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Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products - Nir Eyal

Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products; indeed a must read for someone who cares about driving customer engagement. Written by Nir Eyal, this is a simple, effective and well articulated read for readers from a wide variety of domains and not just restricted to Product Management.

Diving deep into the psychology of users, Hooked shows us how companies have tackled the same issues UXers come across every day. Whilst reading Hooked, we could definitely relate to what Stephen Anderson — Author of Seductive Interaction Design quoted, "You’ll read this. Then you’ll hope your competition isn’t reading this. It’s that good.!

The book does not lean towards techniques that encourage repeat use, hence the title “Hooked”. But the principles can be applied to even elementary websites or products you’re currently working on. It is a perfect amalgamation of concepts and ideas that spans across business, design, human behavior and ethics. The author really has convened together several different sources in a way that just makes sense.

Nir Eyal has described Hooked as a guide to building habit-forming technology, written for product managers, designers, marketers, and startup founders to provide:

  • Practical insights to create habits that stick.

  • Actionable steps for building products people love and can’t put down.

  • Behavioral techniques used by Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and others.

What struck a chord with it was how invigorating the use of real world examples paired with brain science and psychology!

The book centers on the 'Hook Model' explaining in detail how it can apply in the real world and how it has helped companies such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to amass such a large following. It goes onto explain habit forming in more depth developing on the 'Habit Loop' made famous by Charles Duhigg. It's a technical book, explicitly made for product developers, to create and distribute exceptional products.

Hook Cycle: Insights

Now if we take a closer look at the four different stages of the hook cycle: trigger, action, variable reward and investment.


  • In order to engage a first time consumer, you need a trigger, something to prompt the consumer to take action.

  • External Triggers can be of the form of paid advertising, PR and email invites that is way different from the internal triggers an example of which can be just feeling bored.

  • The idea here is to employ external triggers that eventually form habits, so that future consumer engagement is prompted by internal triggers and the consumer doesn't starts doing this subconsciously.


  • The goal of the trigger is to promise a reward and demonstrate how to get it.

  • We often end up doing many things thoughtlessly, simply because it is our habit.

  • The action here needs to be easier than thinking in order to form a habit.

Variable Reward

  • After taking an action, the customers needs to receive a reward. This can be a relief from boredom with something entertaining or something useful, but then how is this different than the well-known feedback loop, user takes action, receives reward and the cycle repeats, been there, done that?

  • The operative word here is variable. Rewards need to be variable in order to hook a consumer into a cycle and form a habit.

  • Otherwise, the consumer starts anticipating the reward and eventually loses interest and doesn't come back.


  • It's time to ask for a small investment in the form of a personal contribution. Make your consumers work a little and store value in your product.

  • A consumer's investment in a product increases its value disproportionately. This is sometimes called the IKEA effect. It can be described how people tend to value an object more if they make (or assemble) it themselves. This is where the bias occurs.

A quick example: Besides saving a ton of money by having us do all the assembly, IKEA also benefits because we like the furniture much more than it deserves simply because we have poured their our own sweat and tears.

  • It's actually been shown that we value our own work much more than it's actually worth.

Confused much? If yes, Take any social media platform as an example, such as Instagram. Suppose you’re at work, and suddenly a notification pops up. A friend commented on your Instagram photo! This notification serves as a trigger for you to open the Instagram app. You look at the picture, and perhaps you like your friend’s comment. This is the action you’ve just taken. Consequently, you mindlessly scroll through your feed, hoping to find interesting photos, videos or other hidden gems. Considering that you sometimes find a hidden gem, and sometimes you don’t, this is the variable reward. And finally, you leave a comment somewhere, and perhaps you take a work selfie that you upload to the app. This is the investment you make.

In addition to the hooked cycle, what intrigued us was that at the end of each chapter, Eyal included a few summarizing points in the “Remember and Share Section” which is great to reference. The Do This Now Section” includes questions that help you think about the chapter in the context of your current job or project and trust us it is an extremely tactile way to actually use what you are learning. Constant Reflection was a must while reading the book as it really changed the way we perceived behavior change.

Specifically, you could look at your product and answer questions such as:

  • Which internal trigger does your user experience most frequently?

  • Which resources are limiting your users’ ability to accomplish the tasks/actions that will become habits?

  • What are 3 ways your product might increase users’ search for variable rewards?

  • What ‘bit of work’-investment are your users doing to increase their likelihood of returning?

These are just a couple of questions from the book; if you truly want to apply this model to your product, we would highly recommend reading (and answering) all of them.

An Important Takeaway!

Every investor wants to invest in the next painkiller idea, one that deciphers a major pain point. Yet, some of the most successful startups are hardly painkillers, think about Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram. These companies are masters of the hook model. A compelling trigger prompts a super simple action that delights us with a variable reward. Then, we're all too happy to make our own small contribution or investment, which itself creates future triggers. For example, when you swipe right on Tinder and there's a match, the other party receives a notification that pulls them back onto the platform.

The hook model is all too powerful.

The question is how will you harness its power!

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