Jude Fulton
Mar 31, 2015 · 3 min read

Let’s say you’re the designer of an app or website. What if you could spend the next 4 hours working to increase the likelihood that someone will pick up their phone and use your product? There’s only one catch: You can either optimize her motivation to use it, or her ability to do so, but not both.

Which would you choose?

According to Nir Eyal’s “Hooked,” For any behavior to occur, this must happen:

h = m+a+t

Where: h = behavior; m = motivation; a = ability; t = trigger

Here are my sketchbook notes from the workshop. It shows that a behavior will fail to happen when one of these 3 elements is missing: m, a, or t.

What are the factors that impact ability?

These often depend on the real-world contexts in which your users find themselves. So it’s important to consider the specific use case and context. When they encounter your product, are they coming home from work? Heading out to the gym? The 6 factors that impact your ability to use a product are:

  • Time — pretty self-explanatory
  • Money
  • Physical Effort
  • Brain Cycles: We tend to overestimate how much everyday people are willing to think about a new behavior. It has to be pretty seamless and unconscious. ‘First to mind solutions’ win.
  • Social Deviance: How much of a social price will I pay for engaging in this behavior? If the ‘cost’ is too high, I probably won’t do it (eg. Google glass)
  • Non-Routine — when people are asked to participate in a behavior that is not in their normal routine, it’s hard.

You may want to read BF Fogg’s article on this in its entirety.

Okay, now what are the levers that one can push/pull in order to increase motivation? There are only 6:

  • avoiding pain
  • avoiding fear
  • avoiding rejection
  • seeking pleasure
  • seeking acceptance
  • seeking hope

These are all feelings. Feelings are nebulous and difficult. But if you can help your user feel any of these things, that’s lightning in a bottle. More often than not, it often happens as an accidental side effect.

Returning to our quesiton here, if you’re a time-strapped designer that can either optimize your users’ motivation to use your product, or their ability to do so (but not both), which do you choose?

Go with ability.

Of course there isn’t a simple answer to making a sticky product, as motivation and ability are deeply interconnected. Humans aren’t rational and our behavior rarely falls along neat parabolic curves. But try sitting down for a few hours to consider how you might make your user’s ability to access your app easier.

As researchers and designers, figure out which resource is scarcest for our audience: Is it time? Is it the ability to think? Is it money? Whatever the scarcest resource happens to be, go after it. Account for the six factors of simplicity and reduce the barriers for performing a target behavior.

In general, persuasive design succeeds faster when we focus on making the behavior simpler instead of trying to pile on motivation.

People often resist attempts at motivation, but we humans naturally love simplicity.


Was this a helpful article? If so please consider sharing it. Thanks!

Jude Fulton

Written by

Recovering Architect at Mosss.com. East coast gal who wandered west. I used to design buildings, now I design experiences.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade