Photo by on Unsplash

Should product designers try to create addicts?

We’re in the business of people, but we just happen to be accidentally (or sometime intentionally) be trying to program people’s brains through design.

I’m fascinated with the mind. It’s an incredibly powerful system. Our entire view of reality shocks through the neurons in our brain. As I’m typing this, my fingers are tapping on the keys with little effort. The room around me has faded away as my focus is on telling you about ways we are able to change the world by brainwashing you.

Kind of.

The power of Habit

Before you get scared, and you decide to go off the grid for the rest of your life, you must remember that this can be a very good thing. This ability for our brain to program repeatable routines allows us to explore new ideas, practice creativity, form new relationships, and ultimately survive.

Habits are the building blocks of discipline, healthy living, athletic achievement, financial success, as well as distraction and addiction. This is unpacked in a book I highly recommend. The Power Of Habit: Why we Do what We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg.

Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.

In this book, Duhigg unpacks a simple formula for a habit.

1. Cue. A trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode, and which routine to use.

2. Routine. Physical, mental, or emotional behavior that follows the cue.

3. Reward. A positive stimulus that tells your brain that the routine works well, and is worth remembering.

Duhigg explores how successful coaches, companies, investor, and societies have trained habits that shaped their success. He drives home that our brain is craving to create new habit routines. Ways that we might create new habits, though difficult, can be rewarding.

My personal routines

In an effort to explore the routines and habits that run my life, I created a flow of a typical day. I found so many small routines that I think nothing about, but move me through every part of my day. Some of these were good. Some probably keep me from being creative, learning new things, and building new relationships. Some are just down-right lazy.

I highly recommend this exercise.

What do we as product designers do with this?

Photo by Oliur Rahman on Unsplash

How are my design creating addicts?

As designers, we are working day in and day out to craft products and experiences that fire off this portion of the brain that says,

“That feels good! That makes my life better, easier, more enjoyable, and I want more!.”

Our job is to make incredibly complex systems easy and enjoyable. We build cues and hooks that bring you back as often as possible. While you are there, we will do everything in our power to provide value so that you’ll want to come back over and over.

You almost feel that NEED to come back.

We are trying to build habit routines. We are trying to make you slightly addicted in some way.


Maybe….. But how can this be used for good!

If we do this right and for the right purpose, we could solve real problems in people’s lives. We have the ability… and I dare say responsibility to make it easier and more enjoyable to interact with an experience that can help people become better.

As designers of digital products, we connect people and ideas around the world like never before possible in human history. We allow the sharing of information, facilitate valuable connections, foster learn something new, encourage being healthier, and even help you to live longer.

These are good addictions!

Good addictions that can help people become more engaged, informed, and generous. Using the tools of a habit routine we can even learn how to put down our technology, beat unhealthy habits, combat harmful drug addictions, and even turn off media and engage with the real world.

Who’s actually using design and technology for good habits?

These are just a few companies, but the industry is trying hard to figure out how to use great product designs to help and not harm. Easier said than done.

Create habits by tracking setting goals and tracking progress with
Simple counting helps you track steps and food with Movesum
Become more generous as you invest and save with
Train your mind with tools like

What do I do as a designer?

Here’s a few ideas.

Work on experiences that make people better.

As a product or digital experience designer you have choice. Choose to work with companies, projects, experiences that make lives better. Say no to projects that don’t in some way look to make a person’s life better. You have a choice!

As you build on these experience, think about how these products fit into a persons daily routine. What Cues, routines, and rewards can you put into place that will help them take advantage of the tool you built so that stick with it and become a better person tomorrow.

Keep your users safe by breaking habbits.

Work hard to think about when and where you users will engage with your experience. How can you make sure that it is a safe, simple and beneficial experience that either enhances a moment or solves a problem. Make sure that it does not purposefully distract the users from real human engagement or even worse distract them in scenarios that might put them in harm. This is often driven by additions we can’t seem to stop. (STOP TEXTING AND DRIVING!!!) Build your products in a way that breaks normal routines, and trains them to engage at the right moment.

Waze’s passenger mode is a great example of an interface trying to keep its users safe while still providing value and good habit routines. This suggests that while the car is moving, unless you are a passenger, you shouldn’t be interacting with Waze while driving. Brilliant!

Craft designs that use habits to train.

A great product experience makes it easy for your users to learn and retain the flows that are valuable to them. My team at designs and builds mostly SAAS, B2B, and marketplace product experiences. These are the tools that businesses and their customers use on a daily basis. But rather than building more and more complex functionality, we often spend time trimming and refining a clear repeatable path to the core features that users come back for.

Consider Tilr

We worked with Tilr to iterated the experience to get to the core repeating activities that each user type would experience on a daily basis. We removed roadblocks, removed clutter, made cues and notifications more clear, and prompted users on next actions to take for a clear routine.

The experience continues to be refined into a habit that brings workers back often because it has clear cues, routines and rewards that form habits, that ultimately gets them work to get paid.


Our lives are controlled by habits and addictions. There is no getting around it. We are designed this way.

As people engage more and more with technology and digital experiences, we as product designers have a responsibility to carefully consider if we will design experiences that encourage positive habits or negative ones. We each have a choice as designers to make the world a better place. Lets take that responsibility seriously.

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Curious to learn more?

Check out Crema’s weekly Youtube channel., and read more on Trying hard to turn good ideas into great product experiences!