Review: Hooked: How To Build Habit-Forming Products

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (first published in 2013 and written by consultant / blogger Nir Eyal) builds on a number of examples, taken predominantly from social networking pioneers, that have been successfully employed to compel adoption and continued engagement of new products.

Eyal defines a habit as a situation ‘when not doing an action causes a bit of pain’ – habit forming products can start as ‘nice to haves’ but become ‘must haves’ with increasing use. The central thesis of the book is that habitual use of products and services arises through the combination of four key characteristics:

1: Trigger. An engagement-stimulating event, which may be external (i.e. occur within the user’s environment) or internal (an association within the user’s memory).

2: Action. An action is made in anticipation of instant gratification and driven by either a desire to avoid pain / gain pleasure, avoid fear / seek hope or avoid social rejection / gain social acceptance. For an action to occur, a user must have the required ability (in terms of time, money etc) to complete it when the trigger occurs.

3: Variable Reward. The reward for completing an action should be variable and non-finite (i.e. not simply one of a limited set of known possibilities, such as comments from other users). Rewards can be of three types:

  • Connection with others
  • The delivery of material resources or information
  • Intrinsic rewards of mastery, competence or completion

4: Investment. A requirement for some degree of user investment (e.g. the time required to master use, or networks formed with other users), which relies on the anticipation of future rewards.