Habit Forming Products

It might not surprise you but some of the biggest brands in the world, from the likes of Apple and Facebook to Amazon and Microsoft have a load of things in common. Outside of the money, notoriety and fame, what we are interested in is the culture and habits these brands have created. Be it Apple’s high-end culture or Amazon’s shopping empire, all of these brands have made us believe that life without them wouldn’t exist (or close to it).

The hard part is figuring out how to create these habits, how to groom your users into a life-style that only a little while ago was foreign to them. Thankfully though, we’ve been reading up on this fascinating new ‘mini-industry’ and want to share our thoughts on the most interesting aspect we found.

The Hook

The most significant ideology in this particular area is known as ‘The Hook’. It gained notoriety thanks to Nir Eyal, a lecturer from Stanford, UX Designer and the creator of the ‘product psychology’ course.

The Hook essentially allows you to figure out your users habits and how to hook them in (pun intended). Its based around the concept of finding your users problems and then challenging these problems at regular intervals, up to the moment that the users find the solution you provides as part of their day-to-day (habit).

Based around four integral facets: Trigger, Action, Reward and Investment this ideology creates these mini-habits to engage users — through a few ingenious ideas.


Triggers consist of both external and internal triggers (external being ‘play this’, while internal are the triggers that ask you what to do next through association). These internal triggers aren’t that well known to UX designers and surprisingly enough are often trigged by negative emotions, e.g. Clinically depressed users checking their email more often due to their need for human contact and appraisal.

Discovering your user bases triggers will begin to solve your problems. Instagram’s internal trigger is the way to capture a moment (and its social network element), the more users use it, the more the hook grabs them (thanks to the fear of missing out) makes the users carry on.


The ‘Trigger’ only pushes you to act on something, but then comes the actual ‘action’ of the user reacting to a trigger. The best way I’ve found of describing this is along the lines of you getting a call during a meeting (high motivation) but your ability to actually answer the call is reduced (you don’t pick up). Alternatively you receive a call from a blocked number, where you ability to answer is high but the motivation is low.

If this trigger continuously fails to grab you and motivate you into an action the habit (hook design) fails. Twitter is a great example of the ‘action’ working perfectly. If you think about it’s sharing system, such as in a newsletter, you’ve received something of interest, you’ve spotted something specific of interest and then you see a ‘share’ button that actually allows you to action on your feelings.


With the action activated we then hit the ‘Reward’ phase. Our human instinct to rewards is controlled by the Nucleus Accumbens, a part of our brain that essentially acts on our cravings. Its activated by anything from food and sex, to yes you know it… technology. What makes it more interesting though, is this specific part of the brain doesn’t actually ‘crave’ those things, it rather acts upon them when it loses out, it’s the ‘stress for desire’, the ‘anticipation of the reward’ that really gets it going.

One of the most clear-cut examples of this system working can be found through the ‘Youtube’ play button. Yeah it’s a little convoluted when you think about it, but in the end having a video play (especially one you enjoy) by pressing play, only gives you the urge to press play again, not mentioning the fact that your peripheral vision is flanked by similar videos and the automated play reel.

By Radio


The investment essentially is the culmination of all three facets working and restarting the loop with a brand new trigger. The key to this particular psychology is for the user to generate the next trigger themselves; be it through a tweet, comment or favourite, that generates a reaction.

If we use Twitter as an example again: imagine posting a Tweet and then getting a favourite or a reply, that results in a push notification to your phone, resulting in another trigger through the hook. Essentially your contributing to the creation of something, you become invested in and then don’t want to let it go.

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