Nir Eyal: "Behaviour can be designed"

Daniel Casarin

Pubblicato da Daniel Casarin

"Behavior can be designed". Everything brings us back to Hooked "How to build Habit-Forming Products and services," one of the most interesting books I've read lately and I highly recommend it to entrepreneurs, marketers and designers.

When talking about Nir Eyal, one immediately thinks of the crossing of psychology, technology and business, or rather "behavioral design". Nir Eyal, who taught at Stanford Graduate School of Business and Design, is a compelling professional who has worked in areas such as video gaming and advertising. Now Nir is an active investor, business angel, teacher and consultant, able to support design teams in the creation of high retention products and services.


"The future of technology will be one where we are more dependent upon habits".

  • We all agree that corporate giants like Facebook, Google or Amazon, are constantly working to create habits, capture an increasing amount of users and increasing their customer loyalty. And we all agree that "The cigarette of this century is technology." But how can we sustain this continuous feedback of products and technological services that are continuously improving and also better designed? Where will choice play a role?

I think that the question is a little bit ominous. I have said that technology could be the cigarette of the century, but actually it wasn't me that originally said that. I quote Ian Bogost saying that. I think by and large these technologies are very very good for us, especially where people are voting with their actions.

The fact is that Facebook now has 1.2 billion users, and that's destined to increase as well as many of the other technologies. When you think about how the things that we use every day through our personal technologies have improved our lives, it’s almost hard to imagine that if you would've asked somebody 15 years ago or told them about the technologies we use today for free, they would’ve called you crazy, but the fact is, that these technologies are at our disposal and cost us nothing in terms of cash. They cost us our time but not any kind of monetary investment.

So overall these things are great and I think that people do have a choice. Of course these products leverage habit and that’s what my book is all about, but just because we have a habit does not mean that if the habit doesn't serve us, that we are powerless to resist. This isn't turning people into zombies or necessarily addicts, this is just helping people do things that they want to do, and these products are so well designed that they facility that behavior. So I think we do have a conscious choice, it's just that these products are designed to help us do things that we want to do as easily as possible and therefore become habits.

  • What is the story behind the Hooked framework? What brought you here?

I started two tech companies and the last tech company was at the intersection of gaming and advertising. I had this vantage point at the intersection of these two industries that gave me the opportunity to see lots of trial and error.

Lots of companies come and go, trying to get people to do various behaviors, and I just became fascinated with how some companies nailed it while other companies flopped. I was looking for a book to help explain the psychology behind online behavior and I didn’t find that book, so I decided to dive into it and write it myself based on the lessons I had learned, as well as dive into the academic research. I had this hypothesis back in 2012, I think it was that the future of technology will be one where we are more dependent upon habits.

If you think about how the interface shrinks ,we went from desktop computers to laptop terminals, to mobile devices and now to wearables, and now even more recently auditory interfaces, the conversational user interface where  through Siri and Amazon echo we're just talking to our devices.

Every time, the interface has shrunk and now it actually has disappeared. There’s just less real estate to trigger people, meaning you can't send people the kind of messages, banner ads and interruptions that you could on a big screen or monitor. Well, that means that habits are more important, that if you're not on the home screen of someone's phone, you might as well not exist. If you are not part of people’s day-to-day routines then you're going to be lost and forgotten. Especially when it comes to the voice interface, when you think about a product like Amazon echo or Siri. These products rely on us remembering to use them. Otherwise the products that are made of services, that are built on these platforms, will never be used.

So, habits are becoming more and more important and that's why I wrote the work I did, because I really wanted to help product makers who are designing products and services that can really benefit all of us. I wanted to help them succeed because it's not just Facebook, Twitter, instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat of the world, they already know how to do the stuff I describe in my book; the people I wanted to help are the entrepreneurs building products and services that enhance people’s lives and improve their lives. But for lack of good design, the product is not designed in a way that people actually use, so those are the people I really wrote the book for.


  • More often than not when we talk about technological products capable of creating habits, we talk about the end user. How do you imagine the application of this framework in the B2B field?

