How to Build Habit-Forming Products
A couple of weeks ago, after finishing my Product Design course offered by Udemy, I decided to star reading one of their book recommendations given during the course. The book ‘Hooked’ by Nir Eyal. Definitely recommend you get it!
So I’m letting this little article gather my most insightful takeaways, hoping that some of you find them as useful and interesting as I did.
Being a product designer has inspired me to learn as much as I can about the users of the designs that I create and I’m always looking forward to include them during my design process. So this book helped me to understand what are the basic mental models that most humans have and how the biggest tech companies have applied these principles on their own products to keep user engagement growing for long periods of time.
Besides offering all the basics on what Nir Eyal calls The Hooked Model, the book also includes really cool facts about tech culture and some crazy stories such as the game called Cow Clicker, offered by Facebook and created by Ian Bogost: the game consisted on users doing nothing besides clicking on virtual cows to hear a satisfying ‘moo’; but after the app’s usage exploded and some people became obsessed with the game, Bogost decided to shut it down (to keep people from developing unhealthy usage habits).
The Hooked Model
The Hooked Model is a framework for building products that solve user needs through long-term engagement. As user pass through cycles of The Hooked Model, they learn to meet their needs with the habit-forming product.
Companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, all use this model to satisfy its users ‘itches’. What these companies did was to engineer user behavior.
“As companies combine their increased connectivity to consumers, with the ability to collect, mine and process customer data at faster speeds, we are faced with a future where everything becomes potentially more habit-forming”. — Nir Eyal
The first phase is the trigger. There are two types of triggers: external and internal. External triggers are ‘calls to action’ that are embedded with information, which tells the user what to do next. Internal triggers manifest automatically in your mind (emotions, particularly negative ones are powerful internal triggers and gently influence our daily routines). Triggers cue the user to take action and are the first step in The Hooked Model.
The second phase is the action. Following the trigger comes the action: the behavior done in anticipation of the reward. If the user does not take action, the trigger is useless, at the same time, the more effort (physical or mental) required to perform the desired action, the less likely it is to occur. Companies leverage the two basic pulleys of human behavior to increase the likelihood on an action occurring: the ase of performing and the psychological motivation to do it.
The third phase is the variable reward, in which you reward your users by solving a problem, reinforcing their motivation for the action taken in the previous phase. Research shows that levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine surge when the brain is expecting a reward. Create a craving by adding some variability to the mix. Introducing variability does create a focused state, which suppresses the areas of the brain associated with judgement and reason while activating the parts associated with wanting and desire.
And finally, the fourth phase, the investment. Small investments change our perception, turning unfamiliar actions into everyday habits. The more users invest time and effort into a product or service, the more they value it. The investment occurs when the user puts something into the product or service such as time, data, effort, social capital or money.
Now I would like to share some concepts that I found truly insightful and that helped me understand the overall process of the The Hooked Model better:
The escalation of commitment
- Commitment is very powerful.
- Commitment influences the things we do, the products we buy and the habits we form.
- “Labor leads to love”.
The IKEA effect
- IKEA puts its customers to work by making them assemble their own furniture.
- The customers adopt an irrational love of the furniture they built.
- Businesses that leverage user effort confer higher value simply because the users have to put work in them.
We avoid cognitive dissonance
- We change our preferences to avoid cognitive dissonance.
- We are more likely to be consistent with our past behaviors.
- We change our attitudes and beliefs to adapt psychologically.
- We empathize with characters through the cycle of conflict, mystery and resolution.
- The trigger response to threats to your autonomy.
- When a request is coupled with an affirmation of the right to choose, reactance is kept at bay.
- The principles of autonomy and reactance carry over into the way products change user behavior and drive the formation of user habits.
In short, The Hooked Model helps the product designer generate an initial prototype for a habit-forming technology. It also helps uncover potential weaknesses in an existent product’s habit-forming potential.
The responsibility of creating user habits
It is very clear that these frameworks can be applied to any kind of product, a product that can actually improve people’s lives or products that do not help anyone whatsoever. We want to be part of the first group.
Creating habits can be a force for good but it can also be used for nefarious purposes. What responsibility do product makers have when creating user habits? — Nir Eyal
If the innovator has a clear conscience that the product materially improves people’s lives, then the only path is to push forward. Users bear the ultimate responsibility for their actions. Except children who are not yet mature enough to understand the impact of technology and take healthy decisions on their own, but we must start creating programs to educate them so they can be prepared for the future ahead.
And for the rest of us, we must learn to assess these yet-unknown consequences for ourselves.
To finish this article I’d like to share a very interesting TED Talk by Monika Kanokova, where she gives us examples of how to use social media to our advantage and make it something useful for us, instead of something that is detrimental to our minds.