Designer’s Guide for Customer Addiction-01

Photo © blackday — Fotolia

Many new product ideas were good but failed miserably after launch. Those ideas could not get enough users, even though the research showed that there was a real need, a real pain to be solved.

You may blame budgetary constraints for marketing and promotions. The fact is if your product/service lags in essential elements, even a massive promotional budget would not save it from the failure.

The marketing team can bring you the initial users, but your product/service need to be good enough to convert those ‘initial’ users into ‘repeat’ users.

Designing a product with mere novelties is a subtle trap. It may appear as a cool product. Users may appreciate the product the first time, when shown to them and may talk about the product to their friends, but many would not buy if the product is rarely used. Your marketing can make ‘early adopters’ buy the cool stuff but you cannot stop the product from ending up in the closet.

ROI from TV Advertisements, Newspapers are dwindling down(People are changing channels, skip ads when commercials play. Can you remember what ads you saw in the today’s newspaper). Permission marketing is drying up. Viral networks are jamming up.

So, how to make a product like Facebook or Whatsapp where customers regularly use on their own, again and again without any ads or promotions or aggressive messaging and with limited promotional budget?. How to get higher user engagement with our products/services?


Most of our products and services are aimed at solving a major customer pain since that is the most profitable.

What kind of pains does Facebook solve? Is it a Painkiller or Vitamin? You can call Facebook as a Vitamin, as it is not solving any obvious major pain. But after prolonged usage of Facebook and Whatsapp for a longer period and if you stop using it for a couple of weeks, how would you feel. Would you not feel some stress, tension, anxiety?

Before Facebook or WhatsApp, we never knew that we had a requirement for a product like them but after repeated use, we find it tough to live without them. So, some products can be called Painkillers, some can be called Vitamins, and few can be called DRUGS, a dangerous addiction. Drugs are addictive. Is your product a drug? How these companies converted their product into a drug and addicted us? What are those elements that played a role in customer addiction?


One of the answers for most of the product failures is that the product or service does not meet a real user need or solve a problem which people really care about. Often, users do not always recognise their needs or problems properly, nor do their needs match with what experts think. The first step is identifying the need/pain. User research would help us to solve this conundrum.

Today, the smartphone is an integral part of us. iPhone is an example of a User developing the need once he was aware of the innovation/product.

It was a designer’s job to understand the need and not customer’s job to define those needs in ambiguous terms.

Identifying need or pain is essential to the success of the product but there is another critical factor that also plays a major role — Associated ‘User Emotions’ With The Need or Pain. We cannot design an addictive product without knowing the user’s emotional needs and desires.

Can you tell me what need/pain Facebook solves? Boredom? Loneliness? Frustration? Confusion? Sharing Joy? Social Acceptance? Looks like a more emotional need than functional need? Facebook or Whatsapp has connected the Emotional Quotient with Utility.


Selection of users or customers plays a major role in spreading your idea. Making product for everybody is like a product for Nobody — Target a Niche, focus and try to overwhelm them.

As we knew, that vast majority of consumers are happy with the available products and they rarely look for a replacement or a new product. It’s in human nature to resist any new changes as they have to put more mental and physical effort in adapting to the same. Particularly, users try to avoid any new products which require more cognitive effort. Then, the only chance is to sell to ‘Innovators’ and ‘Early adopters’ who would like to change, who would like to explore and who would be actively looking for Innovative ideas.

We must design a product that is

  • Remarkable enough to attract Early Adopters,
  • Having triggers in the product to motivate them to try it out,
  • Simple enough to use,
  • Rewarding enough to Engage the users,
  • Easier to Customise in order to make users invest more time, and
  • “Easier to communicate the Design Benefits to Others” by Early adopters.

Facebook initially targeted young people from Harvard and then IVY LEAGUE.

Drug use by teens is often thought of as a way to escape the mundane world and enter an altered reality. Similarly, Facebook too is thought of as a way to escape boredom.


As I already mentioned, whatever product/service we envision, if we can connect them with an emotion and a daily routine, we can create an internal urge to use the product.

To tap right emotions, we need to dig deeper to understand how a user feels, what emotions would motivate him/her to use a product/service or perform an activity or task and look for discrepancies which could expose opportunities. Example — Why do people take photos? Did they want to show it to their friends? or what could be the other reasons? — We need to dig deeper to unearth the real ‘negative’ emotions.

It is important to connect tasks of a product or service with an Emotion and a Daily Routine.


In design, we were taught “Less is more”. Designers are encouraged to make simplified designs in which users would have fewer activities to perform. But Facebook’s principle is “More of More”. The social media platform is designed in such a way that the user could use the product for multiple occasions and for multiple reasons which ultimately helped them to drive more viral growth.

“More of More” principle along with smaller innovations have helped Facebook to leapfrog its competitors MySpace and Friendster, even-though the competitors had healthy growth rate and had millions of users.

The more frequent we use the product, the more the addiction. As a designer, we need to Amplify the utility factors, simplify the “Ability”(Ease of use) factor, which in turn would increase the motivation required to use the product frequently.

BJ Fogg’s model says, when our product is new to the market, the user will have less motivation to use the product. So we need to design the product in such a way that the initial tasks are easier to do — which could tempt users to try the product. Once they started using our product or service, activities should motivate them to explore further(Increase Motivation), which in turn could make users to explore slightly harder activities and the cycle could be continued till the desired state.


From WISDEN — The cricket stadium is a whirlwind of noise; a vortex of people; a kaleidoscope of blurring colours. There are horns, flags, drums, humans — it is the anarchy of sporting fandom.

Then, in the eye of this storm, in the middle of the pitch, stands Sachin Tendulkar.

“ZONE” is an effective state of calm equilibrium, where environment disappears, including a sense of One’s own self and body. Once in the Zone, Sachin never thinks about winning or becoming a Hero or Conquering the bowler but Plays to just Keep playing and ‘Stay in Zone’ as long as possible.

Can you relate the “ZONE EFFECT” of drugs and facebook? When we start scrolling through our timeline feed, next thing we know an hour has gone by.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls “Being in a Zone” is a psychological and he calls it as “flow”.

His Flow theory postulates three conditions that have to be met to achieve a flow state:

  1. A clear set of goals and progress
  2. Clear and immediate feedback
  3. Good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and their own perceived skills.

How to Create the “Zone” — To create a Zone, we need to understand type of Rewards, Ways to make people invest time, effort etc.., Ways to help users to modify or re-invent our product/service, How to make usage of our product/service being visible to other users, non-customers and some other factors. Hopefully, we can throw more light on “Creating the ZONE” in detail in our Part 02 Blog.

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at or