Helping Users Create Habits by Design


Today many people use technology to help them enhance their lives and keep track of their progress while they do so. This is especially prevalent in the area of health and fitness, and the collection of data used to track progress generally occurs in one of two ways–either users manually input data into an app, or a connected app is used to facilitate constant collection of data by a piece of hardware. Regardless of the way that the data is collected and stored, much of the desired enhancement occurs because of the way the application interacts with the user.


Good User Experience designers take into account the psychology of users wishing to enhance their lives through technology. They look at ways to help motivate the user to create habits that will lead them to their goal and ways to ensure that the user keeps these new habits after they have reached their initial goal.


One way of accomplishing both of those objectives is through Nir Eyal’s “Hooked” model. The Hooked model employs four steps that will guide the user towards creating a habit. The first step is the trigger–the thing that alerts the user and leads them to the next step, which is action. The action step exists to motivate the user one way or another to do something to make progress towards reaching their goal. The next step occurs when the user reaches their goal, thus prompting a reward of some kind. The reward can be a variety of different things and there is another step that goes hand in hand with it. Upon completing the goal and getting the reward, the user invests in the process thus making it into a habit.


Designing an effective trigger is actually quite simple, according to the Hooked model. An effective trigger should address three things-it should be timely, it should be intriguing, and it should be actionable. Timeliness is important because you want to catch the user at a time when they are most likely to perform an action. In order to send a timely trigger to the user, you need to know the user’s daily behavior and then pinpoint the times of the day when a trigger would be most effective in eliciting a response. Next, you want to ensure that your trigger is intriguing to the user. It needs to be interesting enough that the user is going to want to perform the action the trigger is calling for. This can be accomplished in many different ways–including constant triggers, which consistently remind the user to complete an action, or through the use of humor or fun messages. Lastly, the trigger should be actionable, meaning it should make a clear and direct call to action that the user will answer. This can be accomplished by showing or telling the user exactly what you want them to do to give them that little nudge to do it. These qualities of effective triggers are great for getting the user to perform a single task, but to make that task into a habit, you have to dive a bit deeper.


Leveraging intrinsic triggers is what will make the action into a habit or routine. In order to determine what intrinsic trigger is applicable to the situation, you need to ask “why?” until you get to the root of why the user is using the product. Getting all the way down to the core reason behind usage will give you a much better idea of the user’s psyche and allow you to design the experience accordingly. Emotion plays a central role in establishing intrinsic triggers, because the core reason why a person does something to enhance their life begins when they are either motivated to feel a certain way or motivated to stop feeling a certain way. For example, if someone is trying to lose weight, possible core reasons for wanting to change could be because they want to feel healthy and become noticed by their peers, or because they want to stop feeling unattractive and overlooked.


After creating an effective trigger to cause the user to think about taking action, there needs to be some motivation to get them to actually follow through and do something. Generally, people are motivated by three sets of factors–increasing pleasure/decreasing pain, hope/fear, and social acceptance/rejection. These sets of factors are fairly straightforward and easy to employ, the challenge is determining what set of factors will work best for your target user. Once the most effective set of factors is chosen, think about how to make it easier for the user to take action or in other words how to make the task less stressful or simpler for the user. Simplifying the task will often lead the user to take action and continue to take action in the future.


Once an effective trigger is put in place paired with a form of motivation, there needs to be a reward after the user completes the action. The reward should continue to motivate them to keep going to reach their goal. After the goal is reached, there should be an investment opportunity for the user to continue to practice this habit and continue to enhance their life.


As the idea of using technology to track progress and enhance our lives grows, it only becomes more and more important to understand the key motivations behind usage, and for the people creating these products to provide the kinds of experiences that will help the user create the desired habits. Using the Hooked model, we can begin to understand, and therefore create, products and services that truly address the wants and needs of the users–one trigger at a time.