Mobile

‘Behavior engineering’ may help you build a more addicting product

Nir Eyal

Above: Nir Eyal, Behavior Engineer

Image Credit: Nir Eyal

When you ask Silicon Valley entrepreneurs how heavily they rely on psychology to make decisions about product development and marketing, they likely wouldn’t rank it top priority. But that’s what Nir Eyal, a self-proclaimed “behavior engineer,” thinks they should do.

Eyal looks at the way people think and tries to apply that to every day technology innovation. It’s a different way of thinking about product, which is one of the first things, it seems, most advisors and venture capitalists will tell their companies to think hard about.

Eyal will be speaking at VentureBeat’s MobileBeat 2013 conference this week in San Francisco in a talk scheduled for Tuesday called “Cashing in and changing lives with behavior design.” Check it out if you want to learn move about how this type of product planning can be applied to your business.

We asked Eyal a few questions about this technique and here’s what we found out:

VentureBeat: What comes with being a “behavior engineer”? What does that mean?

Nir Eyal: To me, behavior engineering is the applied science of psychology to design practical solutions to people’s problems. It requires an understanding of human motivation to build products, services, and systems to improve the lives of others.

VentureBeat: Do you think companies care enough about human psychology, or take it into account enough, when creating designs for their mobile products?

Eyal: I think it is clearly in companies’ best interests to care more about psychology. We’ve come to know over the past several decades that what drives people to act in particular ways is not always obvious. Just as our hearts pump and our stomachs digest without us having to consciously direct them to do so, the mind also has its automatic processes we may not always be aware of.

However, by understanding these mental processes and designing products based on what drives our behavior, companies can increase their chances of building the right solution. Reducing failure by building the right thing sooner is the goal of my work.

VentureBeat: Why is human psychology important to understand specifically for mobile companies?

Eyal: We know that people rarely view apps which do not appear on their phone’s home screen. Why is that and what does it mean for companies who find their app on the third tab of the device? One thing is for sure, it ain’t good.

As screen sizes shrink from desktop, to laptop, to the phone, and soon to wearables, the amount of real estate available also decreases. This means the ability to trigger users with visual cues also becomes more difficult.

Therefore, companies building mobile solutions need to find ways to quickly create new behaviors and habits in order to stay relevant and have a hope of keeping users engaged. Bombarding them with interruptions and notifications only goes so far. Instead, companies need to design for habits, which requires an understanding of the psychology of engagement, the focus of my work.

VentureBeat: What are some questions designers should be asking themselves before they create a product?

Eyal: I’ve created a four-step framework called “The Hook Model” to help product designers identify if they have the basic elements of a habit-forming product. The steps include a trigger, an action, a variable reward, and an investment. Each step requires asking specific questions about the user, the problem, and the solution the company is trying to build. By the end of 2013 I will complete a free e-book entitled, “Hooked” to walk product builders through the four steps of the model. The book will be given-out for free on my blog.

VentureBeat: What companies have you seen that do this well?

Eyal: There are many companies in the Valley who exemplify the “Hook Model” well. These are the usual suspects one might think of when we habit-forming technologies come to mind. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram are just a few companies.


Mobile developer or publisher? VentureBeat is studying mobile marketing automation. Fill out our 5-minute survey, and we'll share the data with you.