Designing Your Product’s New User Experience

According to Chartbeat, 55% of people spend fewer than 15 seconds actively on a website.

That means that websites nowadays have 15 seconds to capture a person’s attention before he leaves for greener pastures.  In that brief moment, how do you compel someone to give your product a try?

Recently I’ve grown very interested in what factors generally go into making a successful product. What I’ve learned is that yes, it’s important to have a deep understanding of the market, ability to channel the voice of the customer, and build something that solves the customer’s problem. However in today’s internet-driven world, when someone lands on your website, it’s also critical to thoughtfully craft the new user experience (NUX for short) as part of defining your overall product experience. If no one is coming back to your website after their first visit, you may want to see if broken NUX is the culprit.

What are the goals you should be aiming to achieve in your product’s NUX? Here’s some ideas:

  1. Succinctly communicate the value of your product. This can be as simple as a headline on the home page. For example, Pinterest has the headline: “Join Pinterest to find (and save!) all the things that inspire you.” It’s short, gets straight to the point and makes Pinterest sound useful and interesting. Of course I want to find more things that inspire me. Let me click that big red “Sign Up” button now.Pinterest
  2. Get new users excited about your product. Use a value proposition that doesn’t sound like you took it straight from a business plan document. A boring, vague, and unexciting way to frame Pinterest could have been “a website for lots of people’s collections.” I think what’s key here is understanding what emotions drive people to use your product and how can you trigger those emotions using your headline copy? For Pinterest and many consumer websites, you would want the copy to trigger feelings of curiosity and delight. For SaaS and enterprise websites it may be different. You may want to trigger feelings of pain and frustration that you immediately replace with feelings of delight.
  3. Eliminate friction to joining or trying your product. It should be very apparent to new users how to get started, whether that means creating an account, playing a game, watching a video, etc. If user testing surfaces any doubt or confusion around what’s the next step to take, you need to make that super clear to new users. Note: It is OK to make your sign-up process more complex if you’re intending to make the product more valuable for users through personalizing the experience. One great example of this strategy done right is Lumosity’s sign-up flow that walks you through a lengthy survey and Fit Tests before sending you to your first, real game. While making the sign up process so lengthy led to some early drop off, it increased engagement and subscription rates about 2%.lumosity

Once you’ve established your high-level goals for your product’s NUX, then it’s time to dive into the more nitty-gritty elements of establishing success metrics, gathering research and analytics, developing project ideas, prioritizing and executing. I’ll save those steps for a later post.

Spending My Holidays in Shanghai


To travel is to take a journey into yourself. – Danny Kaye
The family is one of nature’s masterpieces. – George Santayana

This year, I’m happily spending the holidays with my extended family in Shanghai.

Like many other Asian Americans I know, I spent a few summers in China during my childhood. However, in recent times my summers got busy so this trip has been the first time I’ve visited China for over a week in many years.

Nonetheless, my family there has been incredibly warm and welcoming, reminding me of how much I appreciate their constant support and love. During my stay, I’ve also had the opportunity to form many new experiences, meet old and new friends, practice my rusty Mandarin and Shanghainese, and learn a surprising amount of new things about Shanghai culture and way of life.



Below are some quick observations I’ve had and things I’ve learned in Shanghai so far.


  • Throngs of people everywhere — Shanghai is one of the most crowded cities I’ve ever been, comparable to NYC or Hong Kong. The subway gets packed like sardines in a can. Whether I was in a shopping center, restaurant, The Bund or another attraction, I ran into masses of people.
  • Competition is in the air — Bring 14 million people into 1 city and there’s bound to be intense competition. This intensity seeps into everyday life. For example, as soon as the subway doors open, riders dash through the doors to pounce on a seat without allowing for inside riders to exit first. It’s no wonder congestion is a major issue for the subway. Similarly, people frequently push to the front on escalators and staircases. This behavior may seem rude from an American standpoint, but it’s considered normal in China.


