How to design for habits with the Hook model

Published in
3 min readSep 1, 2014


What does Pinterest do to make us add pins whenever we see a cool gadget on the web? Why do we check Facebook before we go to bed? Why do some apps flop and others fly?

- It’s about designing for habits, or the small things we do without really thinking about it, says Nir Eyal, author of “Hooked — How to build habit-forming products”.

His Hook Model shows how services like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are designed to keep users coming back for more. And how we as designers and products owners can use the same techniques to create compelling products.

The Hook

- The secret is to guide users through a series of experiences called “hooks”, explains Eyal. Each cycle of hooks increase the likelyhood of users getting addicted to your product or service.

[caption id=”attachment_22557" align=”alignnone” width=”620"]

The hook

The Hooked model.[/caption]

In short, a trigger cues users to take an action that leads to a variable reward. This in turn leads him to make an investment in the future use of the product. Rinse and repeat, and over time using your product hopefully becomes a habit.

The Trigger

- The first cycle needs to be started by some kind of external trigger, like an email, a recommendation or even paid advertising. But the ultimate goal is to leverage internal triggers, where the user takes action based on their own emotions and associations, he says.

These internal triggers could be negative emotions, like feeling lonely (I have to check Facebook) or feeling uncertain (I need to Google that). Or they could be positive emotions, like Pinterest users feeling the urge to “pin” things whenever they see something cool on the web.

The Action

- For the hook to work, the trigger needs to spark some kind of action by the user. He has to have a motivation for doing it, and the action should be as simple to do as possible.

Clicking the Like-button on Facebook is one example, or typing a query on Google and getting a results preview without even clicking the search button. This part is mostly about hardcore usability work, testing and tweaking to constantly lower the threshold for taking action.

The Variable Reward

The action should result in an immediate reward, and this reward should be variable for each cycle in the hook.

- Pavlovs classical experiments showed that the levels of neurotransmitter dopamine surge when the brain is expecting a reward effect. Variable rewards multiply this effect and creates a focused state where the brains judgment and reasoning is reduced and wanting and desire is activated.

This is of course why more and more products and services use gamification techniques like points, badges and leaderboards to reward users for coming back.

- But gamification does not always work. The reward has to be meaningful to the user, to scratch some kind of an itch. If the itch is boredom, then fine. But most users come for other purposes.

The Investment

A key point in the model is making people invest something in the product, in anticipation of a future reward. Following other users on Twitter, setting up preferences or adding to your resume on LinkedIn are some examples.

- The investment phase is the most frequently neglected part of the model, says Eyal.

- Most apps and sites give you what you want and then send you out of there. But what we want is to make people invest in the platform, to do something that makes it better for them the next time.

The Ethics

A possible flip side of the coin are the ethical considerations.

- We have a special responsibility because we have the ability to be addictive. The ideal should be that you make a product you believe improves peoples life, and you use yourself. This will not just feel good morally, but in the end also create better products for everyone, says Eyal.

To learn more about Nir Eyal and the Hook model, you should read the book and check out his blog. And of course, check out his talk and full day workshop on Webdagene.




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