Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products


Why do some products capture widespread attention while others flop? What makes us engage with certain products out of sheer habit? Is there a pattern underlying how technologies hook us?

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They walk down the street, ignoring all surroundings. They sneak a peek during dinner. They take the smartphone to the bathroom. They fall asleep with it and wake to up it. The addicts of our smartphone age. The super-users of Instagram, the constant ‘likers’ of Facebook.

This is the territory the behavior design consultant and author Nir Eyal covers in his book Hooked: How to build habit-forming products, a step-by-step guide to do intentionally what many companies have done intuitively. At its core, Hooked explains how to convert the “external triggers” that make a person engage with a product into “internal triggers” that self-motivates the person without being triggered over and over again by expensive, paid media.

In the attention economy, making products habit-forming and understanding the science of behavior design behind it have become important skills in a digital space that’s clutter with attention-demanding products. The majority of users that download an app will never open it, a small portion will open it once and an even smaller minority will use it 10 or more times – often enough for it to become part of their routine. The conversion from casual downloader to routine use of a product is the focus of Eyal’s Hook method.


The first step in Eyal’s hook model is this trigger. He sees the hook as an iterative process which begins with external triggers that after a series of cycles convert into internal triggers. This conversion process is at the heart of his method. The external trigger in the LinkedIn example is a meeting with some a professional contact one doesn’t want to forget.

The second part of the hook is the action itself. It has to be easy, without any friction. The immense growth of Pinterest compared to Twitter can be explained by the effortless way users can create content: Just “pin” something and you’re done. Eyal stresses the importance of using observed behavior to increase the likelihood of a given action.

The third part discusses that a product rewards the actions that it triggers, but critically, if these rewards are variable we are far more likely to get sucked in. Decades of brain research has concluded that we are more motivated by the anticipation of reward than by the reward itself.

Finally, for the habit to really take hold, the user has to invest into it. The more you post on Facebook, the more you are to feel invested in the platform and value it higher. Making it so much harder for other social networks to make you change your allegiance. By getting us to put ourselves into a product its designers are using our own narcissism to increase our perceived value of their product.

Hooked is an important book for anyone in the credit union industry involved in designing, managing and marketing products. Behavior design is clearly a rising discipline with great effectiveness to help engineer beneficial habits, but it also can— and is—being abused for manipulative purposes.

With great power comes great responsibility. Before we can use that power, need to understand the mechanisms behind it. Hooked does a tremendous job introducing the audience to the art and science of behavioral design.

Buy the book at Amazon.com

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