  • 紅包 (Hongbao) or red envelope etiquette — China has a huge culture for gift-giving with lots of rules surrounding the exchange. While many facets of Chinese culture are getting Westernized and more lax, gift-giving custom is not one of them. In particular, red envelopes holding large sums of fresh and crisp bills are given for many occasions including weddings, graduations, baby showers, etc. The red color symbolizes good luck, and the envelopes are usually given privately to avoid uncomfortable situations where someone feels left out.


  • To judge the quality of 点心 (dianxin) or dim sum, order the 虾饺 (xiajiao) or shrimp dumpling first. Great shrimp dumplings have 1) soft tender wrappers that still don’t break easily upon picking them up and 2) are filled with fresh prawns. High-quality shrimp dumplings are a great indicator of whether or not the rest of the dumplings will be high-quality.
  • Shanghai cuisine is unique in its uninhibited usage of oil in almost every dish.

Business and Leadership

My uncle shared with me some useful leadership lessons that he’s learned over his lifetime:

  • Drawing from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, opportune moments (in warfare) are composed of 3 factors: 天时 (tianshi) or climate, 地利 (dili) or geography, and 人和 (renhuo) or people. The business analogy says the right opportunity lies at the intersection of the market “climate”, what skills you’re given and what people you’re surrounded by.
  • Leadership is composed of 3 factors: the license (or necessary skills) to lead, interest in leading, and being selected as a leader.
  • The key to relationships is 谦虚 (qianxu) or modesty. Put others interest at heart. Demonstrate you’re capable but aren’t trying to run their show. They’ll leave the door open for you so you can learn from them.
  • There’s two kinds of people in this world — people who run fast but don’t see where they’re going and others who move slow but know where they’re going. Be the latter not the former.
  • You don’t have to be the absolute best in the world right now at what you do — If you get to the summit too early, the only way to go is down. Instead, take smaller steps but always keep improving yourself.

I find myself agreeing with most of his lessons except for a couple points which I think are less useful and even counterproductive for modern Western society (i.e. waiting to be selected as a leader and being too modest).

Wishing everyone a Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Life Lessons From The Alchemist

A while back, I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It was a great story that artfully communicated many of the values I hold closest to me.

Below are 18 quotes from Coelho that I found most memorable:

Choice & Action

  • “At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie” (18).
  • “You must always know what it is that you want.”
  • “Making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision” (68).
  • “There is only one way to learn. It’s through action” (125).


  • “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon” (34).

Connection & Understanding

  • “If I can learn to understand this language without words, I can learn to understand the world.”
  • “Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it’s all written there” (74).


  • “There was a language in the world that everyone understood. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired” (62).
  • “The closer one gets to realizing his Personal Legend, the more the Personal Legend becomes his true reason for being.”
  • “You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say. That way, you’ll never have to fear an unanticipated blow” (129).
  • “When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed” (134).

Living in the Present

  • “If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man.”
  • “The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children. Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity.”


  • “Courage is the quality most essential to understanding the Language of the World.”


  • “Love never keeps a man from pursuing his Personal Legend. If he abandons that pursuit, it’s because it wasn’t true love… the love that speaks the Language of the World.”
  • “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are.”


  • “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”


  • “The darkest hour of the night came just before the dawn.”

Creating Habits For User Engagement

Yesterday, I attended Nir Eyal’s talk on how to drive user engagement by creating habits. Nir is an author, educator, and entrepreneur who builds and analyzes products that influence human behavior. Below are some notes from the event that I took and wanted to share:

With habit-forming apps like Facebook and Twitter increasingly fighting for our attention and feeding our technology addiction, it’s more important than ever to understand how habit formation really works. By alleviating our loneliness, confusion, anxiety, and other negative emotions via the kick of a dopamine rush, habit-forming technologies do a great job hooking us in.