The rules around habit-forming technology are exactly the same whether it's an enterprise application or a consumer web application. The only difference is not consumer enterprise, the difference is frequency. So, the same exact rules apply in products that are targeted towards enterprise as they would be for consumer web, as long as the product is used frequently. You cannot form a habit around a product that is not used often and the cut off point seems to be about a week's time or less, so it's not about enterprise versus consumer, it’s about frequent versus infrequent.

  • And talking about small and medium-sized enterprises. How do you justify or demonstrate the ROI for a budget of design and marketing activity like Hooked?

Any product that needs to form a habit has to have a hook. There’s just no way around that and so what I've codified in the four steps of the hooked model is the fundamental pattern that every product that forms a habit has to have. It's not that every product has to be habit-forming. Lots of products don't need to be habit-forming. You can bring people back to your product by spending money on advertising, by opening up a physical storefront. Not every business needs to be habit-forming. It’s just that if your product requires a habit, if you need people to come back on their own, you have to have a hook.

  • How and when do marketing and its tools actually intervene within the Hooked framework?

I think what you're asking is: where is the hooked model applied? The hooked model is applied in one of two time frames. The best place to apply the hooked model is when, in the very very early stages of a product, if your business model requires unprompted engagement, you need people come back on their own. That's when you should take out the hooked model and ask yourself these five fundamental questions that I talk about in the book through the hooked model, and that can help you understand if your product even has a chance of creating a consumer habit. And if it doesn't, then that will tell you what to fix in your initial design.

The other place the hooked model is helpful, is if for some reason a company is not getting the kind of repeat engagement that they expect. This happens a lot. I get a lot of phone calls from venture capitalists or start-up entrepreneurs who have spent a lot of money building a product, but for some reason, people aren't coming back, they're not using the product habitually. So, in this way, the hooked model can be a diagnostic tool, it can help you understand why people aren’t coming back, and the reason why they’re not coming back is because you're missing one of these four steps in the Hooked model.

  • Just a message for startups and existing companies. In your opinion, is it possible to redesign products or services by implementing the Hooked framework?

Absolutely, so back to the question I just answered, if a product isn’t habit-forming, if you’re not getting the kind of engagement you require for the business to be viable, then the book I wrote is exactly what you need; it’s a diagnostic tool to figure out why, and sometimes the answer that an entrepreneur needs is that their product is not going to be habit-forming. You have to figure out a different way to bring people back and if your business model doesn't allow for that, if you can't afford to spend money on ads, then shut it down, do something else.

Sometimes the best thing you can hear as an entrepreneur is that it isn’t going to work, move on, try something else that's going to save you a lot of time and money. Other times, just understanding, on my gosh, here's what's missing in our product and look, here’s a bunch of ideas on how to fix that problem. That's sometimes even better. That’s much better, right? That means we can salvage what we’ve worked on. The problem is that far too many entrepreneurs don't know what they don't know, and that's what this book is all about. It gives you the psychological framework for forming habits through your products.

  • Even in Italy we are constantly talking about AI, Health 2.0, IoT and a next wave of technology that will radically transform the way we live. What is your position and your opinion on what's happening at this moment in history?

I think what we're seeing today is the occurrence of three major trends which are making products more habit-forming. We have this trinity of data access and speed, meaning these products are more accessible. We carry products with us at all times as opposed to before, when you would have to use your computer at your desk and now we're carrying our computer on our wrists and in our pockets, and were doing all this at greater speeds. So data access and speed, these three macro trends mean that the feedback loop by which companies can change their products to their users needs, to give their uses what they want, is speeding up and therefore, it is creating more opportunities. It’s creating better products and services every time the product is used and that’s a big deal. That's a trend we haven't seen occurring so quickly, ever, that's brand-new. So, that also means that these products are potentially more habit-forming than ever before, which is for many products a very good thing and for many consumers a very good thing. It also means that potentially we should watch out, that these products can sometimes be so good that we use them too much and that’s something to be aware of as well.

  • Is there any news you can reveal about your work in 2017?

Not really, I'm working on a few different projects right now. The best place to learn more about what I'm working on is on my blog I've gotten a lot of questions the past few years about how to put technology in its place, how to get unhooked, and so that's a lot of what I'm writing these days, about how to put technology in its place, how to make sure that these products don't control us and how to make sure we control them.


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