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Library of Behavioral Nudges Being Used to Combat Coronavirus

Outdoor seats with alternating tape marks of checks in green and Xs in red.

Curated by Brevity & Wit, this page offers great examples how designers and behavior change specialists are teaming up to battle Covid-19.


As the United States begins to lessen pandemic restrictions, there is still a need for innovation on how we work and socialize. We are now collecting samples of great behavioral nudges that help ease re-integration. But we’ve maintained our library below of physical distancing nudges and other helpful suggestions for readers from countries that are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.

#1 Bracelets that indicate social behavior preferences

We love this photo from Priya Parker that B&W Principal Shilpa Alimchandani first saw and shared with us.

A photo of red, yellow, and green wristbands that represent a coding system to help navigate how to interact with others during the pandemic.

It’s happening…as workplaces re-open, as live events crawl back to life, as we open our homes and theaters and places of worship, how do we navigate gathering in person again?

The hosts in this workplace are practicing generous authority. They’ve figured out a coding system to help their guests navigate each other in this moment of massive experimentation on literally how to interact.

Someone wrote me recently about suggesting color-coded t-shirts for her child’s birthday party for people to signal their vaccination status for safety. Other hosts are calling guests ahead of time to check comfort levels and vaccination statuses.

Is it OK to ask someone if they’ve been vaccinated? Do you let people lead? How do we create simple signals to let people feel safe and share information about comfort levels in a pro-social way?

This wristband experiment, where they’re not asking people’s vaccination rates but rather their BEHAVIORAL preferences, is super interesting to me.

We’re in a moment where, as we come back together again, we can create new codes and norms and etiquette to help a group do it’s work. These experiments are also mainstreaming practices around consent within communities.

What experiments have you seen? Appreciated? Been mildly horrified by? All of the above? 👇🏽👇🏽👇🏽👇🏽

(Image via the wonderful @foushy.)

Original Library of Pandemic Nudges

Red dots on a supermarket floor to mark physical distancing space for waiting in line.

#1. Red dots on a supermarket floor to mark physical distancing space for waiting in line

At the SuperBrugsen Brøndby in Denmark, red stickers let shoppers know how far apart to stand while waiting in line. (Photo credit: unknown; original Twitter post may be found here.)

As a strategy + design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world, we love a good nudge.

For those of you not familiar with behavioral nudges, they are tactics deployed by political scientists, public health specialists, and behavior change experts that change the presentation of choices in a way that makes people more likely to pick the option that benefits themselves or others. (See Explainer: What is a behavioral ‘nudge’?)

In light of the recent Coronavirus pandemic, public health and experience designers are rushing to create ways of nudging people into behaviors that benefit us all: hand-washing, physical distancing, and staying at home. However, our environment was designed to encourage socializing in many instances. It definitely wasn’t designed with physical distancing in mind, and so, our implicit bias will be to revert to behaviors that require physical proximity. Nudges can be a cue for the brain to not run on autopilot. This library attempts to capture examples from around the world that will inspire you to try some of the same tactics in your home or place of work. (We realize that home and work may be the same place for many of you. Hang in there!)

#2. Vietnam hand-washing song (and dance)

Nudging isn’t just for visual designers — musicians and choreographers can also contribute, as evidenced by this incredibly catchy hand-washing tune that inspired both a viral TikTok dance and a bit by John Oliver.

Two women wearing transparent masks. They pose beside a sewing machine.

#3. Transparent masks to help the deaf and hard of hearing communicate safely

A college student studying education for the deaf and hard of hearing put her crafting skills to task to create masks that allow the deaf and hard of hearing to communicate better while taking necessary safety precautions.

Time and again it’s been proven that including people with disabilities drives innovation. At Brevity & Wit, we firmly believe that when people with disabilities are at the center of all disaster preparedness, response and recovery plans, organizations will innovate in ways that benefit us all and communities will recover faster.

Two basketball hoops share the same outdoor court. One hoop has a rim, the other does not.

#4. Removing basketball rims from 2 of 4 basketball courts.

There’s been stories of local governments completely removing basketball rims from all basketball courts in an effort to encourage physical distancing, but which has the unintended effect of making it harder for some people to get much-needed exercise during this pandemic.

A close up of the basketball hoop without a rim.

Montgomery County, MD took a different approach, removing the hoops from diagonally opposite basketball courts, thereby making it impossible to play pick-up games, but still allowing people to play with a smaller group of people (likely the people they are living with). We applaud the ingenuity of this Goldilocks approach!

#5. Redesign essential public spaces.