That’s why Nir calls his framework that he uses to describe habit-forming products, The Hooked Model.

What’s the Hooked model exactly?:

  1. Trigger
  2. Action
  3. Reward
  4. Investment

One example we can walk through is email. Let’s try to apply the Hooked model to email products:

  1. Trigger – The trigger can be anything, such as trying to avoid the glance of that person in the elevator or getting a push notification on your phone from the email application.
  2. Action – The action is to open your email application.
  3. Reward – Rewards are everywhere in your inbox. You can pick any number of emails to read to start alleviating your anxiety immediately.
  4. Investment – The investment kicks in when you respond to the email, star it, etc.

Nir mentions that you should make actions easier, but the user should also get invested in your product. In other words, the more the user puts into the product, the more valuable it becomes to her. In this case, the value of the product appreciates over time unlike the value of most non-digital products which depreciates over time.

Another thing Nir said that was interesting was that creating habits is a misnomer. All it does is displace existing behavior. Novelty is a liability.

The most important steps to creating a habit are:

  1. Leverage an existing behavior
  2. Make the behavior frequent
  3. Change the attitude of the person

If products are habit-forming, they may not start off as painkillers. Instead, they may start off as vitamins and end up as painkillers as people become more and more hooked and need to use the product to alleviate their pain.

Life Lessons From The Happiness Hypothesis

The Happiness Hypothesis

I just finished reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis and loved it.

From the several hours I spent immersed in the stories (and facts) Jonathan shared on ancient wisdom and human psychology, I learned so much about other people and myself. It’s rare to find a book that explains vast, life-altering topics so concisely.

By connecting the lessons gleaned from philosophers like Socrates & Plato with the modern psychology experiments done on topics like relationships, love, adversity, and judgment, Jonathan made me felt like I was building my knowledge on top of centuries of wisdom that came before me.

Let me try to retell some my favorite lessons in the book:


Lesson 1: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” – David Hume

Our thinking is a collaboration of automatic and controlled thinking. In analogy, we are the elephant (automatic) and rider (controlled). It is impossible to control every aspect of our lives, but our rider can advise and lead our elephant in the right direction. By realizing that your reason is influenced by your emotions as much as it works the other way around, it is possible to become more sensitive to your biases and how you think about things.

Lesson 2: “The whole universe is change and life itself is but what you deem it.” – Marcus Aurelius 

After millions of years of evolution, we developed fight or flight responses that trigger when we experience a negative event. In the past, that could have meant the difference between getting eaten by a bear and escaping with the skin on your back, but these days it is often triggered by more trivial things that are not a matter of life and death.

We are blessed with a negativity bias – where the bad results in stronger, more compelling emotions than the good. We feel that a negative thing is worse than it really is. As a result, we have to adjust for this bias in our decision-making if we want to make better, more informed decisions.

Lesson 3: We have a biologically assigned average level of happiness.

Happiness is a highly heritable trait. Twin studies have proved that 50-80% of the variance in a person’s average level of happiness can be explained by genes rather than life experiences.

Lesson 4: “It is easy to see the faults of others, but difficult to see one’s own faults. One shows the faults of others like chaff winnowed in the wind, but one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice.” – Buddha

While we may be reasonable at judging others, we are terrible at judging ourselves. We use base rate information to revise our perception of others but not our self-assessments.

Lesson 5: “All was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 2:11

There are pleasures and gratifications. Pleasures include things like the dopamine rush you experience after finishing a 5-Michelin-stars-worthy meal, buying a new car, or making love. Gratifications are more about activities that get you into a state of flow. While pleasure only lasts momentarily and beckons us for more, gratification challenges us and ask us to grow.

Pursue a healthy balance of both pleasure and gratifications in everyday life.

