Three key tips for building habit-forming functions.
Over the past few months, the habit has taken on a whole new meaning: the coronavirus pandemic has brought about radical changes in people’s daily lives. Now is a great time to work with users to find out which habits they are getting rid of, why, and if they want to start forming new habits.
My team was tasked with increasing the use of the myFT service in the Financial Times (FT) app. For those not in the know, MyFT is a feature of the FT app that allows readers to select topics of interest to track, thereby creating a local news feed customized to their needs.
We decided to use the circle format that can be seen in Instagram Stories, Snapchat and Google Photos. Its essence is that by providing a more modern, dynamic, theme and image-driven experience, users will interact with myFT more often.
We were surprised at how well it worked. Our A / B test showed that users find more value in this solution: the frequency of visits to the application increased by almost 40%.
Here are some of the key takeaways we’ve reached:
Need to improve “experience”, not “page”
It’s very easy to focus on improving the “page” rather than the experience. By listening to users, we were able to determine that the solution to the problem was related to improved navigation.
We had several options for that display of the myFT feed “page” until, in testing, the idea of using Instagram-style circles at the top of the home page received the most response.
This turned the entire feed page concept upside down.
This is one of the main components of the product and should not be forgotten. We’re so used to creating “web pages” that it’s important to keep the real problem in mind … how to improve the user experience? Without this formulation, solution problems will always be limited.
Creating a dynamic experience
Dynamic experiences are important for habit formation because they create a sense of change.
If nothing changes when you visit the site or app again, what is the use of returning? In the case of news, the advantage is to know that you are up to date and have not missed any important news.
The FT publishes hundreds of articles a day, and we know users don’t read everything, so even if they think they are up to date, this may not be the case.
In the case of this new feature, moving the circles to the far left indicates that the most recent articles are published in those topics. Images and red dots also provide quick visual clues about page changes or new articles waiting to be read.
It is important that these movements and signals clearly communicate something useful to the user. Moving for the sake of movement or without a clear goal can be confusing or create an empty habit that quickly disappears when the user stops using it.
This brings me to my last point, you cannot form habits for the sake of habits.
Solving the user’s problem is your top priority
We learned from user feedback that they wanted toggle specific themes so they didn’t have to scroll through all the content on one page.
The theme circles in the form of simple navigation links do not need to be dynamic to solve the user’s problem. The movement of the circles, the indicator of new articles waiting to be read – these are all aspects that simply improve the solution. The basic solution is beneficial in itself.
I highly recommend simplifying your habit-forming functions when initially looking for solutions. Often times, additional aspects designed to get people to come back can confuse the function’s main selling point and lead you down the wrong path.
As we are reminded every day, life can never go back on track, so now there is a rare opportunity for product designers – people involved in forming habits. An opportunity to find and propose solutions to problems and needs that are just emerging to help users adapt to new norms.