Nir Eyal on Building Habit Forming Products

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Nir Eyal is a writer for TechCrunch, Forbes, and Psychology Today, writing about how to “help companies create behaviours that benefit their users, while educating people on how to build healthful habits in their own lives.” He is also the author of the book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.”  In our last meetup, members of UXPA Norfolk gathered to learn from his lecture on “Building Habit Forming Products” featured on The Next Web’s YouTube channel. At the end of the lecture, we had the opportunity for a Q&A session with Nir through video chat.

Nir is no stranger to the science of habit in technology, and he believes we can use it to help people live happier and more connected lives. After studying companies such as Google, Facebook, Pinterest, and Apple, he’s gained much insight on how these companies have shaped user behavior by creating new habits. The definition of a habit is behaviour done with little to no conscious thought. He discussed in-depth how these companies have integrated what’s called the “HOOK,” which is comprised of four basic phases he sees in all habit-forming products:

  1. Triggers. Triggers tell us what to do next, and there can be external and internal triggers. External triggers can be buttons on a website or a friend telling you about a new app.  Internal triggers are processed in the user’s mind when we experience a particular emotion, which dictates what we do next or what technology we turn to out of habit.  For instance, when we’re feeling lonely, one technology people may turn to is Facebook.  Nir believes in building for the psychological requirements in an effort to help negative emotions, such as loneliness or boredom, in a good way.
  2. Action. The action is the simplest behavior done in an anticipation of a reward; for instance, pushing the play button on a video or scrolling on Pinterest. He shared how you can predict the likelihood of an intended behavior by judging whether or not there was sufficient motivation, ability, and triggers.
  3. Reward. The reward is when the user gets what they came for, and Nir discussed how the nucleus accumbens is the most active part of our brain when anticipating a reward. One example of when the nucleus accumbens is stimulated is in the variable nature of social media, when users are looking to scratch the itch of discovering the next notification in products such as Instagram.
  4. Investment. Investments are about future rewards, such as money and emotional commitment, and not immediate gratification. Investments increase the likelihood of the next pass through the HOOK by loading the next trigger and becoming more valuable through use. An example of loading the next trigger could be the recommended videos that display after watching a YouTube video. Also, the implementation of reputation on a site like eBay is a form of storing value. Users that have built up a higher reputation are less likely to lose to other competitors on eBay.

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Nir concluded that the HOOK is the “experience designed to connect the user’s problem to your solution.” After watching the video lecture, we held a Q&A with Nir. For 45 minutes, Nir shared his thoughts and advice about developing and deigning products that people love. Here are a few questions that were asked:

  1.  Can you share your thoughts on designing for children? Nir brought up how he believes in replacing a habit with tools that are good for you. With children, you are competing with TV. He likes the way Netflix was designed, because you can choose what your children watch and when to watch it.
  2. Why do you think Google Glass failed? Nir responded that it depends on what you define as failed, because he believed it was simply a product that was ahead of its time and that he definitely foresees a future with wearable head technology. However, he did share a story about someone he knew that wore Google Glass regularly, and how it was always an immediate distraction whenever he would talk to someone.
  3. Can you give examples of websites that use good habit-forming design? Nir discussed how Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest can all be habit-forming, and how they are all products that offer rewards by helping to seek connections.

Nir closed the Q&A with a few words of wisdom about the dangers of Evil Design. Instead of building habit-forming products that don’t solve a real problem, we can harness human motivation to make a true impact in the world. We can design habit-forming products that improve human well being. He highlighted a local company that helps people every day, 7 Cups of Tea.

If you’re interested in hearing more from Nir on the topic of Building Habit Forming Products, visit his blog NirandFar.com

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Post by Aimeelyn Dineros. Photos by Alex Proaps.

Thank you to Grow for their sponsorship and to ODU’s Strome Entrpreneurial Center for hosting the event. 

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