in Product Design, Psychology

Recently I read a book called “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” written by Nir Eyal. It changed the way I used to look at product design and development. The basic principles explained in the book were at the core of almost all successful consumer applications I use daily. I understood why Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram was such an important part of my daily routine.

Why am I so hooked to Facebook that its hard to give up? Facebook is a place I waste my time and the company makes money by showing me advertisements. Not a huge value add but still its something I open at least once or twice a day and spend around 5 mins every time.

Reading the book made me understand why I am hooked.

  1. All my friends, old and new are on Facebook. I may not know a lot of them and in touch with hardly a few but I still come back when I get notified about their activities. I can’t ignore them can I?
  2. All my memories are on Facebook and I cannot simply delete my account and move on. There is a lot to lose.
  3. When I am bored I go to Facebook and read interesting content on my feeds. Facebook is my favourite procrastination app.
  4. When I have experienced a share worthy moment, I upload it on Facebook for my friends to see. I come back to check the Likes count and comments. I feel a sense of being rewarded in the form of Likes and I get to talk to my friends over comments.

The above points are only a few reasons but are more than enough for us to understand the concept of Hooked Canvas.

“Hooked” by Nir Eyal presents a modal called the “The Hook Canvas” which is used by Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Quora, Whatsapp and many other major consumer applications. The below image shows the high level overview.



The four steps in the cycle are:

Trigger (External and Internal)- How do you get someone to your product either first time or next time.
External triggers usually come from friends, invite emails, newspaper ads, TV ads, Google search, word of mouth recommendations etc. Usually gets new signups.
Internal triggers are what keeps your users coming back to the product. These triggers are more of an emotional trigger like boredom or a desire to share something with friends.

Action – What the user must do next after the trigger, the core action of your product.
Its important to have a clearly defined core action because this is what the user will do every time he comes back to the platform. It need not be one singular action but each and every action must be easy to do. Facebook’s core actions are Liking, Commenting, Sharing and Posting.

Reward – What the user gets immediately after performing the core action. 
Our brains are hard wired to seek rewards that make us feel accepted, attractive, important and included. Every time we login (Action) to Facebook we get to see the number of Likes (reward) on our posts or we get to see things that help us get over our boredom (reward) We keep scrolling down our Facebook feeds looking for interesting content and every time we find something like-worthy we feel a sense of accomplishment (reward). Feed in Twitter, Linkedin and Quora is designed to keep the user scrolling down forever seeking rewards.

Investment – What the user is giving to the platform.
No matter how brilliant, beautiful or useful your product is, if you mess up this last step the likelihood of a user abandoning your product becomes high. This step is about making your user spend enough time and eventually even make a transaction.
The more images he stores, the more followers or friends he has, the more likely he is to get hooked to the platform. There is a reason why its hard to give up your gmail account because it already has thousands of your emails. You cannot simply move on to another platform and start afresh.

The Next Trigger – Getting the user back again
After you post an image on Facebook you come to see how many people have liked it (Seeking reward). You are bored and you know you will find interesting content to read on Facebook or Twitter so you come back and probably add more posts, like or comment. Then come back again to see the responses to your actions, thus getting into the Habit Loop. There has be a way to get the user back to the platform using triggers like Unread Notifications, Fresh content, Latest news etc.

Some Hook cycles of famous consumer applications.





What if you core action is not something the user will do everyday or even once weekly or monthly?

Digital0cean sells servers and is not something a user is likely to buy every day, then how do you get your users engaged or hooked to your company. They solved it by not just being a Cloud provider but also a solution provider for almost all server problems. They have 1000s of articles on various subjects related to configurations, installations, solutions to common server issues and they even are a community where people ask questions, like posts, upvote answers and add comments. The created a mini network of developers who eventually will buy servers from digitalocean or have already bought one from them like me.screenshot-from-2016-09-23-20-36-30

Most startups fail to understand that building a product is not enough but building a product that engages their users is what builds trust. Trust is what pulls money out of the pocket. Getting a user hooked to a platform is no rocket science. You need to create a cycle which makes them perform your core actions again and again.

Summary of steps to develop a habit forming product

  1. Action : Identify your core action. What is it your user will do on your platform everyday. If your core action is something a user will do only once or twice a year then find another action which he can do often which will eventually lead him to your core action.
  2. Reward : Identify rewards you would give your users for performing your core actions.
  3. Investment : Find a way to get your users friends on board, let him have followers, make him consume interesting information, give him tools to contribute to your platform.
  4. Trigger : Get your users attention and find ways to get him back to the platform.

Here is a talk by Nir on how to build Habit Forming Products


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