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Hooked Resources & Top Articles on User Behavior

In an age of ever-increasing distractions, quickly creating customer habits is an important characteristic of successful products. How do companies create products people use every day? What are the secrets of building services customers love? How can designers create products compelling enough to “hook” users?

We’re on the precipice of a new era of the web. As infinite distractions compete for our attention, companies are mining user behavior analytics to master new tactics to stay relevant in users’ minds and lives. Today, just amassing millions of users is no longer good enough. Companies increasingly find that their economic value is a function of the strength of the habits they create. But as some companies are just waking up to this new reality, others are already cashing in.

Manufacturing Desire

But how do companies create a connection with the internal cues needed to form habits? The answer: they manufacture desire by guiding users through a series of experiences designed to create habits. I call these experiences “Hooks,” and the more often users run through them, the more likely they are to self-trigger. User behavior analytics plays a role here as well.

I wrote Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products to help others understand what is at the heart of habit-forming technology. The book highlights common patterns I observed in my career in the video gaming and online advertising industries.

Trigger

The trigger is the actuator of a behavior—the spark plug in the Hook Model. Triggers come in two types: external and internal. Habit-forming technologies start by alerting users with external triggers like an email, a link on a web site, or the app icon on a phone. By cycling continuously through these hooks, users begin to form associations with internal triggers, which become attached to existing behaviors and emotions. Soon users are internally triggered every time they feel a certain way. The internal trigger becomes part of their routine behavior and the habit is formed.

Action

After the trigger comes the intended action. Here, companies leverage two pulleys of human behavior – motivation and ability. To increase the odds of a user taking the intended action, the behavior designer makes the action as easy as possible, while simultaneously boosting the user’s motivation. This phase of the Hook draws upon the art and science of usability design to ensure that the user acts the way the designer intends.

Variable Reward

What separates Hooks from a plain vanilla feedback loop is their ability to create wanting in the user. Feedback loops are all around us, but predictable ones don’t create desire. Variable schedules of reward are one of the most powerful tools that companies use to hook users. Introducing variability multiplies the effect, creating a frenzied hunting state, activating the parts associated with wanting and desire. Although classic examples include slot machines and lotteries, variable rewards are prevalent in habit-forming technologies as well.

Investment

The last phase of the Hook is where the user is asked to do bit of work. This phase has two goals as far as the behavior engineer is concerned. The first is to increase the odds that the user will make another pass through the Hook when presented with the next trigger. Second, now that the user’s brain is swimming in dopamine from the anticipation of reward in the previous phase, it’s time to ask the user to give some combination of time, data, effort, social capital or money.

The investment implies an action that improves the service for the next go-around. Inviting friends, stating preferences, building virtual assets, and learning to use new features are all commitments that improve the service for the user. These investments can be leveraged to make the trigger more engaging, the action easier, and the reward more exciting with every pass through the Hook.

Super Power

A reader recently wrote to me, “If it can’t be used for evil, it’s not a super power.” He’s right. And under this definition, habit design is indeed a super power. If used for good, habits can enhance people’s lives with entertaining and even healthful routines. If used to exploit, habits can turn into wasteful addictions. Companies need to know how to harness the power of Hooks to improve peoples’ lives, while consumers need to understand the mechanics of behavior engineering to protect themselves from unwanted manipulation.

(This is an excerpt from a prior post. The original post can be found here.)

Please feel free to check out some of my resources and articles related to the Hook Model below. You can also find additional articles about the Hook Model and Consumer Psychology here.

Top Articles and Resources for Hooked

How to Hook Users in 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing

Changing user habits isn't easy -- but understanding how to conduct Habit Testing will increase your odds of success. In this video, I provide a brief introduction to the three steps of Habit Testing. I explain how product designers use these steps to identify their...

Hooked for Good: How Habit-Forming Products Improve Lives

Last week's Habit Summit was amazing! It was wonderful to see so many blog readers and friends enjoying the keynotes -- not to mention the Stanford sunshine. Below is my opening presentation highlighting examples of companies changing user behavior for good. Let me...

The Psychology Behind Why We Can’t Stop Messaging

Today, there’s an app for just about everything. With all the amazing things our smartphones can do, there is one thing that hasn’t changed since the phone was first developed. No matter how advanced phones become, they are still communication devices — they connect...

Getting Traction: How to Hook New Users

Nir’s Note: Justin Mares is the co-author of the new book Traction, a startup guide to getting customers. Justin's framework provides a simple way for new marketers to discover their most effective triggers. Get 3 chapters of Justin's book free at tractionbook.com. In...

4 Simple Things I Did to Control My Bad Tech Habits

Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Sharbani Roy explores techniques she used to break bad habits related to eating, sleeping and exercising. Sharbani blogs at sharbaniroy.com and you can follow her on twitter @Sharbani. It’s 2 AM and you’re exhausted, but unable to...

How Investment Drives Engagement (Slides)

This week, Baba Shiv and I taught a class at the Stanford Graduate School of Business called, "Using Neuroscience to Influence Human Behavior." The course focused on the science behind how consumers make decisions. During the class, we walked through my Hook Model, a...

Designing User Habits Video

Video from my recent talk about designing user habits, at the Designers + Geeks Meetup in San Francisco on August 1st, 2012. Note: This Designing User Habits talk is similar to my "Behavior by Design" talk but has approximately 20% new material.If you're reading this...

Hooking Users In 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing

 The truly great consumer technology companies of the past 25 years have all had one thing in common: they created habits. This is what separates world-changing businesses from the rest. Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter are used daily by a high...

How to Design Behavior (The Behavior Change Matrix)

How to Design Behavior (The Behavior Change Matrix)

Here’s the gist: The rising interest in the science of designing behavior has also sprouted dozens of competing -- and at times conflicting -- methodologies. Though the authors often flaunt their way as the only way, there are distinct use cases for when each method...

Hooks: An Intro on How to Manufacture Desire

Type the name of almost any successful consumer web company into your search bar and add the word “addict” after it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Try “Facebook addict” or “Twitter addict” or even “Pinterest addict” and you’ll soon get a slew of results from hooked users and...