Chapter 46. Conditioning and Addiction

Your job as a UX designer is to create experiences, not just observe them. So we need to do more than reward and punish what users naturally do. We need the science of training people to do something new, and then keep doing it. Forever.

“The First Taste Is Free”

As any good drug dealer knows, nobody can be addicted to something they haven’t tried. So your mission is to get the user to a positive emotion within a minute or less, on the first visit. This is so important, in my opinion, that you should not launch anything until you achieve it.


A “punishment” doesn’t have to be painful. Think of it as a cost. It could be effort or money. People will do a little work or pay a little cash to get a reward, if the reward is worth it. But, the first reward should be free. Always.

Types of conditioning


Connect a signal of your choice to an existing behavior. For example, when a bell rings, food comes out. Food makes dogs drool. After the bell becomes strongly associated with food, the bell will make a dog expect food and drool all over himself. Therefore, the bell now causes drooling. And if drooling is your goal (that would be a weird app), you can trigger it any time you want.


Reward or punish a random action. Let’s say you find a new website and write a comment. Ten people like it. Cool. You write another comment. Five more likes. Wow! Now you’re hooked. You write a third. Somebody calls you an idiot. Hmmm. No more comments like ...

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