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 voluntaryProducts are fundamentally voluntary
People can always choose to use the product, use an alternative, or use nothing at all. In fact, not using your product is their default state of being, and you’re trying to get them to do something different and effortful in using your product. Adoption requires a baseline of user involvement in order to overcome inertia.

It’s easier to facilitate people doing something that they want to do than it is to convince them to do something they don’t want to do. It’s easier to enhance their desir...
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 InvolvementUser Involvement
Imagine purchasing a gym membership in order to lose weight or grow more muscular. Having a gym membership is not enough on its own! In order to successfully accomplish that goal, you would need to work out regularly on the right muscle groups. You might have a higher likelihood of success if you participate in exercise classes or hire a personal trainer. Your outcomes are shaped by your own behavior in the gym.

User involvement is defined by the set of user behaviors that lead to experienci...
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 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...

This is why it’s so crucial to focus on User GoalUser Goal
There are individual differences between new users in their initial user goals, which plays a crucial role in the Parameters of onboarding. Since Adoption requires a baseline of user involvement in order to overcome inertia, the user must see how the app relates to their ability to accomplish goals quickly.

Additionally, User goals change over time, so if we want Retention, we need continued User Involvement.

Goals that matter to the user are ones they were struggling to accomplish on their...
s. 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 appSatisfy the social contract between the user and the app
This is about optimizing for User Involvement within the context of what the app can do. The user needs to exert effort into making the app work for their needs, and the app needs to reduce the effort required and make the effort worthwhile. The social contract between the user and the app tends to work best when the app is transparent about what user involvement is necessary so the user can make an informed choice that they internalize as self-motivated.

This is worthwhile to the app becaus...
, 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 engagementThe difference between user involvement and user engagement
With high quality User Involvement, people are using your product when their lives call for it and in a way that allows the product to fulfill its promise to the user. This is distinct from how high user engagement is generally conceptualized in product world, which is when people use your service as much as possible.

Designing for engagement is unsustainable. It’s an outcome that is often at odds with what the user actually wants from the app, as is the case with much of social media. Peopl...