Behavioral product strategist and gamification designer. This is my public hypertext notebook, sharing my thinking in motion at various stages of development.


Apps with continued user involvement respond to changing user goals over time

New users do not yet have the vocabulary to understand the appNew users do not yet have the vocabulary to understand the app
Imagine that you are in a foreign country where you don't speak the language. You're hungry and you need to ask someone on the street where to buy some food. You don’t have the words to say it, but you can probably rub your stomach and people will know where to point you.

If the app has sufficiently unique features or design, then encountering those will be like hearing words from a foreign language. If the features or design are familiar carryovers from other products that people are used t...
, but as User skill level increases over timeUser skill level increases over time
Imagine that you have just started to use Excel or Photoshop. Both of those apps have an insane amount of functionality, and it would be unreasonable to expect the user to understand what is possible and how to do it immediately. Over time, with continued User Involvement, they will simply grow more comfortable with the app.

The most successful app adoptions come from a project, because they give the user a reason to increase their skills. As they work on their projects, they'll bump up agai...
, so does their vocabulary. They are able to conceptualize and express desires that they couldn’t express before, so User goals change over timeUser goals change over time
A user’s goals 1 week into using your app and 6 months are rarely the same. “Elder users” often won’t even retain the goals that they had at the start of their experience. Apps with continued user involvement enable the user to accomplish multiple goals to maintain users through full goal transitions.

New users do not yet have the vocabulary to understand the app. User skill level increases over time, giving the user new vocabulary to conceptualization and express desires that they didn’t ha...
. If the app can only handle the user's goals 2 weeks in but not 2 months in, then it can't expect the user's continued involvement.

This points to the importance of Continuous onboardingContinuous onboarding
Horizontal products like Notion, Airtable, Excel, and Obsidian are all powerful/flexible and require learning and expansion of use cases over time to wrap your head around them. Given that, why do they only teach people how to use the app for the first few minutes?

It's not just horizontal products though. Continuous Onboarding applies to most apps that aren't just "open, press a button, and close." Are you continuing to add features over time that would benefit users that are more than a mo...
for Difficulty MatchingDifficulty Matching
The emotional experience of Flow

A flow state is often characterized as optimal human experience. It’s an experience where you are fully focused and energized in what you’re doing, often experiencing a high level of creativity and losing track of time.

The general emotional experience that is being described here is that when a task is too challenging for a user’s current level of ability, they’ll get frustrated and give up. Alternatively, when the task is far too easy, they are likely t...
. If the user's skill level doesn't increase over time to match the challenge that their new goals require, then the user will get frustrated and give up. Apps with continued user involvement are responsive to increasing skill levels over timeApps with continued user involvement are responsive to increasing skill levels over time
Near the beginning of a person's personal productivity journey, they may be fine with using Apple Reminders as their form of task manager. Eventually, User skill level increases over time, so they may want to sort tasks into projects. Apple Reminders can handle that, so the user remains satisfied.

Eventually, they read Getting Things Done and realize that the Lists within Apple Reminders just won't do the trick. According to the principles of Difficulty Matching, this is the point where they...

Often times the user’s goals change entirely, so Apps with continued user involvement enable the user to accomplish multiple goalsApps with continued user involvement enable the user to accomplish multiple goals
If an app enables the user to accomplish only one goal, then the user will be lost as soon as the one goal disappears or is accomplished better by using some other product. Accomplishing multiple goals makes for a sturdier foundation of usage that is more resilient to changing life circumstances, as User goals change over time.

Imagine if all LinkedIn was good for was finding a job. If this were the case, then people would stop using it as soon as they found a job. However, they can also be ...

Roam Research

Roam is a great example of this. When they introduced bidirectional links, filters, and block references, they exposed users to a whole new vocabulary that they did not have before. They don’t have much of an AdoptionAdoption
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process in the app, but they were able to Speak to the user with a shared vocabularySpeak to the user with a shared vocabulary
New users do not yet have the vocabulary to understand the app. They understand the product through the lens of their own goals and what's familiar to them. The company will generally have its own goals, like increasing the frequency of engagement. However, we can't just tell people to use the app every day. The user needs to have a reason to do so, articulated in terms of the user's own goals.

When working with clients, I often Use a badging system as a method of actionable user research to...
by bringing in the support of the community. Continuous onboarding can come from the community. As the user becomes more familiar with the functionality of Roam, they are able to realize “wow, I need bidirectional links in every app that I use” or “Wow, Roam can’t do this thing that I never knew I wanted before I was exposed to bidirectional links in the first place.”

What’s important to note is that RoamRoam
For anyone who isn't already familiar, Roam Research is a knowledge management system that organizes text on a graph of connections. Think of it like a Wikipedia that you write that can be queried and filtered like a database. For example, a behavioral scientist could search for interventions that change social norms. Roam would pull up all instances in your database that connect "intervention" with "social norms" and display them to you in the context where you originally wrote down those no...
’s feature set is designed to be building blocks for just about whatever you want. It’s flexible enough to deal with most user goals that develop even before new features are developed.


The same may be happening with HEYHEY
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, but I’m not sure if they are as flexible. As an email service, they introduced new workflows to the user that many may not have realized they needed before:

  • Reply Later means that they can manage their emails with lightweight todos
  • Screener means that they can be much more intentional about what they do with emails than they may have realized
  • Imbox, Feed, and Paper Trail means that there’s a specific place for each email

HEY’s thinking is that the problem with email is primarily in how people use it, so it has designed specific workflows. I worry that in doing that, they have limited themselves to people that fit a specific user group, which may be effective for adoption and they may be fine with, since Adoption requires a baseline of user involvement in order to overcome inertiaAdoption requires a baseline of user involvement in order to overcome inertia
Products are fundamentally voluntary and your product takes effort to use. Speak to the user with a shared vocabulary so they are able to understand why you are worthwhile.

Remember, you’re competing against doing nothing and against pre-existing habits. Pre-existing habits are overcome through deliberate behavior, positive motivation, and reduced switching costs.

Designing for User Involvement is a reliable way to increase the likelihood of initial adoption. Design the user’s initial exper...
and starting fresh with a new email lowers the email overwhelm users would normally experience. However, I’m not sure if the features and UX that they have designed are flexible enough to develop with the user’s changing goals over time. Much of their functionality doesn’t feel like it’s meant to be building blocks that can combine with each other.

They have exposed the user to a new vocabulary, but what happens now that the user can more clearly articulate what they want and need than they could before and are stuck with the way that HEY works?