette.

In addition, I enjoy driving, and I've taken this route many times without problems.

Ein Bahnhofsgebäude von oben, mit Parkplätzen auf der einen und Gleisen auf der anderen Seite.
Perceived norms

The environmental benefits of taking the train make it more popular, but I need to be on time for my mother's birthday celebration the following day…

Draufsicht einer befahrene Straßenbrücke, die über eine andere befahrene Straße führt.
Perceived norms

...just like my siblings always are.

The digital transfer: From behavioral intention to intention of use

Now let’s bring it all into the digital sphere. We’ll use the phrase "intention of use” to relate the model to the use of digital products. This is more concrete, since the behavior manifests in whichever way a digital product is used. It helps to tangibilise it for our daily doing. 

Therefore, when users interact with our digital product, they do so with a specific goal in mind. Applying intention to a digital product, picture Tinder: Is it a match or not? The better the match between the intended use and the product, the greater the likelihood that the user will continue to engage with it. Conversely, the further the two drift apart, the unlikelier the product usage becomes.

The product fits the intended use like a glove? Nice, then we’ve fed all hungry mouths. All we need now is the secret sauce to serve a three-star menu. We do this by matching the digital product to the specific context of use that shapes the user's behavior. The context of use is where the other 4 IBM factors come into play - those that, in addition to intention, have an impact on our actions, and consequently, how we use digital products. Namely - knowledge and skills, salience, environment, and habits.

Die Verhaltensabsicht ist abhängig von Einstellungen, wahrgenommenen Normen und der persönlichen Handlungsfähigkeit und bestimmt neben Wissen und Fähigkeiten, Salienz, Umwelt und Gewohnheiten am stärksten das menschliche Verhalten.
Integrated Behavior Model

Factor 2: Knowledge and skills

This factor might first appear rather banal. But it’s not about having a certain IQ or level of education. Instead, it’s the know-how that ultimately determines what particular behavior people will exhibit. In Germany, I enjoy driving my own car. In England, I much prefer to take the train. Because driving on the left is not exactly my strong suit. 

When it comes to digital products, we must understand that the users' knowledge also determines how they will approach the product, what they specifically intend to do, and how much assistance they will require to advance or accomplish their goal. 

Every user has a uniquely composed set of knowledge and skills. A lack of knowledge increases the likelihood of making mistakes or wrong decisions increases. This is no fun and makes for a bad experience, causing feelings of insecurity or even loss of control. You don't want to make any mistakes, especially when making crucial decisions.

Ein Check24-Webseitendetail mit zwei inaktiven, grauen Tooltip-Symbolen in Form eines eingekreisten lateinischen Kleinbuchstabens I und einem aktiven, blauen Tooltip-Symbol und zugehörigem Tooltip-Text mit Tooltip-Überschrift rechts neben dem blauen Icon.
Eine langhaarige Person bedient ein Laptop.

Selecting car insurance is one of such crucial decisions. We don't do it often, and once the policy in place, we might be stuck with it for several years. Check24 does a pretty clever job of filling in any knowledge gaps. During the car insurance comparison, a click on the respective input field opens a matching explanation with the most important information. At a glance, users can understand what is required of them at each step. All this, without slowing down the users who already have this knowledge.

Factor 3: Salience

Salience is the prominence of a stimulus in relation to its environment. We focus more on stimuli that are more obvious (i.e. have a high salience). Conversely, a lack of salience negatively affects attention. I realize this is technicalese! Let's just say that the person acting should consider the task at hand to be important, and it should be on their mind constantly. We want the user to be able to focus their attention wholly on his current action because attention is a finite resource. As a result, we must be mindful of this and favor salience where it is appropriate.

In reality, though, a lot of stimuli vie for people's already finite attention spans, since all of the senses—their sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing—are stimuli. They have a unique quality in that responses to these stimuli don't occur consciously. However, a stimulus is more perceptible the more it stands out from the background stimuli. Everything in this scene screams, "Pay attention to nothing but me now" including the quick and loud warning tones, the vibrating steering wheel, and the red flashing indicator light. You can spot a shift in behavior from the outside as soon as the audio message "Caution! Brake fluid reservoir empty!" is added: I immediately come to a stop and don't go any further until professionals have dealt with it.

Eine schwarz gekleidete, langhaarige Person mit Brille steht schräg vor einer Betonwand und liest einen Text auf einem Smartphone.
Apples iOS User-Interface-Kachel eines eingehenden Anrufs mit dem Profilfoto des Anrufers, Vor- und Nachname sowie einem roten Button zum Ablehnen des Anrufs und einem grünen Button zum Annehmen des Anrufs, jeweils mit passenden weißen stilisierten Illustrationen von Telefonhörern.

When applied to digital products, this means: The less distracting stimuli we permit to get in the way of the user's goal or progress at a given moment, the more significant the information, interactions, or decisions, including their consequences, are. Apple, for instance, debuted the compact call with the iOS 14 update. Since that time, incoming calls are now shown in a condensed layout that doesn't fill the entire screen and doesn't interfere with the user's current task.

Rarely does an interaction stand alone. It coexists or competes with other tasks the user is completing concurrently. The struggle to awaken our users has intensified to the point where we can see how they start to regulate or even counteract unwanted stimuli.

