CommonLounge Archive

How to Build Habit-Forming Products

October 10, 2017

If you want to get good at building products that your users get into a habit of using, Nir Eyal’s book, Hooked, is a must-read primer on the topic. What follows is a summary of the book with its key takeaways so that you can get the gist of the book and get to work right away. If you have time, you should still purchase and read the book.

What are habits?

In the introduction, we get a useful definition of habits:

“automatic behaviors triggered by situational cues”: things we do with little or no conscious thought.”

And a clue why companies employ this tactic in the first place:

“Companies that form strong user habits enjoy several benefits to their bottom line. These companies attach their product to internal triggers. As a result, users show up without any external prompting.”

Examples of this behavior:

  • A question comes to mind and before searching your own mind, you search Google.
  • You feel a tad bored, lonely or frustrated and you go to one of the many social media outlets for some instant gratification.

These are the internal triggers the author talks about.

The Hook Model

The Hook Model describes an experience designed to connect the user’s problem to a solution frequently enough to form a habit. It revolves around four key factors that you have to think of: Triggers, Action, Variable Rewards and Investment that follows.

This is the main crux of the book, and is one of the most important concepts UX Designers should keep in mind while designing habit-forming products:

The Hook Model

I. Triggers

Triggers are the actuator of a behavior, and can be external or internal:

  • external:
  • Paid Triggers: Advertising, search engine marketing, and other paid channels are commonly used to get users’ attention and prompt them to act. Paid triggers can be effective but costly ways to keep users coming back. Habit-forming companies tend not to rely on paid triggers for very long, if at all.
  • Earned Triggers: Earned triggers are free in that they cannot be bought directly, but they often require investment in the form of time spent on public and media relations.
  • Relationship Triggers: One person telling others about a product or service can be a highly effective external trigger for action.
  • Owned Triggers: Owned triggers consume a piece of real estate in the user’s environment. They consistently show up in daily life and it is ultimately up to the user to opt in to allowing these triggers to appear. Think of push notifications, emails etc.
  • internal: When a product becomes tightly coupled with a thought, an emotion, or a preexisting routine, it leverages an internal trigger Internal triggers manifest automatically in your mind. Connecting internal triggers with a product is the brass ring of consumer technology.

II. Action

Very simply, it’s the behavior done in anticipation of the reward. As we saw in BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model, two things make the action more likely once the trigger is present:

  • ease of doing it (ability),
  • motivation to do it

III. Variable Reward

With the promise of a reward, what draws us to act is not the sensation we receive from the reward itself, but the need to alleviate the craving for the reward. Remember, the variable quality of a reward makes us come back and want more of the thing

IV. Investment

The investment phase increases the odds that the user will make another pass through the Hook cycle in the future:

  • The investment occurs when the user puts something into the product or service such as time, data, effort, social capital, or money.
  • The investment implies an action that improves the service for the next go-around.
  • We seek consistency with our past behaviors. It is easier to make a small investment followed by a large investment, instead of a large investment outright.

The Hooked book goes into a lot of depth with examples, and is a very good read for anyone aspiring to build habit-forming products.

Credits: Parts of this tutorial were written based on the post by Zsolt Babocsai here.

© 2016-2022. All rights reserved.