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devicesNir’s Note: Michal Levin asked me to write this essay for her new book, Designing Multi-Device Experiences.

Allow me to take liberties with a philosophical question reworked for our digital age. If an app fails in the App Store and no one is around to use it, does it make a difference? Unlike the age-old thought experiment involving trees in forests, the answer to this riddle is easy. No!

Without engagement, your product might as well not exist. No matter how tastefully designed or ingeniously viral, without users coming back, your app is toast.

How, then, to design for engagement? And as if that were not challenging enough, how should products that touch users across multiple devices, like smartphones, tablets, and laptops, keep people coming back?

The answer is habits. For the past several years, I have written and lectured on how products form habits, and my work has uncovered some conclusions I hope will prove helpful to product designers.

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 3.10.38 PMWe’ve just announced new speakers and their respective talks for the upcoming Habit Summit taking place on March 25th at Stanford. The line-up is amazing!

We’ll hear from experts like Julie Zhuo (Director of Product Design at Facebook), best-selling authors like Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) and Natasha Dow Schull (Addiction by Design), innovators like Josh Elman (formerly of Twitter and LinkedIn), Jeff Atwood (co-founder of Stack Overflow), a number of VCs, product leads, and other phenomenal speakers.

This event was created for product managers, designers, executives, and marketers: anyone whose product or company would benefit from repeat customer engagement. I’m thrilled to be involved and I can’t wait to hear these speakers.

Tickets to the conference are selling fast and we’re on track to sell out. If you are planning to attend, note that prices of tickets go up on March 10th, so get your ticket soon. More information about the summit is available at: HabitSummit.com

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 3.22.24 PMWednesday was my birthday. It should have been a great day. My wife and daughter had prepared a delicious breakfast, I had lunch with close friends, and I finished up some writing and client work. At the end of the day I headed to San Francisco to enjoy a swanky scotch tasting at a friend’s house.

Then I heard the news. WhatsApp had been purchased by Facebook for $19 billion. When I read about the deal I blurted out the words, “Holy Crap!” so loudly that a stranger nearby gave me a disapproving look.

I was having a fantastic day just minutes before but suddenly I felt crummy, like something unjust had happened. The malaise lingered as my mind began to rationalize the news. Was the deal justified? Why had Facebook paid so much? What did the deal mean for the future of the tech industry?

Nir’s Note: Parts of this article are adapted from Hooked: A Guide to Building Habit-Forming Products.

flappy On February 8, 2014, an app called Flappy Bird held the coveted No. 1 spot in the Apple App Store. The app’s 29-year-old creator, Dong Nguyen, reported earning $50,000 a day from the game.

Then, the Vietnamese developer sent a shocking message. In a tweet many dismissed as a publicity stunt, Nguyen wrote, “I am sorry ‘Flappy Bird‘ users, 22 hours from now, I will take ‘Flappy Bird‘ down. I cannot take this anymore.” And as promised, the game disappeared the next day.

This is not the way success typically ends.

Flappy Bird was downloaded over 50 million times and unleashed a digital tsunami of players and pundits dissecting what turned into a global fixation. Players’ only goal in the game was to pilot a pixelated bird through gaps of pipe. Yet the app seemed to have a mysteriously seductive power. In a TechCrunch article titled Confessions Of A Flappy Bird Addict, Josh Constine wrote, “It humiliates me, but I like it. It’s the dominatrix of mobile games.”

computer faceNir’s Note: This article is adapted from Hooked: A Guide to Building Habit-Forming Products, a book I wrote with Ryan Hoover and originally appeared on TechCrunch.

Earlier this month, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone unveiled his mysterious startup Jelly. The question-and-answer app was met with a mix of criticism and head scratching. Tech-watchers asked if the world really needed another Q&A service. Skeptics questioned how it would compete with existing solutions and pointed to the rocky history of previous products like Mahalo Answers, Formspring, and Aardvark.

