Hooked - how to build habit-forming products by Nir Eyal

Out of sheer unconsciousness, you drown yourself into that feed. How is this app able to hook my mind? Nir Eyal has many answers to this very question. 

After obtaining an MBA at Stanford Graduate Business School & selling two tech companies in 2003, he started to focus on behavioural engineering after learning a lot about user psychology with his previous experiences.

Acknowledged as “The Prophet of Habit-Forming Technology” by the M.I.T Technology Review, he wrote two best-selling books compiling what he has learned, and the one I’ll be reviewing today is Hooked: How to build habit forming products.

Wall Street Journal best-seller, “Marketing Book of the Year 2014” award from Porchlight’s 800 CEO Read, needless to say this book is widely popular in the product world. But have you read it? If not, I’ve got you covered with a short review of Hooked:

Hooked by Nir Eyal

The main concept Nir Eyal showcases in this book is the 4-step cycle process he calls the “Hook” model. It consists of four consecutive steps he develops in chapters in his book. The book begins with an introduction on how beneficial habits can be for your product, and how to test the behaviour-forming potential of your own product. The first step is to trigger the potential user to act towards your product.

Think of it as strong layers of different information you scatter around the user. Designing a habit-forming product requires an understanding of the user’s emotions when interacting with your product. Knowing where to set those triggers, such as your social media presence or good advertising, pushes a user to perform a certain action.

Not only should the user be triggered enough into performing habit-changing actions, but he also has to be motivated enough to do so. This sends us to the second step, action. As the author puts it:

All humans are motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain, to seek hope and avoid fear, and finally, to seek social acceptance and avoid rejection

What drives users to change their routines and take action, are mostly personal desires. Focusing on building something that will drive the user’s mood in the way he wants will imply him to come back to it and get that reward, which is the third step.

Rewarding your customer induces a focused state, which suppresses the areas of the brain associated with judgment and reason while activating those associated with desire. Nir Eyal stresses here on the importance of the autonomy of choice. Users should feel rewarded for using the product for their own interest, and not being forced to adapt to a certain behaviour:

To change behaviour, products must ensure the user feels in control. People must want to use the service, not feel they have to.

Therefore, a consistently pleased user will more likely develop commitment to your product. You can benefit from that investment to improve your product and enhance your user experience. The author refers to this as stored value, a build up of content that completes the product, and can be the load for a next trigger, which will start the cycle all over again!

An engaging and insightful read I'd recommend to any product manager! The concept of creating and improving addictive technology by using psychology is more of an interesting subject to grasp in the recent days.

Even if driving users to be obsessed with your product can be a little dark, Nir Eyal puts the focus on building habit-forming products that helps people, rather than just mindlessly scroll a feed (just like you did before missing your bus 😆).

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