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Whenever I feel uncomfortable writing about a topic, that’s when I know I should write about it. So here goes. This article is about how a new way of designing apps changed my life. But to explain the power of this trend, I need to tell you about poop. That’s the uncomfortable part.

For the past five years or so, I’ve struggled with intestinal discomfort. (I’ll spare you the gory details.) I spent countless hours crawling the web searching for a possible diagnosis and tried dozens of different remedies and diets. Nothing seemed to help.

Finally, I saw a gastroenterologist. He listened for all of five minutes while I described my symptoms and quickly jotted down a prescription for antibiotics. They worked for a while but soon the symptoms returned. I went back to the doc. A few tests were done and more antibiotics were dolled out. But the problems came back. Then again. And again.

If your new product or service isn’t gaining traction, ask yourself “What’s my California Roll?”

White dude eating sushi

I’ll admit, the bento box is an unlikely place to learn an important business lesson. But consider the California Roll — understanding the impact of this icon of Japanese dining can make all the difference between the success or failure of your product.

If you’ve ever felt the frustration of customers not biting, then you can sympathize with Japanese restaurant owners in America during the 1970s. Sushi consumption was all but non-existent. By all accounts, Americans were scared of the stuff. Eating raw fish was an aberration and to most, tofu and seaweed were punch lines, not food.

Then came the California Roll. While the origin of the famous maki is still contested, its impact is undeniable. The California Roll was made in the USA by combining familiar ingredients in a new way. Rice, avocado, cucumber, sesame seeds, and crab meat — the only ingredient unfamiliar to the average American palate was the barely visible sliver of nori seaweed holding it all together.

After the slide presentation I posted about “The Secret Psychology of Snapchat” received such a warm response from readers, I decided to create another set of slides. This presentation is about how to win over your competition’s customer habits. I hope you enjoy it.

For a deeper analysis, see this previous article I wrote on the topic:

If you are among the 19 million people Apple predicts will buy an Apple Watch, I have some bad news for you — I’m betting there is an important feature missing from the watch that’s going to drive you nuts.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy one. In fact, I’m ordering one myself. However, this paradox illustrates an important lesson for the way companies design their products.

Rarely are v.1 products very good. How is it, then, that some products thrive despite flagrant shortcomings?

Meet Mr. Kano

To find out why you’ll likely be disappointed by the Apple Watch, meet Professor Noriaki Kano. In the 1980s Professor Kano developed a model to explain a theory of customer satisfaction.

Kano believes products have particular attributes, which are directly responsible for users’ happiness. He discovered that some qualities matter more than others. Kano describes three product attribute types — (loosely translated from Japanese as) delightful, linear, and hygienic features.

You’ve undoubtably heard of Snapchat, the habit-forming messaging service used by over 100 million people monthly. This week, I teamed up with Victoria Young and Dori Adar to help explain what makes the app so sticky.

We decided that instead of writing a long blog post, we’d share our insights in a slide presentation. Let us know what you think of the format and the content in the comments section below!


Fitness apps are all the rage. An explosion of new companies and products want to track your steps and count your calories with the aim of melting that excess blubber. There’s just one problem — most of these apps don’t work. In fact, there is good reason to believe they make us fatter.

One study called out “the dirty secret of wearables,” citing that “these devices fail to drive long-term sustained engagement for a majority of users.” Endeavour Partners’ research found “more than half of U.S. consumers who have owned a modern activity tracker no longer use it. A third of U.S. consumers who have owned one stopped using the device within six months of receiving it.”

While the report mentioned several reasons why people don’t stick with these tracking devices, my own theory is simple, they backfire. Here are three surprising reasons why fitness apps may be making us less happy and more flabby.

Nir’s Note: This post was co-authored with Ximena Vengoechea. Ximena is a design researcher at Twitter and will be speaking at this year’s Habit Summit


In his famed experiments, Ivan Pavlov trained his dogs to associate mealtime with the ring of a bell. Pavlov found he could elicit an involuntary physical response in his dogs with a simple jingle. Every time his bell rang, the dogs began to salivate.

Today, the beeps, buzzes, rings, flags, pushes, and pings blasting from our phones prompt a similar response. They are the Pavlovian bell of the 21st century and they get us to check our tech incessantly.

However, as powerful as these psychological cues are, people are not drooling dogs. Your product’s users can easily uninstall or turn off notifications that annoy them.


You are unconsciously paying more. (Photo credit: Digital Dispatch)

My taxi pulled up to the hotel. I got out my credit card and prepared to pay for the ride. The journey was pleasant enough but little did I know I was about to encounter a bit of psychological trickery designed to get me to pay more for the lift. Chances are you’re paying more, too.

Digital payment systems use subtle tactics to increase tips, and while it’s certainly good for hard-working service workers, it may not be so good for your wallet.

A new report by the tech research firm Software Advice discovered that digital point-of-sale terminals, like the one in my cab, increase the frequency and amount of tips left by customers. What’s the secret behind how these manipulative machines get us to pony up?

Hooked user“I’m endlessly loyal,” my wife said, staring straight into my eyes. But she wasn’t talking about our marriage — she was pledging her allegiance to a piece of software.

“I’ll never quit Microsoft Office,” she told me. “It does too much for me to leave it.” For a moment I wondered if her husband had engendered the same reverence, but then I remembered things at Microsoft aren’t all wine and roses. In fact, the conversation with my wife was sparked by a debate over switching from Office to Google Docs for our home business.

Apparently, we aren’t the only ones considering other options. Industry analysts say Google Apps has already beaten Office as the top choice for smaller businesses and is in a “dead heat among companies with more than 1,000 employees.”

Let’s say you’ve built the next big thing. You’re ready to take on the world and make billions. Your product is amazing and you’re convinced you’ve bested the competition. As a point of fact, you know you offer the very best solution in your market. But here’s the rub. If your competition has established stronger customer habits than you have, you’re in trouble.

The cold truth is that the better product does not necessarily win. However, there’s hope. The right strategy can crowbar the competition’s users’ habits, giving you a chance to win them over.

To understand how to change customer habits, we first need to understand what habits are and how they take hold. Simply put, habits are behaviors done with little or no conscious thought. Research shows almost half of what we do, day in and day out, is driven by these impulsive behaviors.