Lesson 6: There is a formula for happiness and it is H = S+C+V

Breaking it down further:

  • H: level of happiness you actually experience
  • S: Biological set point of happiness
  • C: Conditions of your life
  • V: Voluntary activities you do

While there is little you can do about your biological set point of happiness, you have much more control over the conditions of your life and the voluntary activities you do. The most important things are the number & strength of relationships and finding opportunities to get into a state of flow.

Lesson 7: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” – John Donne 

We need relationships in order to expand the meaning within our lives. We are compelled by things that help us feel like we are a part of something greater than us separately and individually.

Lesson 8: Happiness comes from alignment across the 3 levels of personality — your basic traits, “characteristic adaptations”, and life story.

Division within us gives way to confusion, toxic thoughts, and internal turmoil. Consistency – “vertical coherence” – amongst all the levels of our personality helps us make sense of our lives and infuse us with meaning. According to Dan McAdams, the lowest level are your basic traits. The second level are “characteristic adaptations” including personal goals, defense and coping mechanisms, values, beliefs, and life-stage concerns. The third level is your life story.

Lesson 9: “One can live magnificently in this world, if one knows how to work and how to love, to work for the person one loves and to love one’s work.” – Leo Tolstoy

Meaning in our lives comes down to our work and relationships. As well as our spirituality and contribution to the world. You can view work as your job, career, or calling. I would prefer to view my work as my calling.

Lesson 10: Wisdom comes from balancing when you adapt (changing the self to fit the environment), shape (change the environment), and select (choose to move to a new environment).   

It takes maturity and wisdom to know when to move to a new city, quit your job, or change the direction your team is taking. Practicing this decision-making process will pay off a hundred-fold in the long-run as you will have to make many of these kinds of decisions.

Finally, the question of “What is the meaning of life?” may be misleading. Ask instead, “What is the meaning within life?”

Life Lessons From the Autobiography of Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin was a renaissance man.

In public life, Monsieur Franklin was a printer, inventor, scientist, statesman, writer, postmaster, and diplomat amongst countless other professions and roles. He also had a strong internal life, holding himself accountable to his 13 virtues and the lifestyle of a mensch.

What was so captivating about his autobiography was that it contained not only vivid stories from his adventure-filled life, but also incredible insights into how to lead a good life.

Early on in his book, he details some hilarious experiences from his youth. For example, maybe you knew he ran away from home at the rip age of 17 via booking passage on a ship to New York (his home was in Boston). But did you know that he secured passage on this ship by telling the ship mates he had accidentally knocked up a girl and now her friends were forcing him to marry her? Incredible.

Flipping to a few dozen pages later, he opens up to us about his struggles in leading a good, moral life — struggles many of us all share and resonate with. One of my favorite quotes from him is on humility and how extremely difficult it is to stay completely humble:

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself ; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility (p. 139).

This blog post is starting to turn into a lengthy book review, so I’ll stop sharing the nitty-gritty details of the book now and say I strongly recommend you read it. It’s a timeless classic that will give you entertainment, amusement, and deep wisdom at your disposal.

Now, turning to the real purpose of the post, there are so many life lessons from the Autobiography of Ben Franklin. Here are a few of the most important lessons I took away from the book and feel are worthwhile considering:

  1. Create a set of personal virtues to live your life by – In an effort to become more actionable in leading a moral life, Ben Franklin committed himself to 13 virtues that he would follow everyday for the rest of his life. These virtues provided him powerful heuristics for his everyday decision-making: he only made a decision if it was aligned with his personal set of virtues.
  2. Hold yourself accountable to your goals – He put down his personal set of virtues on paper in writing. He then recorded his successes and failures in abiding by his 13 virtues everyday using a grid. As a result, he molded what were abstract and fluffy concepts into very concrete and discrete goals that he could measure his life by.
  3. Live the life of a mensch – Ben Franklin was very giving. He constantly gave money to his friends without demanding repayment and donated his time to help his countrymen improve the state of their lives. Not only was his behavior in line with his virtues, but it made him more likable by other men and sought after to work with.
  4. Start a junto – He organized a group of friends to meet every Friday evening to discuss politics, philosophy, business and other topics that often led to highly fascinating conversations and the development of robust social networks. Its members included authors, scholars, businessmen, statesmen and others that discovered relationships in the Junto that transformed their careers and personal lives. Do the same in your life by holding frequent conversations with folks that can supplement your thinking with fresh ideas and collaborate with you in the future.
  5. Persuasion begins with humility – Ben Franklin was put in many demanding political situations in his career where he had to persuade an individual or group lest a conflict breakout or a deal falter. He never started these conversations with the impression that he knew more than others or was more important. Instead, he always assumed he knew nothing and approached persuasion with reasonable deference to other parties.

