Tips and Tricks

How to hook users in your Digital Product?

Digital product? we all know what are these isn’t it?

Are you hungry? There’s an app for that! Are you bored? There’s an app for that! Do you want to read a book? There’s an app for that! Dead? Well, there’s an app for that, too!

Most people spend over eight hours a day looking at their phone or computer screen, and some “technological innovators” are hoping to grab even more of our eyeball time. We have screens in our pockets, in our cars, on our appliances, and maybe even on our faces. Average smartphone users check their phones 150 times a day, responding to the addictive buzz of Facebook or emails or Twitter.

In the 21st Century, there was an estimation of over 2.34 billion users that used social media platforms worldwide in 2016, with the number rapidly growing.

Golden Krishna (design strategist for android at google) in his book The Best Interface is No Interface says, “Our love affair with the digital interface is out of control. We’ve embraced it in the boardroom, the bedroom, and the bathroom.”

We all have seen how the digital product we use daily today like Facebook, YouTube, Google, Slack, etc., and good old emails have changed our particular behaviors over the past few years. Those products keep us checking again and again.

How do they do it?

These companies have mastered the art and science of habits. This behavior is done with little or no conscious thoughts. About 40% of what we do daily are not because of our consciousness but because of our habits.

I am about to show you the design pattern that big companies use to build habit-forming products. Before diving into the design patterns, let’s get to know about a few facts of habit, how they form, and the loop of habit.

Few facts about habits:

  1. It takes about 2 months to form new habit-66 days to be exact.
  2. Willpower is more like a muscle and can be strengthened.
  3. Our life is the sum of our good and bad habits.
  4. Habits can not be truly removed but can be replaced by new ones.
  5. We can take control of our life by changing our habits.

How do Habits form?

Our habits are the collection of our behaviors that we adapt day by day in our lives. Habits are a way of increasing the efficiency of our brain. Our brain turns our everyday behavior into habits freeing up the brainpower for new things. Our brain needs a lot of concentration and power for the new task we perform but as the frequency of the repetition of that task increases our brain needs less power to perform that same task. This is called “chunking” and root of all habits.

According to neuroscientist David Eagleman in Incognito: “Brains are in the business of gathering information and steering behavior appropriately. It doesn’t matter whether consciousness is involved in the decision-making. And most of the time, it’s not.”

In the 1990s, a group of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered a neurological process that is at the core of every habit. They named it “Habit-Loop”.Anyone willing to change their habit must know this loop.

CUE- is any trigger that tells us what to do next.

ROUTINE- is any activity, emotion, or behavior done in anticipation of reward.

REWARD- helps to determine whether the particular loop is worth remembering or not.

So let me give you an example of this “Habit-Loop”.

CUE- I feel bored or I am with my friends.

ROUTINE- I smoke.

REWARD- I feel relaxed and happy.

Our brain demands fulfillment and satisfaction. So in this case of changing the smoking habit, I need to get the same reward following a different routine to change my habit. The different routines can be watching movies or going jogging which gives me the same reward for the same cue.

Big technological companies are mastering the science of forming habits and are developing tactics to stay in relevant users’ minds and lives.

There is a model Nir Eayl discovered while he spent his years in the video gaming & advertising industry in which he explains about building a habit-forming product. It’s called the hook model. Hook Model uncovered by Nir Eayl

A hook is an experience designed to connect the user’s problem to the company’s solution with enough frequency to form a habit. Hook basically contains the following four parts which are pretty similar to the “Habit Loop”:


Every hook starts with a trigger. It tells us what to do next. These triggers can be things in our Environment like “Click here”, “Buy Now” or “Play this” buttons. External triggers tell us what to do next by providing some piece of information contained in the trigger itself.

We see these triggers every day and you are likely to be familiar with these external triggers but what you are not likely to be familiar with is internal triggers which are absolutely critical to forming long-term habits.

Internal Triggers are things that tell us what to do next but where the information is not contained in the trigger but instead inform through an association or a memory in the user’s brain. So what we do when we are in a specific place, situation, around particular people taking part in a routine and most frequently when we experience certain emotions dictates what we do next. The trigger is responsible for the action that we turn to with little or no experience. The most frequent triggers are specifically negative emotions.

External & Internal Triggers

So, what we do when we feel bored or lonesome or lost or fearful or uncertain or confused dictates the technology that we turn to next with little or no conscious thought. In fact, research has shown people suffering from clinical depression check email more. Well, it turns out that people suffering from depression experience what psychologists call negative valence states. They feel down more frequently than the general population. They check email more often than most other people to boost their mood to get out of that negative valence state while they are going online. But of course, we all do this to some extent to get out of negative emotions. Don’t we?

We all use the digital product to change our moods these days.

Think about what app or website do we turn into when we feel lonely?

I guess the answer will be Facebook.

What about when we feel uncertain?

Before we scan our brain to see if we know the answer well, we google it.

What about when we feel bored?

