How understanding human behavior helps Bumble, Spotify, and Yelp rethink UX.

Human beings have many wonderful qualities, but often, predicability is not one of them. How do you design websites and apps for complex individuals who tend to go off script and interact with products in unforeseen ways?

You've got to understand the rhymes and reasons behind the clicks and taps—or lack thereof. And that’s where the Fogg Behavioral Model can help.

The Fogg Behavioral Model.

Dr. BJ Fogg, director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, used his background as a psychologist and innovator to develop a model that guides academics and designers in understanding human behavior change. The Fogg Behavioral Model explains why users act and why they don't—and it shows designers how to tweak their products to elicit a desired response.

The model states that a user will not engage in a behavior unless three psychological elements are present:

Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Trigger

  • Motivation: a user's personal will to perform that behavior.
  • Ability: their capacity to complete the behavior.
  • Trigger: the prompt that gets them to actually perform the behavior.

Even if the task is easy, a user won't complete it without sufficient motivation. Motivated users will balk if the task is too difficult. And even with the right motivation and ability, a trigger is still needed to prompt action.

Any time a user fails to perform an expected behavior, your task is to figure out which one of the three elements is missing, and add it into the equation.

To use the Fogg Behavioral Model to help you troubleshoot your next UX hiccup, ask the right questions:

  • Is the user sufficiently motivated to complete the task?
  • Does the usert have the ability to complete the task?
  • Is the trigger for the task effective?

To better understand how the model works, let's see how Bumble, Spotify, and Yelp influence user behavior by baking Fogg Behavioral Model principles into their strategy and design.

Bumble: the Right Motivation.

Without motivation, we can't form a habit, even if it's both easy to do and simple to remember. In order to change our behavior, we have to want something, or, on the flip side, want to avoid something.

All dating apps tap into the universal desire or motivation for connection and intimacy. In creating its product, Bumble differentiated itself from Tinder by addressing the motivational turn-offs facing both women and men in their search for a partner.

Stats from Tinder. Men have a statistically much lower chance of getting “liked” than women. Source: Tinder via Medium

Whitney Wolfe, CEO of Bumble, marketed her app as an answer for women tired of receiving a barrage of messages from men they're not interested in. Bumble also improved the experience for guys who found it increasingly difficult to capture a female's attention in the crowded online dating pool.

To make the experience better for all, Bumble made one simple but profound rule: Only women can initiate contact. The success was immediate. Within two years, 12.5 million Bumble users have now spent an average of 100 minutes a day swiping in search of love.

Source: CNN

The key to the success? Motivation. Bumble's founders knew that while users liked Tinder, they had other desires the app wasn't meeting—namely, the urge to stand out (for men), and the desire to avoid feeling pestered (for women).

What's the easiest way to motivate people or get them to take action? Identify a product or practice that, while popular, leaves users wanting. You've just vetted your product idea before it even exists. You know the motivation is there. All that's left is to give people the ability to fulfill that need and the right trigger at the right time.

Spotify: the Right Ability.

Your ability to do anything is dependent on two essential factors:

  1. Your experience at the task.
  2. How easy the task is.

In UX design, it's relatively easy to send out emails explaining a new feature, create content about it, or run a webinar. It's often much harder to design that feature so that using it is intuitive and obvious.

It doesn't have to be, though. One great example of amplifying users' ability to perform a task without an overcomplicated process of education or training comes to us from Spotify's iOS app.

One of the key reasons users subscribe to Spotify is to discover new music through personalized song recommendations. If Spotify can get users invested in listening to their Discover Weekly playlist every Monday and their Release Radar every Friday, then it's unlikely they'll cancel their subscriptions.

Spotify's UI is designed to bring every Spotify user to that core value of personalization as quickly and easily as possible every time they use the app. That's reflected most strongly in the bottom navigational menu with its five clearly labeled options: Home, Browse, Search, Radio, and Your Library.

No matter where you go, you're not far from taking advantage of Spotify's personalization.

Never at any point, despite which section of the app you're in, are you more than one or two taps away from a playlist or collection of music that Spotify has personally generated for you based on your taste.

It wasn't always so easy to access this functionality. The process of experimentation that led to the new interface was literally spurred by the words, “Let our value proposition be clearer to new users.” As Spotify Experimentation Lead Ben Dressler explains, this interface performed much better with users than the old iOS interface, which gave dramatically less navigational context along the bottom row of the screen:

The lesson? If users have to hunt for the value, they just won't.

Give them the ability—in other words, make it as easy as possible for them to do what you want—and odds are, they'll do it.

Yelp: the Right Trigger.

Yelp wants users to think of it first—before they think of browsing for a restaurant on a competitor like Seamless—or ordering takeout. One of their secret weapons is their highly effective system of push notification triggers.

In the Fogg Behavioral Model there are three types of triggers, each one operating best in a different context:

  • Facilitator: Gets you to perform a new behavior when you have high motivation but low ability.
  • Spark: Gets you to perform a new behavior when you have high ability but low motivation.
  • Signal: Gets you to perform a new behavior when you have both high ability and high motivation.

A Yelp notification about a local lunch spot, tactfully sent right when you're ready to go out for lunch.

Yelp sends a very tactical Facilitator push notification to its users, designed to train people to turn to their app when hunger strikes (high motivation) but the sheer number of options overwhelm (low ability).

Yelp's messaging is tight and concise: We know a local place to grab a bite! The notification—or trigger—works both in the moment and as part of a longer-term engagement strategy.

And the more that someone successfully uses Yelp to find a great new restaurant, the more likely they are to return to the app the next time they're hungry.

Using the Fogg Behavioral Model to troubleshoot your UX.

No matter what stage of development your product is in, you can put the Fogg Behavioral Model to work to solve UX issues. Here are three top ways to troubleshoot:

  1. Motivation and power uses: What sets apart your most motivated users from everyone else? Analyze their experience by tracing what about the site makes their experience particularly successful, then replicate your top users' experiences for every user.

  2. Ability and workflows: If it takes too long to get something done, users will churn.

    Ability is not just the physical willingness to do something, but a function of people's scarcest resource—time. Your session replays can help you understand where users may be getting frustrated or confused with the workflows that make up your site, and what fixes you might be able to incorporate to make them easier.

  3. Triggers and rage clicks: If a user runs into a dead end on your site and rage clicks an element multiple times to no avail, it's a good bet that your UX doesn't incorporate the associations users already have, and you're not providing the right triggers.

    Make the most of pre-existing habits by identifying potential hot spots on your site where users engage and click: they might be signaling a product feature desire without even knowing it.

Empathy here is key. If you can put yourself in your customers' shoes and really understand what's keeping them from getting the most out of your product, you can begin to build the kind of UX that creates an excellent customer experience. Apply the Fogg Behavioral Model to your product to see what levers you can pull to improve engagement, increase active users, and reduce churn.