Startup Career Advice From Silicon Valley Leaders

Recently, I went to a very worthwhile Q&A where Ben Horowitz (Andreesen Horowitz), Dustin Moskovitz (Asana), Justin Rosenstein (Asana), and Matt Cohler (Benchmark Capital) all gave an excellent Q&A on questions students had about career advice, life, startups, leadership, culture, and goals.

My friend Aatash* and I compiled some of our notes from this event, which you can find below. Enjoy.


Why do you do what you do? Why do you wake up in the morning?

  • Matt
    • “I don’t have any meaningful strengths.”
    • It’s more important to think about what not to spend time on than what to spend time on. Figure out what you shouldn’t be doing.
    • Ask yourself 3 questions:
      • What are you passionate about?
      • What matters to the world?
      • What is your competitive advantage?
  • Ben
    • You may ask yourself, should you be working so hard instead of drinking beer in college?
    • Studies show that people are happier after working really intensely than not working. After doing something rather than nothing.
    • He also echoes, don’t do something you hate doing
  • Dustin
    • Dustin has a broader vision and asks himself how can he best support the global community/humanity given his unique set of skills?
    • What infrastructure is needed to help make the world thrive? Then go and build that.


How do you balance short-term vs. long-term goals?

  • Dustin
    • It’s become a joke at Asana that I answer everything with “mindfulness and balance.” Same thing here.
    • “All code is scaffolding” (see Ben’s comment)
  • Ben
    • It’s situational. Usually long term is better. But in certain cases, when an engineer says “this code will be obsolete in 3 years!” it’s better to think short-term in order to actually ship.
  • Matt
    • Ideally you want to have both in 1 person or at least 1 company.
    • He always asks his portfolio companies’ employees when he goes to visit – “What are the top 3 things you’re working on right now?” to everyone in the company.
      • A great company usually has everyone providing similar answers.
    • Do things that you’re the best at.
    • Ruthlessly prioritize what you’re doing – ideally get everything down to 1 goal and 1 metric that you can evaluate yourself (your company) on.


What does a CEO do?

  • Ben
    • A CEO is someone who knows what to do (prioritize) and gets the company to do that.
    • Spend time understanding the world, so you can communicate what needs to be done to your company.
    • CEO’s should spend time only on things where they’re learning something new.
      • “If you’re not getting smarter, you’re getting dumber.”
      • I.e. don’t do operational things, UNLESS they increase your knowledge set (i.e. occasionally doing customer support)
  • Matt
    • Exception to Ben’s rule: A CEO who’s a creator or who has some unique skills. A CEO be sure to utilize those unique skills. If you have a niche that you’re really great at, make sure you spend some time with that.
    • What’s interesting is that a CEO who is a product visionary, e.g. Steve Jobs, may be really bad in terms of a traditional management sense (b.c. they get super hands-on in niche product areas that they may have special skills in)
  • Dustin
    • CEO is a “white space role” or one whose responsibilities are not clearly defined. Everything that doesn’t go into a defined area of responsibility goes into the white space.
      • Justin: ideally as soon as you define this work more clearly, you can pass it on to someone else. But not always.
    • At Asana, they use Asana (surprise!) to divide up areas of responsibility amongst people.
  • Justin
    • Always ask, Am I the BEST person—in the world—to be doing what I am doing?
      • If not, you should NOT be doing it.