We go to YouTube, check sports news, Pinterest, Twitter, stock prices, etc. There are so many solutions to alleviate the painful internal trigger of boredom**.**


So after the trigger tells what to do next now it’s time for the action itself. The action phase of the hook is where the habitual behavior occurs. The definition of the action phase is the simplest action done in anticipation of a reward. It is something as simple as scrolling on Pinterest or searching on Google or what could be simpler than pushing the play button on Youtube. There is actually a formula to predict the likelihood of these singular behaviors and it comes to us from research at Stanford by the name of BJ FOGG. He proposed that for any human behavior ‘B’ 3 things are necessary Motivation ‘M’, Ability ‘A’, & Trigger ‘T’. i.e B=MAT.

Motivation is the energy for the action. It’s how much we want to do a particular behavior while ability is the capability to do that behavior.


After the key behavior let’s say opening an app, scrolling a page, or, swiping left and right, now it’s time for a reward. It’s time for users to give what they came for. But before understanding rewards let’s get to know about a particular region of the brain called “Nucleus accumbens”.This special area of the brain activates when we crave something: Luxury goods, Sex, Junk foods, Certain chemicals, and Technology. This special part of the brain becomes most active in anticipation of reward but when we actually get the thing we think we want then it becomes the least active. So the way the brain gets us to act is by creating this itch we seek to scratch. There is a way to supercharge that itch to stimulate a craving.

Do you want to know what it is?

Are you curious?

Do you want to know how to activate desire?

Well of course I’m doing it to you right now because that unknown is fascinating and so when I asked you a question I’m guessing you perked up and wondered what am I going to tell you. So in all sorts of things that we find most engaging, you will find an element of mystery, a bit of unknown what BF Skinner called a variable ratio of reinforcement. If you consider the products that we find most engaging, most habit-forming, and the thing that captures your attention you will find one or more of these 3 types of variable rewards:

The rewards of the hunt

are all about the search for resources. When many people think about the reward of the hunt, they think about the slot machine and gambling where the variable reward is the money you might win when you play a game of chance. That is why gambling is so habit-forming if not all addictive. Interestingly enough we see the exact same dynamic online: feed. Have you ever wondered why so many products are using the feed? Consider the Twitter or Facebook timeline feed. The first post in the feed may not be interesting and the second one too but how about the third and the fourth and so on. To get more of this reward of the hunt, the user just has to scroll and this psychology is exactly the same as pulling on a slot machine.

Rewards of the tribe

are things that feel good, that have an element of variability like for example seeking empathetic joy. You feel good because someone feels good. Cooperation, competition, and partnership are a few examples of the reward of the tribe. The best example I can think of online is social media. When you open the Facebook app you never know what you’re going to see, what photos & videos you might find, what people are commenting on your post, or how many likes your post gets. There is a high degree of social variability.

Rewards of the self

are the things that feel good and that have an element of variability but don’t come from other people and are not about to search for material or information reward. These are things that feel good in and of themselves. They are essentially pleasurable and they are about the search for mastery, competency, control & completion. The best example I can think of online is gameplay. I might not be playing with other people or even winning anything on angry bird or candy crush but there is something & habit forming about getting to the next level, the next accomplishment. Even if you feel that you are not a gamer, this does not apply to you, I’m sure you must have used your inbox(1). I check my inbox(1) to clear the (1) new message in the inbox.

These are all examples. The purpose of these rewards is to give the user what they came for to scratch their itch. You have a bit of mystery and some uncertainty around what you might find the next time you engage with the digital product.


The purpose of the investment is to increase the likelihood of the next passing through the hook. Investments do so by storing the value. In the physical world, every product depreciates with time, and they lose value. Things we buy like cell phones, computers, clothes, vehicles, etc. lose value with time but habit-forming technology is just the opposite. The digital product gets appreciated, and it gets better with use which is because of Investment.

The more followers I get on my Instagram helps me to reach more audience. The digital product gets better with the data, I invest in; while I use their service. each time I pass through the hook I put more investment. You can just think about all the tweets, photos, statuses, etc. you have posted on social media like Twitter, and Facebook till now. Habit-forming products also store your reputation as an investment. My reputation on platforms like Fiverr, Upwork, Amazon, Airbnb, etc. determines what I can charge for my goods and services. It also determines how likely am I to leave one of these services after I have got these positive reputations. I’m not likely to use another better competing service just because of these reputations.

So the cold and hard truth is that there is no written rule anywhere that says the best digital product wins instead the company that holds the monopoly of the mind of the habit wins. Those products that can make their users pass through these successive cycles of Hook, can shape customer preferences, can form tastes, and hold habits.

Big technology companies are using people’s hidden psychology to change their behavior. There is no one to hold the question “Is this ethical”?

We have to be careful while designing products using these techniques. We are building products people are taking to bed with them every night. They reach those products before even saying Hello to their loved ones in the morning.

The responsibility we have as Digital Product designers, as innovators, and as Entrepreneurs is to use behavioral design for good.

Innovators and Designers at Apple have come forward to tackle iPhone addiction on iOS-12. They announced a new feature on the very first day of Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference 2018.

The new feature of the iPhone will give you a deep insight into how you use your Apple devices. A digital product offering breakdowns, how you’re picking up your phone, and which apps are sending you the most notifications.

By understanding this technique, we as users & consumers can break unwanted habits in our own lives. We can help people to make a digital product that helps people become healthier, happier, more productive, and more connected.

Also, you can check out the previous blog Atomic Habits to be a better YOU.

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By: Robin Sharma, Product Design Lead – IME Pay | Edited by: Salina Shree