Picking Nir Eyal’s brain about habit-forming products



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The digital product space grows more and more crowded every day. And even after you’ve found a way to stand out and get noticed, you’re faced with another problem: how to get people into the habit of using your product.

Because if you don’t do that, there’s undoubtedly another app doing a very similar thing, and they’re just a tap or two away.

In our unending search to help you solve that problem, we recently hosted a Q&A session with Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. You asked questions via Twitter, and we learned a lot about designing products for engagement.

To hear all the questions and answers, you can listen in on our chat. Nir gives us a quick but thorough overview of the Hooked model in the first 10 minutes—the shortest summary of the Hooked model he’s ever given!

But if you lack the time to give it a listen, here’s a few of our favorite questions, and Nir’s insightful answers.

What’s a good example of the Hooked model at play in a digital-meets-physical world transaction?

–Clark Valberg, CEO of InVision, @ClarkValberg

Starbucks’ app does a masterful job of bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds with an amazing external trigger. If you identify a favorite store in the app—a form of investment since it’s done in anticipation of a future benefit—you’re loading up your next trigger for Starbucks.

So, the next time you walk by the store, you get a notification: “Hey, you’re ready to pay for your coffee with just a swipe.” These days, Nir finds himself checking his phone between meetings to see if he’s near one of his favorite Starbucks.

The trigger (notification) comes through the digital world, but the transaction (getting a cup of coffee) is completed in the physical world.

What’s your opinion about “healthy habit” triggers vs. ones that don’t make users happy in the long run?

–Haley Jordan Jones, @HayJayJayy

Nir said that he wrote Hooked because he knows how hard it is to build a habit-forming product. The problem for most companies is not that people are overusing the product, it’s that no one seems to care about what you built.

Hooked was written for people building good, healthy products to help them attract and keep a user base and to learn the power of consumer psychology to change people’s behavior for the better.

But Nir shared this secret: the book is a little bit of a Trojan horse. You read it thinking, “Wow, I want to build one of these products like Facebook or Instagram,” but you eventually realize two things:

  1. The products that we can’t seem to stop using are hooking us by design.
  2. We as entrepreneurs/innovators/designers have a moral responsibility to use habit design for good, what Nir refers to as “the morality of manipulation.”

What do you think about the new phenomenon of products to reduce tech distraction and boost willpower? Should those products use the hook model too? Is that counterintuitive?

–Margaret Kelsey, Content and Community Manager, @margaretannk

Nir’s blog is roughly half about how to create products that hook users into healthy habits, and half about how to break those habits. We have to understand the hook in order to break it.

Here’s an example. Nir uses the app Freedom when writing. It’s simple—it just turns off your internet for a set period of time. Instead of manually going up to the top right corner of your screen and turning your WiFi off, Freedom does it for you.

So, if that’s all it does, why use Freedom?

Because writing is hard and boring. It makes you reach for the internet (email, Facebook, etc.) almost subconsciously. But with Freedom, if you really want to give in to distraction, you have to restart your computer. That distance between the trigger and the action makes the action more difficult. And we know that when we make a behavior more difficult, people are less likely to do it.

It’s true. We’re starting seeing an explosion of “attention retention technology” with the main goal of breaking the hooks so we control technology rather than technology controlling us.

The power of the Hooked model

Whether you’re designing a product to grab someone’s attention or give it back to them, knowledge of the Hooked model and consumer behavior is crucial to creating a successful product.

We think Leandro Henflen did a great job summing it up:


Margaret Kelsey
Margaret Kelsey leads content marketing at Appcues. Before Appcues, she built content programs for InVision’s design community for 3.5 years and has roots in painting and PR. She’s a big fan of puns, Blackbird Donuts, and Oxford commas—probably in that order.

Keep up with me on and .

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