How do you get better as a leader?

  • Ben
    • He thinks a Colin Powell quote best encapsulates what leadership is: “A leader is someone who can get people to follow him even if only out of curiosity.”
    • 3 things:
      • Ability to incite curiosity in others (the colin powell quote) (Jobs did this well)
      • Do people believe you have their interest at heart?
      • Are you competent?
    • All 3 of those things can be developed.
  • Dustin
    • 10,000 hours model. You just got to jump in and do it a lot.
    • And you have to get a lot of feedback too. From peers and mentors. He likes 360 feedback.
  • Justin
    • He told the story of how when he was at Facebook, Yishan (his manager) gave him the opportunity to step into a management role. However first Yishan asked co-workers anonymously for their opinion of Justin and produced a long document of feedback. Yishan: “So it turns out you’re an asshole.” Justin goes back home, separates out the feedback into themes, and wrote reflective notes on how he would improve himself in each theme.
  • Matt
    • All leadership is leadership by example.


How do you create a great company culture?

  • Ben
    • Culture is what do you want to stick?
    • Ben gives the example of fining people at Andreesen Horowitz $10 per minute for every minute they are late to a meeting with an entrepreneur. This policy shows how they have respect for the entrepreneur.
    • People will leave your company when the times get bad. The number of people that leave during that time is often a negative reflection of your company culture.
  • Matt
    • There are three aspects people should focus on for company culture:
      • Be in tune with values from the beginning.
      • These values should inform whom you bring into the organization. Often easier to hire based on whether someone will match culture/values rather than trying to indoctrinate later.
      • Continue to reinforce these values over and over and review them down the road.
    • Be very transparent about
    • Put up propaganda (posters, signs) – it works very well.
  • Dustin
    • Says Justin started working on Asana’s culture doc within their first week. Even when it was just the two of them.


What is the hardest thing about doing a startup?

  • Ben
  • Matt
    • Don’t start a company unless if you can’t help yourself.
    • Must be comfortable in ambiguity.
    • He gives the example of Mark Zuckerberg with the FB newsfeed. When it first came out, many respected and brilliant people told him to turn it off. Mark just could not even fathom that idea. For him, the FB newsfeed was just meant to be.
  • Dustin
    • You can’t just say you’re going to start a company. It’s something that you feel like you must do.
      • They were ALL really stressing this. They said doing a startup is NOT fun, entrepreneurship is not a career, and you should not do it unless you feel you have NO choice.
    • Silicon Valley culture around entrepreneurship is not healthy.
  • Justin
    • All of us deserve to be doing something we HAVE TO DO.


How much of being successful is luck? [sic]

  • Matt
    • Timing is everything in life, but you can put yourself in a position to be lucky.
    • However, you also have to recognize when luck is happening and do something about it.
    • Most people have a hard time seeing good vs. great opportunities.
    • We have all already had at least 1 instance of a rare and great opportunity pass by and we don’t even know it (black swans). More will come. But you don’t get too many shots.
  • Dustin
    • You must have persistence to survive unlucky times to get to the lucky break.
    • Gotta put on that lead suit for when others don’t believe.
    • It’s why unless you HAVE TO DO IT, you’ll quit.
    • Failure happens when 1) You quit. 2) You miss your black swans.


How do you stay motivated?

  • Dustin
    • He looks at the twitter feed, e-mails, etc. etc. from Asana users and customers to see the impact he’s creating for them.
  • Ben
    • People will leave your company and others will hate on you while you’re working on your company. You have to be willing to get through that.
    • When things go wrong, the kind of place it is to work at can make all the difference. Some people will stay just for that.
  • Justin
    • He keeps asking why – it is easy to lose the forest in the trees.
    • He gave an example of when he was talking to an engineer who was struggling with an if statement and was frustrated as to why he was doing what he was doing. He asked, Why are you doing this? To write this function. Why are you writing this function? To make this change. Why are you….etc. etc. He kept asking “Why?” until he got all they way to “To make humanity thrive” – which is Asana’s mission.


