The Habit Loop & Design

A great book to look into is “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. If you’re interested in learning how and why people make some of the decisions they do, this is a great starting point. The book explains how most of our daily actions are habits we’ve formed and behave subconsciously. It’s why we’re able to drive a car without thinking about all the little tasks needed to drive. Habits are an important part of our lives.

To understand how habits work, you first need to understand The Habit Loop. The Habit Loop consists of three different points. They are the following:


The Cue is an event or action that occurs which triggers the Habit. Cue’s do not need to be large events and can often work with something simple and subtle. An example of this would be a runner setting out their shoes at the front door the night before a run or noticing that it’s 3pm and time for your coffee break.


The routine is the path taken to complete the action started by the Cue. This would be the actual event or running or getting up and drinking your coffee. The routine is an important part of the habit loop because when it comes time to change a habit, it’s altering the routine which gives you the best chance at success.


The reward is the result you’d get out of initiating the loop. The runner’s sense of completion and achievement or the rush of caffeine provided by the coffee. The reward is the most important part of a habit loop. This is what reinforces the habit and ensures that it is set.

So how can does the Habit Loop work when it comes to designing websites and applications?

Users have certain expectations when using digital services. They see certain items, such as a “Buy Now” button and the button acts as the cue to activating the user’s Habit.

The cue is the button, the routine is adding the item to the shopping cart and the reward is knowing you’ve got something new coming. If you understand the Habit Loop, you can make decisions with UI design that can yield higher interaction rates.

So how do you take advantage of the Habit Loop? This is where User Interface Patterns come in handy. These patterns are collections of designs and functionality that users have come to expect in certain situations.

Websites UI Patterns or Pttrns are great places to get started. UI Patterns, for example, has a large library of patterns which explain the problem that exists, an example of the solution and the usage of the solution. This is a great resource that explains why you would use specific patterns in certain circumstances.

When you’re able to provide experiences that solve user problems and the experiences become the industry norm, this is where habit loops can form. So try to create your own Habit Loop or use a pre-exisiting cues to generate more interaction within your designs.

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