In an interview, Biz articulated his goal to, “make the world a more empathetic place.” Sounds great but one wonders if Biz is being overly optimistic. Aren’t we all busy enough? Control for our attention is in a constant tug-of-war as we struggle to keep-up with all the demands for our time. Can Jelly realistically help people help one another? For that matter, how does any technology stand a chance of motivating users to do things outside their normal routines?

Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Ryan Hoover, contributing writer of my book Hooked, describes how nostalgia is used to drive attention and build an engaging product. Follow @rrhoover or visit his blog to read more about startups and product design.

alf-pogs

Remember pogs?

Remember Tubthumping?

Remember Nickelodeon GUTS?

Now pause…

How do you feel right now? Did reading those words stimulate any emotional reaction? Did it bring back memories? Excite you? Make you smile?

Nostalgia is powerful. Simply mentioning the names of childhood toys, old TV shows, classic video games, and other pastime activities often instigate an emotional response, reminiscence. But why? Why is nostalgia so compelling and how can product creators use this to build more engaging products?

I’m thrilled to announce I’m co-chairing the first Habit Summit!

On March 25th at Stanford University, a gathering of experts, entrepreneurs, and industry insiders will share their hard-won insights on how to build habits. This event is for designers, executives, visionaries, and marketers: anyone whose product or company would benefit from repeat customer engagement.

We’ll hear from best-selling authors like Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) and Gary Taubes (Why We Get Fat). Technology innovators like Josh Elman (formerly of Twitter and Facebook) and Jeff Atwood (co-founder of Stack Overflow) will also be there. Several more phenomenal speakers will be announced soon but in the meantime I wanted to offer my readers special pricing for the event.

Until February 1st, you can use the code “NirAndFarFriends” for $50 off the early-bird pricing. Prices will go up as the event nears so get your tickets here: habitsummit.eventbrite.com

More information about the summit is available here: HabitSummit.com

Nir’s Note: This guest post comes from Stephen Wendel, Principal Scientist at HelloWallet and the author of Designing for Behavior Change. Steve’s new book is about how to apply behavioral economics to product development. Follow him on twitter @sawendel.

brainIt can be extraordinarily difficult to stop habits head-on. Brain damage, surgery, even Alzheimer’s disease and dementia sometimes fail to stop them.[1] But why are they so difficult to change? First, it’s because habits are automatic, and not conscious. The conscious part of our minds, the part that would seek to remove habits, is only vaguely aware of their execution;[2] we often don’t notice habits when they occur and we don’t remember doing them afterwards. Across dozens of studies on behavior change interventions, researchers have found that the conscious mind’s sincere, concerted intention to change behavior has little relationship to actual change in behavior.[3]

Nir’s Note: Lyle McKeany is an entrepreneur writing and working on an early-stage startup. In this essay, he shares his experience using lean methodologies with my Hook Model at the Lean Startup Machine conference. This article also appears today on Pando Daily. Follow Lyle on Twitter @lylemckeany.

startupThe conventional view of lean startup ideation methodology is to identify a problem, test your riskiest assumption with a certain success criterion, talk to potential customers before coming up with a solution. Then pivot or persevere until you validate a solution. But it turns out that this conventional view isn’t always the appropriate approach. Here’s how my experience at a Lean Startup Machine(LSM) event in San Francisco earlier this month proves it.

The Lean startup movement is not hurting for attention these days. There are plenty of advocates who write and speak about it almost daily, some of them even make their living doing so. According to Wikipedia,

The launch of my new book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, has been quite a whirlwind. The book is currently a bestseller in several categories on Amazon and I’m thrilled the reviews have been so positive.

Below are a few updates and special offers for my blog readers:

Workshops

I have two Hooked workshops next week.

San Francisco, CA – Monday, January 13 – This is a full-day course based on the class I teach with Dr. Steph Habif. This will be a small group session and only 5 tickets are left.

Brooklyn, NY – Wednesday, January 15 – This is a 3-hour workshop.

Blog subscribers get 50% off either workshop by using the code “NirAndFarFriends.”

Online Course

I’ve recently published an online course based on the book. Blog subscribers get 50% off the course using the code “NirBlogSub.” The discount is available for people who register for the course by January 17th. The course is available on Udemy here.