Parting words to passionate interns

  • Dustin
    • Get the experience early of making something of value, even if it means working at big company (but not necessarily).
  • Matt
    • The most important thing about your first job is to focus on who, not what and where. That was the most important thing in Matt’s career path.
  • Ben
    • Don’t let your insecurity get to you because it will lead to bad decisions.
    • Have the discipline to follow yourself and your goals.

*Credit goes to Aatash for contributing his notes to this post.


Designing For Behavioral Change in Health

Author’s note: This article was originally published in UXBooth to inform UX designers about contemporary research on behavioral design. 

Designing applications to encourage a certain kind of behavior (especially with regards to health) is a rapidly emerging subfield of interaction design. Best practices are constantly evolving. With such a wide range of proven applications – from fitness monitoring wristbands to doctor-patient communication tools – the field is a great source of both inspiration as well as design strategies.

While studying social and cognitive psychology can help designers learn how people think, behavior(al) design shows designers what they can do about it. The field encompases everything from understanding the basic intentions driving human behavior to determining how much motivation users require in order to change their behavior.

Several experts on technology and persuasion have produced models of behavioral change as well as practical strategies for implementing product features that cause behavioral change, including BJ Fogg and Icek Ajzen. By studying their models and strategies, designers can better facilitate behavioral change in their products and services.


BJ Fogg is the founder of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University and is widely regarded as an expert in behavior design. His behavioral model – the Fogg Behavior Model (FBM) – states that three components simultaneously affect behavior: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. These are mapped to a linear graph (visit original article for graphic).

Motivation, on the y axis, is the willingness that people have to do the behavior. Ability,on the x axis, is their ability to do so. Finally trigger, a region bounded below (by the orange line), is a call to action or prompt for them to do so. Fogg says that the best design way to facilitate behavioral change is to “put hot triggers in the path of motivated people.”

His model is powerful because it boils the complex interactions between man and machine into something simple. Further, each component of his model can be broken down, allowing designers to better scrutinize cause and effect. For instance:

  • Motivations include pleasure, pain, hope, fear, social acceptance, and social rejection.
  • Ability is directly affected by training as well as the perceived ease of the target behavior.
  • Triggers can be facilitated, signaled, or sparked depending on the level of ability or motivation the person has with the target behavior in mind.

In practice, the Behavior Model helps designers determine the right kind of trigger to use in – or what kind of trigger is missing from – their work. For example, if someone ignores their goal (motivation) of doing daily push-ups (within their ability), a mobile application might to remind them to do so (trigger).


Another model of human behavior comes to us in the form of Icek Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior. Ajzen is a Professor of Psychology at University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His model focuses on analyzing human behavior as a result of conscious intention as opposed to unconscious developments.

Ajzen explains that intention and behavior are influenced by a person’s attitude toward that behavior – an attitude that’s affected by both subjective norms and perceived behavioral control. In other words, our decision to act is based on whether we’re in favor of doing the behavior, how much social pressure we feel to do it, and whether we feel in control of the action in question.

This model is interesting because it correlates intent and behavior, showing designers how to increase or decrease a given activity by changing someone’s attitude. In an experiment exploring the factors influencing a woman’s decision to use dietary supplements, for example, Ajzen’s model helps explain the strong relationship between attitude and actual usage: a stronger intent to use supplements correlates with holding “more positive attitudes about supplement use, perceiving a subjective norm supporting supplement use, perceiving control over supplement use, perceiving factors to facilitate supplement use, perceiving specific salient others to support supplement use, and placing a higher value on health.”

