Negative emotions are the most powerful inner trigger for habit-forming actions: «When we're depressed we go to Facebook. When we’re bored we go to YouTube. When we’re stuck, we Google it – these are all responses to internal triggers.»
So, how can we design for it?
The sentiment above belongs to behaviour design consultant and author Nir Eyal, who opened the show at this year’s Webdagene, an annual Norwegian web conference organised by Norwegian UX-company Netlife Research.
In his talk, Eyal went on to to provide a step-by-step guide to how to design what he calls «habit-forming products» (addictive is my term) – such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
At the start of the conference I instinctively started taking copious notes, but then I had to remind myself I was there to listen, as a paying member of the audience, not to report, and I promised myself to only blog about what really stuck, what really stood out for me after the conference was over (I've blogged more about the conference here, in Norwegian).
And Eyal's talk certainly gave me lots of food for thought.
During the talk he quoted Ian Bogust that «our technology is quite possible becoming the cigarettes of our time», admitting that designing habit-forming products is a form of manipulation, but saying we should use the psychological insights that allow us to create habit-forming design as a force for good.
At the start of the talk, I must admit I found myself wondering how far we’ve travelled from the days of Cluetrain (when social media very much were portrayed as tools for democracy, creating a new more democratic public sphere), to Gluetrain (an excellent parody on Cluetrain) to social media as some kind of addiction machines.
«Making products habit-forming, and the behaviour design that makes it possible, has gone from being a nice-to-have to a need-to-have in the ultra-competitive world of apps and digital services. There are so many things screaming for users’ attention that only the things that they whisper to themselves about have a chance of sticking around for a while.»