There are striking similarities between the psychology of addictive behavior and the behavioral patterns that cause people to use mobile apps. In both cults and entrepreneurship, providing a service people feel compelled to return to is key for success.
During the session “Designing for the Mobile Brain” at VentureBeat’s MobileBeat conference in San Francisco today, some of the sharpest minds in the psychology of mobile design discussed the relationship between addiction and user behavior. The panel consisted of Josh Elman, a principal investor with Greylock Partners and former product manager at both Facebook and Twitter; Jason Hreha, founder of Dopamine design lab and applied psychology expert; and renowned game designer Amy Jo Kim.
Hreha began by discussing the neurobiology of addiction, and emphasized the importance of applied psychology and behavioral analysis in developing mobile applications that become integrated into daily life. When designing a product, the first thing to consider is who the prototypical user is, the user’s daily life and habits, and where the app can fit into that system.
“Motivation is such a crazy nut to crack,” he said. “Different people are motivated by different things. Some people respond well to points and rewards and other people won’t. Everybody will respond to a simple, easy, user experience, and it is integrating all these components to make the app a habit.”
Once users have signed up, the next piece is getting them to stick around. Some products, like games, use reward and reinforcement systems to keep users engaged. Kim brought up the distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and the value of providing products that are enriching.
“I think collaborative games are the next big frontier,” she said. “The overall trend is away from highly competitive, addictive games. Something addictive promises but never delivers. It always leaves you hanging. Young people are aware of being manipulated and want fulfilling games that enrich their lives.”
Part of creating meaningful products is in the concept. There are hundreds of emerging companies with noble mission statements, such as crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter and Rally, that empower people to find community support for projects, or health apps that give users greater access to medical care. Regardless of the product, the users’ “lifecycle” must be factored into the design. Kim emphasized that the journey through an app is as important as concise, clear new user flow.
User acquisition and progress are necessary to maintain high retention rates, which is a key factor for investors.
“One the venture side, the biggest challenge we see is companies is traction,” Elman said. “How every product spreads is always different and unique and depends on the core of that product. Apps should solve a problem with a hit of the button, and if one person uses it for his own purpose, it will cause more people to get engaged.”
All three speakers hailed the power of behavioral patterns and how an understanding of human nature is a fundamental element of mobile design. Studying the psychology of addiction can help companies develop games and products that suck people in and keep them hooked, sinking endless amounts of time and money. But as we know from comic books, along with great power comes great responsibility.
To quote the great Steve Jobs, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
Filed under: mobile