ux design

UX design and the Habit-Forming Products

Simon on Oct 12th, 2016

Nir Eyal is the author and entrepreneur behind the book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, and in recent talks he makes a point to share secrets behind the success of companies like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp by defining the Hook System. And for us is important to understand this and how we can apply it to a meaningful User Experience design or UX design.

A system that consists of a chain of events: trigger, action, reward and investment.

This a rather old concept for marketers. It’s their daily bread, to be honest. But when you factor in technology and UX design, the possibilities are endless.

Technology changes behaviors and it changes everyday life for most of us. It’s ever changing and it’s constantly expanding and transforming into something new. UX design captures and engage with those changes.

Some new product, some new feature that more often than not, starts much like a toy and it rapidly becomes a must-have tool for everyone.

That kind of reach, from a marketing standpoint, is unheard of until now.

1 How are these habit affecting our life

In one of his talks Nir explains that: “50% of our daily actions are done with little to no conscious thought”, completely out of habit.

What Nir defines as the Hook system is nothing more than “connecting your User Problem with your Solution with enough frequency to form a habit”. UX design creates an experience for the user in order to connect with them in an emotional level.

Let’s discuss in depth the Nir’s Hook system and we’ll show you how can adapt it simply for an app.

1.1 The trigger

As defined by Nir, triggers can be defined in two different way: External and Internal.

External triggers are very easy to identify. They are the ones that contain the information of what to do next. From a simple Play or Subscribe button, to a Tweet this, or Share now, anything that promotes an immediate action from an external source.



Internal triggers are easy to overlook, and easily ignored by some UX designers. These are the ones where information about what to do next, is passed onto the user through association in the user’s memory.

A mouthful, I know.

The easiest way to understand this concept is through emotion. With every image on an app – be it in a mobile app, website, blog post, product pages, or how-to guide – you are trying to guide the user to provide a response, emotional or even through association of a pattern you will like them to follow next time they visit you, this is UX design at its finest.

A pattern that slowly but surely becomes part of the user’s routine, and eventually turns into something more.


1.1.1 How to identify your Customer’s Triggers

The only way to create a connection with your audience, and to understand their needs – or find that trigger – is to create a product for them not you, this is very important and sometimes underestimated.

You need to gain a deeper knowledge of your market, your customers – what they do, where they go to have fun, how they spend their free time – and then adapt or mold your product to something they can’t live without. These are key elements for a good UX design.

Most business owners craft products according to their tastes and their own requirements, and they don’t consider their audience. More often than not, these people fail.

They fail to create a connection with their customers, to establish that emotional connection that builds loyalty and customer happiness, and in turn, they fail to sustain.

1.2 The Action

Nir defines it as the “simplest behavior in anticipation of a reward”.

An ideal example of this is a simple scroll on a website, the user knows that by scrolling they will get an immediate reward, i.e., the information they are looking for or creating a navigation flow that will guide the user to the point of conversion, this is when UX design gets very interesting but also complicated.

There is a way to measure the success of your action. According to BJ Fogg – a professor at Stanford Lab – for any Behavior to occur, you need Motivation, Ability, and a Trigger:

B = M + A + T

It’s rather easy to extrapolate this concept into UX design:

  • Motivation comes from the need of the user for a product like yours.
  • Ability comes from how easy is for the user to navigate or understand your app (user experience).
  • And the trigger is the CTA or call to action embedded that makes your user obtain your product or service.

Every aspect of that formula is important.

With sufficient motivation, the users will even overlook certain shortcomings. If there is a need for your product, your customers will find you. Which is why understanding their needs and behavior is so important.

Without clear triggers, the users will find themselves lost, and it’s only through sufficient motivation that they will find a way to reach your product.

But in our opinion nothing beats a good UX design. Even with sufficient navigation and CTA’s if the user finds your app hard to follow or your concept too complex, it is more than likely they will go to your competitor to find the solution they seek.

1.3 The Reward

This is where you give the user what they came for.

Rewards can come in many forms but they all need to provide the same stimulus in the user. A sense of achievement, or simply a feeling of contentment is what drives the most enjoyment, and in turn, it drives engagement.

Among the key elements that drive responses are: luxury goods, sex, love, even junk food, and this can all be feed to the user by technology with just a few clicks.

As Nir states your product needs to stimulate the stress of desire, the anticipation, the craving, that is the key to a successful reward. One that your users will come for time and time again.

After the user has gotten what they came for, leave them wanting more.

One key example is the recommendations like Amazon or eBay show at the end of the checkout process. We’d all met our downfalls in that box that reads “User who purchased this have also purchased…” It is that feeling of deep want, you need to achieve.

1.4 Last but not least, the Investment

The future reward. That simple promise that the continued use of your product can grant future benefits.

As Nir states, the Investment Phase increases the likelihood of the next pass of the hook in two ways:

1. Investments load the next trigger – do something now and you will be rewarded in the future.

Promoting continued use and opening up multiple opportunities to offer different versions of the same product, or more products.

2. Storing value by improving the product with use – with more use comes a lot of feedback, and with that feedback, you will be able to not only improve your product, but also improve your customer services. It’s a win-win situation.

Once you have the clients, it’s a time-sensitive issue to hold on to them. This is a process that requires a lot of focus and work, and a lot of business owners and product designers tend to neglect.

2 Conclusion

If you study some established companies like Google and Amazon, it’s easy to identify how they help people find what they are looking. Users reward them with engagement and loyalty, turning to them as their go-to sources to solve their everyday problems.

When a habit is formed, the decision is already made for the user, molding their behavior to something they can easily predict and use to make their business grow. These companies leverage habits to earn their places in users’ daily lives.

Regardless of where you find yourself now, or the stage of your business, they key is in your audience. Pay attention to what they need, and you will succeed.