Salience is a silent friend who significantly affects the user experience. Favoring it is a crucial objective of UX design. And with augmented and virtual reality experiences, their significance will only grow.

Factor 4: Environment

Reality is everything, but it is not a lab. Because of this, in real life, regardless of what we do, we are constantly exposed to external influences. We also have little control over them because they originate outside. Physical and social conditions are examples of these external factors. All is well so far. Constraints on the environment can make (intended) behavior more challenging. Most people have no trouble driving on open roads in good visibility while in a well-kept car. Off-road, escaping from assailants using a car that is armed is another thing (and yet there are SWAT teams that translate that very behavioural intention into observable behaviour because of their special skills and the expectations of others).

Vor einem schwarzen Hintergrund hebt sich ein schwarzes technisches Gerät mit weißer Schrift und schwarz-weißen Tasten ab.

Transferred to digital products: We have no control over outside factors that might negatively affect how a product works when used. However, we can eliminate or get around the resulting behavioral restrictions as much as we can through our product, as it is the case of the Profoto B10 portable flash.

Photographers can use it in any situation because it is portable, lightweight, and small. In order to conserve battery, the display relies on stark contrasts and obtrusively large numbers that are white on black. Flash relies on a combination of mechanical controls and remote control via app to be able to adjust the light even in locations where the lamp itself is no longer in your hands. It eschews anything that is not absolutely necessary. The lamp's operation can be modified to fit its surroundings. Anyone who has used a digital display in the sunlight before is familiar with the issue: you often can't see anything. The tool defies even the most challenging circumstances so that the user can satisfy their desire for advancement—a well-lit photo.

Things we don't immediately consider can frequently have a big impact on the experience. Consider network coverage, which isn't available everywhere. Or access restrictions caused by technical issues. This might be due to issues with browser compatibility or different system versions that don't support specific features.

Factor 5: Habits

People develop automatic reaction patterns over time when they frequently repeat an action or a particular behavior. This is what psychologists refer to as a habit (and we would probably call it exactly that). This can sometimes go so far that people start to move automatically. Because we only require a very small portion of our cognitive abilities when acting seemingly automatically. Simply put, autopilot is more effective.

I detest it when something in the car doesn't operate normally. Additionally, I frequently see this in other people's cars. An illustration would be how my father's car's reverse gear engages completely differently than it does in my car. I recently came dangerously close to ramming his car into the garage wall.

Eine Person steht an einem Tisch vor einem Laptop, auf dem ein Log-in-Screen angezeigt wird.
Auszug aus einer Login-E-Mail der Webanwendung Begriff mit der dunklen Überschrift "Login" auf weißem Hintergrund, darunter ein Textlink " Click here to log in with this magic link", darunter der Text "Or copy and paste this temporary login code:", darunter in unproportionaler Schrift der Login-Code in dunkelgrauer Schriftfarbe auf hellgrauem Hintergrund, darunter wieder auf weißem Grund der Text "If you didn't try to login, you can safely ignore this Email. ", darunter der Text " Hint: You can set a permanent password in Settings & members -> My account.", darunter das Notion-Logo und darunter der Claim ", the all-in-one-workspace for notes, tasks, wikis and databases".

For digital products, the relationship between behavior and habits means this: usage becomes habit over time. Thus, the product can be used more effectively and efficiently, leading to quicker progress toward the desired goal. One of the most automatic interaction patterns is logging in, which we perform numerous times each day. We are initially surprised by new forms of authentication, such as those from Slack or Notion. I receive a new access code each day instead of typing a password, thanks to crypto links. We must initially adjust to this unusual situation. However, we will soon recognize the benefit of not being able to do keyword typos.

Every day, habits are created on both a small and a large scale. We have the choice to consciously deviate from these norms and ways of interacting. We must be conscious of the fact that any change we make to our users' routines affects how they interact with our services. With them, our users travel in autopilot mode to their destination.

Key takeaways
A well-known psychological explanation for human behavior is the Integrated Behaviour Model (IBM).
Behavioural intention is the primary factor that affects behavior.
The intention of use is the behavioral intention in the context of digital products.
The context of use only has an indirect impact on use; the intention of use directly and immediately influences use.
When you match your digital product with your user’s intention, you make them happy. That’s Cooking 101 of the UX foodtruck.
You make them happy if your digital product also fits the usage context. That's the secret sauce used by the top UX chefs.
The user's knowledge and skills, their attention and salience to the stimuli that hit them, the environment and their physical and social factors, and their habits formed through repeated experience all contribute to the definition of the context of use.

The IBM decoded

The Integrated Behaviour Model demonstrates how the intentions of our users influence their behavior as well as which indirect factors have an impact on the context of use. I hope I was successful in bringing the abstract model to life. Because the more knowledge we have about the state of behavioral research currently, the better our ability as designers is to form hypotheses and shed light on how users interact with our products,

The question of what lessons can be learned from behavioral psychology for website structuring occupied us for six months of intense work. We have created a manual for you based on the findings in which we describe how you can use the intention of use to optimize the information architecture of your products.

In addition, we offer you Core Extend Jump, a tool that you can use to model your content.

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