Ideas42 published a helpful piece on how essential public spaces (grocery stores, sidewalks, parks) can be re-designed to encourage physical distancing and serve customers and residents better. Some of their key take-ways are:

  • Direct people to apps that use pre-populated shopping lists or checklists, sorted by common aisle distinctions, like produce, meat, dairy, pastas, baking, beans and canned goods, cereals, cleaning supplies, etc. to keep people from crowding aisles with popular items.
  • Create visual markers on the ground outside the entrance to encourage distancing while waiting to enter as stores endeavor to control the number of people inside at any given time.
  • Create three to four separate additional displays of popular items (e.g., toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc.) around the store near the entrance and checkouts to disperse the crowd, and hopefully reduce the time people spend in the store overall.
  • Offer pre-packaged bundles of common products so people can grab and go in and out of the store even more quickly.
  • Make all aisles one-way with clear marks on the ground noting the flow of traffic, and use street traffic signs (do not enter, yield, one-way) to facilitate, as they’re already familiar to people in other contexts.
  • Cities and municipalities, particularly in high foot-traffic areas, can temporarily make sidewalks one-way. This could be achieved with posted signs at crosswalks to walk North on the East side of a street and South on the West side, as well as wayfinding arrows painted on the ground in high traffic areas in the direction foot traffic should flow.
  • In parks, tape spacing guides on benches to make sure resting and sitting is physically distant as well.

You can read the full article here.

#6. Remove the sludge in bureaucracy

Cass Sunstein, the author of the book Nudge, wrote a helpful article for on how removing “sludge” — paperwork burdens and bureaucratic obstacles — can help save lives:

Under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps), would-be beneficiaries have had to complete interviews before they are approved for benefits. In late March, the Department of Agriculture waived that requirement — and now gives states “blanket approval” to give out benefits to people who are entitled to them.

Early last week, the Internal Revenue Service announced that in order to qualify for payments under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, people would have to file tax returns — even if they are Social Security recipients who typically don’t do that. The sludge would have ensured that many people never got money to which they were legally entitled. Under public pressure, the Department of Treasury reversed course — and said that Social Security recipients would receive the money automatically.

He continues, “Many people are now scared, confused or anxious about their health or their finances. They might be dealing with young children at home, or with sick or elderly friends and relatives, or with both. Because they are frightened and preoccupied, they don’t have a lot of mental bandwidth to manage sludge, whether it comes from the government or the private sector.”

How can you remove sludge in your organization to reduce the mental bandwidth on your employees so that they can prioritize what matters?

#7. Solar-powered automatic hand-washing station

We love the ingenuity of this designer from Ghana, who invented a solar-powered hand-washing station. There is a beeping sound that continues for 20 seconds, so you know exactly how long to keep working in the soap. And only when the alarm stops does the water turn on again so you can rinse off the soap, helping us preserve water while staying healthy.

Baltimore’s City Health Department poster illustrates a six-foot distance with graphics of a city bench and three Baltimore saltboxes.

#8. What’s 6 Feet? The Length of 3 Baltimore Salt Boxes

Design and local pride come together in this example from Baltimore’s City Health Department. While it’s one thing to say “stay 6 feet apart,” many people have trouble visualizing what exactly that means. So Baltimore developed these visual analogies using popular Baltimore landmarks.

A doctor in PPE with an image of his face and name taped to his chest.

#9. Medical Workers Tape Photos of Themselves to PPE to Calm Patients

While this may not directly nudge people into new behaviors, we like the human- and patient-centered approach of medical workers taping photos of themselves to their PPE to calm Covid-19 patients. It’s unfortunate when safety protocol reduces human interaction, and inspiring when people find ways to design around obstacles.

Three healthcare workers in PPE with images of their faces and names taped to their chests.

Outdoor seats with alternating tape marks of checks in green and Xs in red.

#10. Singapore creates wayfinding language with tape

AIGA’s Eye on Design has a collection of photos on how tape is being used in Singapore to help residents know where to sit, stand, or eat.

Yellow dots on a floor indicate where people should stand in line.
Taped yellow boxes on a large bleacher seating indicate where people should sit.
A cafeteria table with two large red Xs.

What are some other behavioral nudges you’ve seen? Post a comment with a link, and our curators will add it to this library.

Want to learn more?

Brevity & Wit is a strategy + design firm dedicated to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. Get your free copy of the Diversity + Design Benchmark Report to discover the obstacles to more inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in design.

If you’d like to become an expert in UX Design, Design Thinking, UI Design, or another related design topic, then consider to take an online UX course from the Interaction Design Foundation.