Lens: Type: Underlying Level

A person’s determination to complete an activity.

Photo: cottonbro
man reaching for a book

People will go out of their way if they are motivated to do something. Their intention drives their actions and keeps them focused on completing the task at hand (Ajzen, 1991). A person who is intent on earning free swag will take time away from other activities and will the time to input My Coke Rewards codes into the Coke website every time they drink Coke products. When someone is intent on completing an activity, they are motivated to complete it, and they focus their attention on it.

Someone sho is determined to complete an activity will also not be as attentive to other stimuli. For example, if people are intent on getting to Space Mountain at the back of Disneyland Theme Park right when the park opens (motivated to avoid long queue lines), anything placed in their way, such as promotional advertising, will likely be ignored. They could also neglect to notice they forgot to put their 3-year-old daughter back in the stroller on Main Street USA, and now they have to go back to find their child.

Intention is more complicated than rewards programs and helpful behavior. Dan Pink talks about this in his TED talk: The Puzzle of Motivation.

Intention Examples

  • A man is motivated to get fit before his high school reunion
  • A married couple is dedicated to improving the way they communicate with one another
  • A child in middle school feels forced to complete an algebra assignment
  • An influencer is dedicated to increasing their Instagram follers by 20% in one year

Concepts Related to Intention

  • Intrinsic Motivation
  • Extrinsic Motivation

Researching Intention

When designers discover a person’s intent in an experience design scene, they can better understand that person’s goal-directed activity. Researching intention reveals what a person is focused on doing and also how focused they are on completing it. With this knowledge, designers can create products, services, and systems that align with intent in-the-moment within an experience design scene. Sometimes, designers may even find they should create outcomes that reduce intent, in cases where a person may be motivated to complete a harmful activity such as smoking or spending too much time using a smartphone.

Questions to Ask About Intention

  • What is this person trying to achieve at this moment?
  • What degree of intent—how potent—is their motivation?
  • Why is this person intent on completing this activity?

Look for These When Researching Intention

  • The way people talk about an activity or goal
  • What people go out of their way to do


References and sources that support the inclusion of this Aspects of Experiences for Design component.


Fokkinga, S. F., & Desmet, P. (2014). Reversal Theory from a Design Perspective. Journal of Motivation, Emotion, and Personality, 2(2), 17-26.

Social Sciences

Aarts, H., & Dijksterhuis, A. (2000). Habits as knowledge structures: Automaticity in goal-directed behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(1), 53-63. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.78.1.53

Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179-211. doi:10.1016/0749-5978(91)90020-T

Ajzen, I. (2019). Theory of Planned Behavior with Background Factors. Retrieved December 12, 2019 from

Apter, M. J. (2014). Towards a Theory of Things: Reversal Theory and Design. Journal of Motivation, Emotion, and Personality, 2(2), 3-11.

Bandura, A. (2006). Toward a Psychology of Human Agency. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(2), 164-180.

Bargh, J. A. (1994). The four horsemen of automaticity: awareness, intention, efficiency, and control in social cognition. In R. S. Wyer, Jr. & T. K. Srull (Eds.), Handbook of Social Cognition (Second ed., pp. 1-40). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Bernstein, M. (2001). Intrinsic Value. Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, 102(3), 329-343.

Bénabou, R., & Tirole, J. (2002). Self-Confidence And Personal Motivation. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 117(3), 871-915.

Bénabou, R., & Jean, T. (2003). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. The Review of Economic Studies, 70(3), 489-520.

Cesario, J., Plaks, J. E., & Higgins, E. T. (2006). Automatic social behavior as motivated preparation to interact. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 90(6), 893-910.

Crocker, J., Canevello, A., & Brown, A. A. (2017). Social Motivation: Costs and Benefits of Selfishness and Otherishness. Annual Review of Psychology, 68(1), 299-325. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-010416-044145

Croft, A., Dunn, E. W., & Quoidbach, J. (2013). From Tribulations to Appreciation: Experiencing Adversity in the Past Predicts Greater Savoring in the Present. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(5), 511-516. doi:10.1177/1948550613512510

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Dermer, J. (1975). Research Notes. The Interrelationship Of Intrinsic And Extrinsic Motivation. Academy of Management Journal, 18(1), 125-129.

Diekman, A. B., Steinberg, M., Brown, E. R., Belanger, A. L., & Clark, E. K. (2016). A Goal Congruity Model of Role Entry, Engagement, and Exit: Understanding Communal Goal Processes in STEM Gender Gaps. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 21(2), 142-175. doi:10.1177/1088868316642141

Ferguson, M. J. (2008). On becoming ready to pursue a goal you don’t know you have: Effects of nonconscious goals on evaluative readiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(6), 1268-1294. doi:10.1037/a0013263

Gabriel, S., Valenti, J., & Young, A. F. (2016). Social Surrogates, Social Motivations, and Everyday Activities: The Case for a Strong, Subtle, and Sneaky Social Self. In J. M. Olson & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 53 (pp. 189-243). Academic Press. doi:10.1016/bs.aesp.2015.09.003

Gagné, M., & Deci, E. L. (2005). Self-Determination Theory and Work Motivation. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26(4), 331-362.