These are but a few of the diverse behavioral change models that exist. Others cover Self-Efficacy, Cognitive Dissonance, and even the classic Hierarchy of Needs. For a more comprehensive list, see BJ Fogg’s behavioral model reference page.



Given their intended effect, it’s no wonder that desktop and mobile applications that promote positive health have spread quickly. What’s more, they’re easier than ever for designers to build due to the rapid proliferation and manifestation of behavioral design’s best practices.

According to Fogg, persuasive technology uses seven strategies to influence behavior:reduction, tunneling, tailoring, suggestion, self monitoring, surveillance, and conditioning.

  • Reduction – simplifies a task that the user is trying to do.
  • Tunneling – guides the user through a sequence of activities, step by step.
  • Tailoring – provides custom information and feedback to the user based on their actions.
  • Suggestion – gives suggestions to the user at the right moment and in the right context.
  • Self-monitoring – enables the user to track his own behavior to change his behavior to achieve a predetermined outcome.
  • Surveillance – observes the user overtly in order to increase a target behavior.
  • Conditioning – relies on providing reinforcement (or punishments) to the user in order to increase a target behavior.

Runkeeper is an iPhone app, for example, that encourages healthy behavioral change. It allows users to track fitness activities, measure their performance over time, and share progress with their friends while doing it.

Runkeeper influences behavioral change using five of the seven strategies outlined by Fogg:

  • Reduction – Runkeeper simplifies the task of running by automatically tracking a user’s miles and their goals. In effect, it eliminates the need to manually learn how long your route was, calculate your progress towards your goals, and organize this information in one place.
  • Tunneling – By breaking challenging distances into smaller and more easily achievable steps, Runkeeper helps you set goals and work towards them run by run.
  • Tailoring – Depending on your specific goal, Runkeeper creates a customized running plan for you.
  • Self-monitoring – Runkeeper helps you measure your progress over time visually and by the numbers towards your goal.
  • Conditioning – Runkeeper encourages you to develop a healthy habit of running frequently through positive reinforcement.

Apps such as Runkeeper are useful for visualizing what behavioral design looks like. And models such as BJ Fogg’s are great for understanding the theories motivating users. But how can your team select a model and implement it while building an application?


To bring it all together and affect behavioral change using a website or application, designers might employ the following heuristic: determining the target behavior, first; selecting a trigger, second; and testing that trigger, third.


    The first step in any behavioral design process is determining the behavior to design. Start by asking the question: “If we could wave a magic wand and get our users to do anything, what would that be?” After deciding, determine how motivated your users are as well as how difficult the target behavior is for them now (Hint: conduct a mental model exercise).


    Using the Fogg Behavior Model, determine where your users lie with regards to motivation and ability. BJ Fogg frequently states the best approach is to make it easier for people to do the things they already want to do.

    For every behavior, target users who already have the motivation and ability but have not yet experienced a trigger. For example, if the target behavior is biking instead of driving, target users who are already motivated and able to bike. Implement signals, such as an iPhone push notification that suggests biking instead of driving to work, to serve as a reminder for these users to do the behavior.

    Next, target users who have motivation but not ability. Implement facilitatorsthat simplify the task and create a progression dynamic where these users work towards a final goal.

    Target users who do not have the motivation only if you have no other choice. Spending time and effort on unmotivated users is a poor choice, because motivation is slippery. You may be able to motivate someone to do a behavior once or twice but their motivation may decline quickly if the behavior is too hard to do.


    After determining which triggers a website or application might use to facilitate behavioral change, reconsider Fogg’s seven strategies, mention above. Reduction, for example, might make a task considerably easier to do. This fits the facilitator trigger. Offering suggestions fits the signals trigger, etc. etc.

    After your team decides on the strategy, pick an implementation that is feasible. Then, get to work!

So, that’s behavioral change in a nutshell. Are you ready for a change? By following the steps above, your team can incorporate behavior design into your product – making things easier for you and your users alike.