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


Habits are the wrong thing to focus on for most behaviorally designed applications

Many people read Hooked and think to themselves, “Aha! I have discovered the key to making great products! People just need to use it all of the time and respond instantly to our whistle!”

Products are fundamentally voluntary and habits take a while to form. People need to make a decision to use your app, whereas Nonusage is rarely a conscious decision. We’re not trying to create habits - instead, we’re trying to overcome prior habits.

Additionally, the behaviors that make up User Involvement tend to be effortful. When something is habitual, that means that it’s done thoughtlessly. How you brush your teeth is a habit. Going for a run may be a routine, but people don't hear a clicking sound and then suddenly find themselves running, wondering how that happened. Habits take time to form, and most things that you think of as habits are actually routines. The primary difference between a habit and a routine is that routines, while consistent, are voluntarily initiated

The behaviors we are trying to design the product for will require some level of deliberate action, as Adoption requires a baseline of user involvement in order to overcome inertia.

This is why it’s so crucial to focus on User Goals. Some behaviors may eventually transition into habit, but most will become, at best, a routine. Deliberate action is required at all points unless you have an app that runs on its own.

If we want to Satisfy the social contract between the user and the app, we have to ask ourselves: Who is habitual app usage important for? Is it helpful to the user? I elaborate on this more in The difference between user involvement and user engagement.