Force of Habit

If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

How might we empower a diverse set of users to create lasting, positive change?

Force of Habit is a prototype based on my Ideation & Prototype research, including readings on habit formation and design for change, as well as user interviews.


Secondary Research

To begin this project, I set out to learn about the cognitive science behind creating and maintaining habits, and the many design practices that can facilitate that process. My main sources were:

TitleAuthorYear
Atomic HabitsJames Clear2018
Mindful DesignScott Riley2018
HookedNir Eyal2013
Design for Behaviour ChangeEdited by Kristina Niedderer, Stephen Clune, Geke Ludden2018

Takeaways

Habit Feedback Loop

The habit-forming process can be divided into four parts — cue, craving, response, and reward — which feed into one another. Promoting healthy habits is a matter of increasing their ease, accessibility, and enjoyability through your actions and environment.

  1. Cue (make it obvious)
    • Cues for good habits should be present and noticeable in your environment (i.e. take the yoga mat out of the closet, put it somewhere visible).
  2. Craving (make it attractive)
    • Highlight the benefits of good habits, like harnessing social desires (i.e. join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior).
  3. Response (make it easy)
    • Reduce friction associated with good habits (i.e. break down goals into manageable bits; make it “go outside in sneakers,” not “run a marathon”).
  4. Reward (make it satisfying)
    • Harness the feeling of success to increase your odds of repeating the behavior (i.e. measure and celebrate progress, even if small).

Reward types

There are multiple ways to harness satisfaction, some of which may be most effective for specific users, or in the context of specific habits.

  1. Rewards of the tribe (social)
    • Driven by our connectedness with other people. Our brains are adapted to seek rewards that make us feel accepted, attractive, important, and included.
  2. Rewards of the hunt (material)
    • Driven by a desire for material resources and information, evolving from the search for food and other survival needs in our brain’s operating system.
  3. Rewards of the self (personal)
    • Intrinsic satisfaction driven by the search for competence and completion.

Habit-Forming Strategies

Finally, there are specific behavioral strategies that can help form new habits, or break undesired ones:

  1. Implementation Intention
    • “I will [behavior] at [time] in [location].”
  2. Habit Stacking
    • “After I [current habit], I will [new habit].”
  3. Temptation Bundling
    • “After I [behavior needed], I will [behavior desired].”
  4. Accountability Partner
    • “I will [behavior] with [person].”
  5. Habit Contract
    • “If I don’t [behavior], [manufactured, undesired consequence] will happen.”

With this research in mind, I set out to design an app to both raise awareness of habit-forming strategies and help people implement them.


User Research

Interviews

I conducted five user interviews to expand my perspective on how people think and feel about their habits, and validate my secondary research findings. Some of the questions I asked in these interviews were:

  • What would you say are some positive habits that you have?
  • What purpose do those habits serve to you?
    • What benefits do you find in them?
  • How long have you maintained these habits?
  • What systems do you have to maintain them? What tools do you use?
    • Walk me through the steps of using one of those tools.
  • Are there any positive habits you don’t currently have, but would like to? 
    • Have you tried to implement them? How did that go?
    • What made you struggle?

I distilled my interview notes down into three user personas:

Afonso, 27

  • Works as a project manager in tech while building his own business on the side. 
  • Likes to work out and go to bars in his little free time.
  • His routine is a well-oiled machine, but he wants to introduce new habits; feels too busy and distracted to figure out a new system.

Ezra, 23

  • Designer at an ad agency, hoping to become a full-time artist one day.
  • Likes to paint, watch movies, and go to parks.
  • Struggles to find a system; always excited at the beginning but loses steam eventually. Puts himself down when that happens.

Dana, 19

  • Studies Music Education full-time, works at a diner part-time. Has odd hours that make a daily routine impossible to achieve.
  • Likes to play music and video games.
  • Has ADHD and struggles to remember tasks; always worried about missing deadlines or misplacing things.

Survey

Lastly, I sent out a short survey to reach a broader audience, with the following description and multiple choice questions:

This project aims to prototype a product to help users create and maintain desired habits.

Think of a habit you’ve wanted to form for a long time, but haven’t managed to do so yet. Something you wish you did every day, or several times a week, to get you closer to becoming who you dream of being.

If you were starting that habit tomorrow —

What practices do you think would work best at keeping you committed?

  • Expressing gratitude
  • Practicing affirmations
  • Getting tips for specific habits
  • Sharing milestones/accomplishments
  • Following other people’s journeys
  • Reading motivational quotes
  • Reading about the science behind habits
  • Other

What tools would you find most useful?

  • Quick notes — jotting down information
  • General journaling — writing about your day and thoughts
  • Prompted journaling — writing about your day and thoughts, prompted by specific questions
  • Alarms or reminders — receiving notifications with short notes
  • To-do lists — listing and checking off tasks as needed
  • Habit tracking — consistently checking off a specific set of actions
  • Daily/weekly/monthly schedule — writing appointments or deadlines
  • References (e.g. reading lists, workout plans) — listing resources or planning around a specific topic
  • Other

What media would you prefer to use?

  • Mobile apps
  • Desktop apps or programs
  • Freestyle notebook/notepad
  • Fixed planner/agenda
  • Wall-mounted calendar/planner
  • Whiteboard
  • Post-it notes
  • Other

The survey also included an optional question to tap into the emotional undercurrents of habit formation and maintenance:

This section takes a more abstract and experimental approach to how people feel about their habits. There is no right or wrong answer. Please open https://unsplash.com/s/photos/abstract on a separate tab or window for this.

Think of the habits you have overall — every “autopilot” behavior you repeat consistently. Browse the abstract images linked above. What image best captures how you feel about your current habits? What about that image aligns with how you feel about your current habits?

I compiled these responses with the photos submitted:


Design

At the start of my design process, my goals for the app were:

  • To share the science of habit-forming strategies and inspiration for specific habits
  • To encourage mindfulness as a means for motivation
  • To provide simple but effective tools to track and maintain habits
  • To link these features for a seamless and holistic system

With that in mind, the prototype is divided into three parts:

Learn contains learning modules, featured content for specific habits, and prompts the user to submit journal reflections. Provides users the framework of habit formation, and sets the stage for a mindful experience.

Plan stores these journal reflections, as well as lists that are linked to habits. Serves as reference to help users stay on track and motivated.

Track houses user habits, linked to lists, as well as detailed reminders and progress stats. Users can see stats like counts and streaks to fuel a sense of accomplishment.

Brand & Design Process

In my final brand identity and prototypes, I sought to create a clean but inspiring and satisfying look. The logo uses negative space to intertwine the F and H letterforms, creating a shape that can be rotated 180° in animations — which, combined with the upward angles and bright color gradient, gives the brand a sense of energy and momentum. The iconography was designed to be approachable and welcoming, in combination with the typography selections.