Notes on the book “Hooked – How to build habit-forming products”

Just completed reading “Hooked – How to build habit-forming products” by Nir Eyal

For a long time, I have been working in the consumer products domain (though indirectly), and I have been interested in how habit-forming products get built. As a software engineer & a gamer, some of such products I use every day. I knew bits about human psychology, user experience design & behavioural economics, but wasn’t very sure about how these things fit together to build “hooked” products.

With a recommendation from a friend, I started speed-reading this book, and discovered quite a few new things, while re-inforcing some of the conclusions I had already drawn from the past experiences.

Below are the notes & learning from the book & following the exercises in it –

The model to build habit-forming products follow a cycle –

  1. It starts with “triggers” – i.e. cues which directs the user to the product. While these can be pushed externally (like advertisements), the “internal” triggers are the most impactful, for e.g. if you want to know something, “googling” it is something that automatically comes to your mind, and for any habit-forming product, the triggers automatically come into the user’s mind. Esp. if you have built something that solves user’s pain points, they will associate your product with the feeling of relief, and the internal trigger is built.

  2. The trigger is followed by an “action” which they perform on the product. Three things are needed for behaviour to form – “motivation”, “ability”, and “trigger” (B=MAT) (B. J. Fogg’s behaviour model). The general guideline would be to use technology to reduce steps & increase simplicity. Simplicity includes things like how much time it takes, cognitive load, efforts, money, social acceptance, and deviation from the routine to perform the action (all of these should be minimized).
    We also need to think about “heuristics” – the mental shortcuts that we take to make decisions, into consideration, like scarcity, framing, anchoring & endowment effects.

  3. Action is followed by a “reward” – The anticipation of the reward has triggered the action in the first place! The reward can be something predictable like the product has performed what the user has intended, or it can be something variable or dynamic.
    The reward can be of the “tribe” – means something that enhances our acceptance, or prestige in the eyes of the society, or it can be for the “self”, where it gives us the sense of self-competency.
    Variable rewards tend to be very effective, and the anticipation, not the reception of the reward triggers the “feel good” chemicals in our brains! While giving rewards, maintain the autonomy to the users.
    User must feel that he is in control, not the other way around. Some of the rewards have finite variability, be aware of the pitfalls of that.
    A good example of variable reward is the number of likes, that you get on social media – it gives a sense of the acceptance in the society, as well as a sense of self-competence to the poster, and it is unpredictable, and the user will be hooked to check that every hour!

  4. The “investment” – the last, and the trickiest part of the hooked model, This is the phase where the product drives the user to do certain investment, in terms of time or efforts, into the product. “The Ikea effect”, i.e. we tend to value the things that we have built, or invested in, a lot more than the rest. Investment phase must come only after the reward phase. The investment that the user makes should be able to make the product more useful for him, increasing its value. Also, we, humans are designed to reciprocate kindness with kindness!
    The good example can be when a user registers on your product (i.e. makes an investment), you can save his usage history to give him meaningful recommendations, etc. Another aspect is if the user has acquired skill to use the product, they are less likely to leave. When the user builds a reputation (or followers, badges) on the product, it is an investment they are less likely to forgo. This investment, in turns, leads to further internal triggers, & the investment cycle is complete. For e.g. on Quora, the more answers I write, the more viewership, (& reputation) I build, which triggers me to write even more, and better quality content!

When we build something that improves the user’s life, and that maker themselves use, it becomes a “facilitator” which solves the user’s problems. If the maker thinks it is useful, but they don’t use it themselves, it may still be useful, but the maker should be aware of the assumptions & empathy gap.

To identify opportunities to build habit-forming products, one can start by identifying their own needs, and start building something to make their life easier, potentially a “facilitator”.

For innovators, “living in the future”, helps to identify the technologies that can enable new behaviour or interface change, to solve problems & build habit forming products.

Most of these notes may seem very abstract, and sometimes trivial, but when we apply this model to solve a problem, it becomes very interesting, and I will be trying to build something on these lines!

I would like to recommend this book to anyone who is trying to build consumer products. Go through the “do this now” sections in each chapter as an exercise for your product ideas, flow & design.

Hope this helps!