Affecting Relationships with Alcohol Using Behavioural Design

Written on 29 August 2014

Improving your relationship with alcohol is a difficult and stigmatised area. Our Sydney office worked with Hello Sunday Morning (HSM), an Australian charity aimed at guiding people to better lives by taking a break from alcohol.

The brief was to help them improve their online platform. They wanted to help people share their stories to create an atmosphere of support and camaraderie. We were chosen for our expertise in behaviour design. HSM had already done academic work with the University of Queensland, QUT, the University of Newcastle and The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education in the past, so we had rigorous scientific research already available to use.

Affecting relationships with alcohol using Behaviour Design

Ash Donaldson

HSM knew they wanted to help people make a life change, but they didn’t want to appear ‘holier than thou’, detached or purely directive. Engagement, to create an ‘alternative’ social support circle, was the key aim.

We undertook a series of interviews and modelling workshops to try to gain insight into what motivates drinkers, and why the existing user base are trying to give up alcohol.

Several suggestions came out of this research:

  • Support needs to feel genuine and constant
  • Implicitly segmenting people to provide role models helps them stay engaged
  • Opportunities to learn the benefits of their challenge along the way should be presented
  • Expert advice should be non-judgemental and clearly demonstrate risks and benefits of different behavioural paths.

Ethnographic Research

Our ethnographic research focused on understanding the types of people who would like to take a break – eventually providing a set of model users. Rather than chose a random portion of the population, many of whom have no need or desire to control their drinking, we stuck within the HSM user base. After a couple of false starts with recruitment, we built a broad matrix to qualify the responses.

User interviews were a sensitive procedure – the interviewee needed to feel comfortable and unjudged. As a result, the session tended to be user-led, and could be several hours long. We picked reliable and convenient equipment and conducted most interviews in the participant’s home.

Analysis and Qualitative Segmentation

After 5 rounds of sorting, the transcribing and combing yielded surprisingly clear results.
Four archetypes were created:

  1. Reggie – Self-medicating with alcohol to cope with the stresses of work. As he’s maturing his body can’t cope.
  2. Marcus – Uses alcohol for Dutch courage and has experienced alcohol fuelled violence.
  3. Jen – She likes to be the life of the party and drinks to ‘fit-in.’ She’s a young Mother and is worried about the influence she’s having on her kids.
  4. Sarah – She had a traumatic past and now has too much time on her hands. She drinks to forget and has become physically dependent.

This informed the questionnaire new users fill out at sign up, and attempted to capture a demographic that could be used to group them with other users like them, to increase their chances of success. Good design and best practice web development meant the process lost some of its stigma by whisking users along the process, rather than letting them reflect on what they thought might be the ‘best’ answer. The data was processed according to the WHO’s AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test) to give them a risk assessment. HSM were nervous about shocking users, but clinical research in other projects had proven that feedback improves the likelihood of abstaining in the future.

Crucially, this data allowed us to group users.

Quantitative Analysis

Once we’d manually drawn out user types and behavioural analysis, we used software programme SPSS for our statistical analysis to see if we could draw further (or different) insights from the data. We were pleased to find that our qualitative analysis was borne out by the data. We added this information to our models to improve the archetypes and framing of the questions.

Changing Behaviour

The aim of the project is to permanently alter the behaviour of those who feel they have a problem with alcohol consumption, and need encouragement and support. This requires a combination of motivation, trigger and ability. If we can map the lacked element using the user archetypes, we can increase effectiveness and measure the improvement.

We’ll be working with HSM over the next 12 months to continually test and refine how the service affects participants.

To speak to the Sydney office, please contact or visit



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