Skip to main content

Designing Habit Forming Mobile Application

Mobile Applications have become an integral part of our daily lives - we use mobile apps as alarm clocks to wake us up in the morning, to create to do lists when we start our day, to communicate with our colleagues at work via apps like Skype. We even check reviews of restaurants to visit on apps like Yelp and we seek entertainment on apps like Netflix and spotify. So what drives us to use these apps so seamlessly in our daily lives? Why we prefer some apps over others? Is there a science behind designing successful mobile apps like Facebook? 

A study in US revealed that a user between the age of 18 and 44 visits the Facebook app on average 14 times a day [1]. This shows that using the Facebook app is a daily routine for many of its users. This makes Facebook a great example of a habit forming mobile app which is designed with human psychology in mind that encourages habit forming behavior in its users.  

I recently attended a seminar on the design of such habit forming mobile apps at Brainstation, a new educational institution perched at the heart of downtown Toronto. The seminar was presented by Humayun, a product designer by profession.

Humayun credited Hook’s model as the key science behind designing a habit forming mobile app.

Hook’s model is a cycle with four stages of user involvement that encourage habit forming behavior. Repetitive iterations of these four stages can reinforce a user behavior which can eventually lead to a habit.

The four stages of Hook’s model are:

  1. Trigger
  2. Action
  3. Reward
  4. Investment (for future trigger)

Stage 1: Trigger
The trigger is the instigator of a behavior. In relation to the Facebook app this is the “urge” to use the app. There are two types of triggers that drive human behavior:
  1. External triggers like a push notification, text message, email, link to a website
  2. Internal triggers like emotions, routines, urges to open an email or share a photo

According to Hook’s model the goal of habit forming technology is to convert these external triggers into internal triggers. In case of Facebook it uses external triggers like push notifications and news feed updates to actuate internal triggers of curiosity and intrigue to bring its users back to the app. Over time this can easily develop into a routine urge to find out about the activities of Facebook friends and a habit can be formed.

Stage 2: Action
If the trigger is successful it can lead to an action. An action is dependent on two key factors:
  1. Motivation of the user to use the app
  2. Ability of the user to use the app

Apps like Facebook increases the odds of a user using its app by feeding the motivation of the user to access its app and by making the app super easy and intuitive to use. The key drivers of user motivation is the anticipation of hope, pleasure and social acceptance.  

This is outlined by BJ Fogg’s Behavioral Model which states that if the motivation and the ability to use the app is high then the triggers will typically lead to an action i.e. accessing the app. Whereas if the motivation and the ability is low then it’s harder for the trigger to lead to an action. For example if the Facebook app is really hard to use and/or if there is no updates in the news feed then the user may be unlikely to check the app even if he/she has an urge to use Facebook. This is because he/she knows that there are no new updates and hence is less inclined to access the app. Instead he/she may use another social media app like twitter where there are new updates. This is one of the reasons Facebook introduced the trending module where it displays popular news to compete with the likes of twitter.

To sum up according to BJ Fogg, 
Action is a result of Motivation + Ability + Trigger all at the same time.

BJ Fogg Behavior Model

Stage 3: Reward
The reward is the outcome of a successful action. There are three types of rewards that users seek:
  1. The reward of the self - this reward mostly applies to games that leads to mastery and self actualization
  2. The reward of the tribe - this reward refers to the human need to connect and share and apps like Facebook is adept at sufficing this need by connecting its users with friends and family
  3. The reward of the hunt - this reward refers to the material acquisition like gaining monetary value. This also refers to the searching for songs, reviews, deals, discounts, etc.    

An effective habit forming app must provide at least one of these rewards to motivate its users to keep using the app. There are number of apps like Spotify that rely on a combination of all three rewards:

  1. Spotify provides the reward of self by allowing its users creative expression as they create their song playlist
  2. Spotify provides the reward of the tribe by allowing its users to share their playlist with friends
  3. Spotify provides the reward of hunt by allowing its user to search for the “perfect” song to suit their mood

Stage 4: Investment

The Investment is the last stage of the Hook’s model and allows the users to have a skin in the game. This is to increase the odds for the user to revisit the app. In Facebook app the investment is the user leaving a comment on a friend’s post. This generally leads to more user engagement as the friend replies back.

This can lead to future triggers like push notifications to the user as others add comment to the friend's post and the Hook’s cycle restarts.

In conclusion designing a Habit forming mobile application can be the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful app. Apps like Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, etc. have already proved the power of Hook’s model and how it can be applied to design mobile apps that lead to higher traffic and greater usage. This greatly increases the user engagement with the app and develops user loyalty.  


Trending posts


Introduction Some Digital agencies have a project process where waterfalls still plays a big part of it, and as far as I can tell, the tech team is usually the one suffering as they are at the last part of the chain left with limited budget and time for execution. I do believe that adopting an Agile approach could make a Digital Agency better and faster. In this article I’m presenting you just another point of view of why it make sense looking at Agile Methodology.  Why Agile for a Digital Agency? The Agile movement started in the software development industry, but it has being proven to be useful in others as well. It becomes handy for the type of business that has changing priorities, changing requirements and flexible deliverables. In the Digital Agency of today you need a different mindset. Creative will always play a huge role (“the bread and butter”). But the “big guys” need to understand that without technology there is no Digital Agency. Technical resources are

AI with great power comes responsibility

Generative AI continues to be front and centre of all topics. Companies continue to make an effort for making sense of the technology, investing in their teams, as well as vendors/providers in order to “crack” those use cases that will give them the advantage in this competitive market, and while we are still in this phase of the “AI revolution” where things are still getting sorted.   Photo by Google DeepMind on Unsplash I bet that Uncle Ben’s advise could go beyond Peter Parker, as many of us can make use of that wisdom due to the many things that are currently happening. AI would not be the exception when using this iconic phrase from one of the best comics out there. Uncle Ben and Peter Parker - Spiderman A short list of products out there in the space of generated AI: Text to image Dall.E-2 Fotor Midjourney NightCafe Adobe Firefly

Goal setting frameworks for Product Management - OKR and HOSKR

As a business analyst and product manager we often use various frameworks to synthesize and organize our product ideas and goals. I think of frameworks as tools in our product management tool kit which we use depending on the task at hand.  And speaking of goals, OKR is a very popular framework that I often use to set the goals for the products I am managing. However recently I participated the #ProductCon conference hosted by Product School  and I stumbled upon one of the talks in which Rapha Cohen, the CPO at Google Waze introduced a more effective framework for setting product goals. The framework is called HOSKR.  In this post I'll describe both the OKR and HOSKR frameworks in more details using examples. I hope this will provide you, our readers, more practical insights on how to effectively use these frameworks to set your product goals.  OKR OKR stands for O bjectives and K ey R esults. If you are reading this post then you are on our Beolle blog and I am going to use one o

Small Language Models

 Open source models will continue to grow in popularity. Small Language Models (SLMs) are smaller, faster to train with less compute.  They can be used for tackling specific cases while being at a lower cost.  Photo by Tobias Bjørkli via Pexels  SLMs can be more efficient SLMs are faster in inference speed, and they also require less memory and storage.    SLMs and cost Small Language models can run on less powerful machines, making them more affordable. This could be ideal for experimentation, startups and/or small size companies. Here is a short list Tiny Llama. The 1.1B parameters AI Model, trained on 3T Tokens. Microsoft’s Phi-2. The 2.7B parameters, trained on 1.4T tokens. Gemini Nano.  The 6B parameters. Deepseek Coder

This blog uses cookies to improve your browsing experience. Simple analytics might be in place for pageviews purposes. They are harmless and never personally identify you.