Ginsberg, M. B. (2005). Cultural Diversity, Motivation, and Differentiation. Theory Into Practice, 44(3), 218-225.

Goffman, E. (1973). The presentation of self in everyday life. Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press.

Gollwitzer, P. M., & Brandstätter, V. (1997). Implementation intentions and effective goal pursuit. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(1), 186-199. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.73.1.186

Grant, A. M., Campbell, E. M., Chen, G., Cottone, K., Lapedis, D., & Lee, K. (2007). Impact and the art of motivation maintenance: The effects of contact with beneficiaries on persistence behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 103(1), 53-67. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2006.05.004

Gunn, B., Brenner, M. E., & Mjosund, A. (1968). The Dynamic Synthesis Theory of Motivation. Management Science, 14(10), B601-B625.

Holland, R. W., Aarts, H., & Langendam, D. (2006). Breaking and creating habits on the working floor: A field-experiment on the power of implementation intentions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42(6), 776-783. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2005.11.006

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1984). Choices, values, and frames. American Psychologist, 39, 341-350.

Kehr, H. M. (2004). Integrating Implicit Motives, Explicit Motives, And Perceived Abilities: The Compensatory Model Of Work Motivation And Volition. Academy of Management Review, 29(3), 479-499.

Kruglanski, A. W., Shah, J. Y., Fishbach, A., Friedman, R., Chun, W. Y., & Sleeth-Keppler, D. (2002). A theory of goal systems. In (pp. 331-378). San Diego, CA, US: Academic Press. doi:10.1016/S0065-2601(02)80008-9

Lefevor, G. T., & Fowers, B. J. (2016). Traits, situational factors, and their interactions as explanations of helping behavior. Personality and Individual Differences, 92, 159-163.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2004). What Should We Do about Motivation Theory? Six Recommendations for the Twenty-First Century. The Academy of Management Review, 29(3), 388-403.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396. doi:10.1037/h0054346

Max-Neef, M. A. (1991). Human scale development: conception, application and further reflections. New York: The Apex Press.

Mitchell, T. R. (1973). Motivation and Participation: An Integration. The Academy of Management Journal, 4), 670.

Mitchell, T. R. (1982). Motivation: New Directions for Theory, Research, and Practice. The Academy of Management Review, 7(1), 80-88.

Monga, A. S. B., & Williams, J. D. (2016). Cross-cultural styles of thinking and their influence on consumer behavior. Current Opinion in Psychology, 10, 65-69. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.12.003

Osterloh, M., & Frey, B. S. (2000). Motivation, Knowledge Transfer, and Organizational Forms. Organization Science, 11(5), 538-550.

Repenning, N. P. (2002). A Simulation-Based Approach to Understanding the Dynamics of Innovation Implementation. Organization Science, 13(2), 109-127.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. doi:10.1037//0003-066X.55.1.68

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2008). Self-determination theory and the role of basic psychological needs in personality and the organization of behavior. In Handbook of personality: Theory and research, 3 (pp. 654-678).

Sheldon, K. M. (2011). Integrating behavioral-motive and experiential-requirement perspectives on psychological needs: A two process model. Psychological Review, 118(4), 552-569. doi:10.1037/a0024758

Smith, M. (2002). Evaluation, Uncertainty and Motivation. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 5(3), 305-320.

Verplanken, B., & Holland, R. W. (2002). Motivated Decision Making: Effects of Activation and Self-Centrality of Values on Choices and Behavior. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 82(3), 434-447.

Viswanath, V. (1999). Creation of Favorable User Perceptions: Exploring the Role of Intrinsic Motivation. MIS Quarterly, 2), 239. doi:10.2307/249753

Wilson, T. D., Reinhard, D. A., Westgate, E. C., Gilbert, D. T., Ellerbeck, N., Hahn, C., . . . Shaked, A. (2014). Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind. Science, 345(6192), 75. doi:10.1126/science.1250830

Wood, W., & Eagly, A. H. (2002). A cross-cultural analysis of the behavior of women and men: Implications for the origins of sex differences. Psychological Bulletin, 128(5), 699-727. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.128.5.699

Yeager, D. S., Henderson, M. D., Paunesku, D., Walton, G. M., D’Mello, S., Spitzer, B. J., & Duckworth, A. L. (2014). Boring but important: A self-transcendent purpose for learning fosters academic self-regulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(4), 559-580. doi:doi:10.1037/a0037637