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Product Psychology 101

Nir Eyal shares his essential reads on what everyone should learn about product psychology.

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Great products have the power to improve people’s lives—and many of those products, whether they’re physical objects, apps, or services, owe their success to the product psychology that went into their development. It's a fascinating field that focuses on the deeper reasons behind why people do what they do, and how to harness those insights to build and market products that capitalize on user behaviors. Entrepreneurs, designers, and marketers already use these techniques to create better products (and ultimately, improve lives), but it’s also a worthwhile topic for anyone to comprehend, whether you’re looking to understand your own decisions better or get a clearer picture of how and why certain things activate that “gotta have it” feeling—and know when to listen to that excitement. Read on as product psychology expert Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life and Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products shares his recommended reading.

3 Ways Good Design Makes You Happy

Don Norman

Nir Eyal: “Don Norman is one of the founders of the field of Human-Computer Interaction. I love this talk on his three levels of responding. Norman asks designers to consider the visceral, behavioral, and reflective responses that our products evoke.”

Enchanted Objects: The Next Wave of the Web

David Rose

NE: “Have you ever used a product for the first time and thought, ‘Wow! This is magical?’ I certainly had that reaction the first time I used an iPhone back in 2008. In this deck, David Rose, offers an inspiring vision of how designers can tap into the profound human desires expressed in myths, fairy tales, and superhero comics to build amazing products and services.”

Experiments at Airbnb

Jan Overgoor

NE: “Building great products doesn’t happen by chance. Teams must innovate their way to better design. In this blog post, Airbnb Data Scientist Jan Overgoor reveals how his team uses controlled experiments to inform every step of the product development cycle. I particularly like his insights into how experiments must protect against various sources of bias.”

The Agony and Ecstasy of Building with Data

Julie Zhuo
The Year of the Looking Glass

NE: “Data can be dangerous, that is, if it’s not used correctly. I enjoyed this article from former Facebook Product Design Director, Julie Zhuo, describing the pitfalls of product testing that can leave product designers vulnerable to relying too heavily on experimentation at the expense of innovation, imagination, or decisive thinking.”

The Case for Talking to Users in the Age of Big Data

Matt Gallivan

NE: “Data is people! While it’s easy to get lost in the numbers, Matt Gallivan, UX Research Manager at Facebook, maintains that there’s still no substitute for good qualitative research, even in the age of big data. I like how this article gives designers permission to work with small sample sizes when appropriate.”

Two Brains Running

Jim Holt
The New York Times

NE: “Thinking, Fast and Slow, is on every behavioral designers bookshelf. Though the work of psychologist and Economics Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman, has come under some criticism recently for the fact that some of the studies cited in the book could not be replicated, the book still provides insights into understanding the cognitive biases that prevent users from accurately reporting their own experiences or motivations. This book review provides an intro to some of these biases, saving you from having to read the entire book.”

At the Heart of Every Great Product Is a Behavioral Secret

Nir Eyal
Nir and Far

NE: “Entrepreneurs should focus on discovering secrets about human behavior, which are cheap to discover but can build massive companies. In this article, I discuss where innovators should look for these opportunities. Whenever a massive change occurs in the way people interact with technology, expect to find plenty of secrets ripe for harvesting.”

Behavior Can Be Designed

Saugato DattaSendhil Mullainathan
Center for Global Development

NE: “In this report titled, ’Behavioral Design: A New Approach to Development Policy,’ the authors explain how to apply behavioral economics to tackle some of the world’s toughest challenges. From increasing employee savings rates to immunization rates, the authors demonstrate a four-step process for implementing behavioral design to improve lives.”

Product Psychology Can Be Used for Good or Evil

Nir Eyal
Nir and Far

NE: “We should all ask ourselves, ‘Is changing user behavior in this way worthwhile?’ Before you embark on understanding product psychology, here’s a framework for helping you answer this critically important question. Consider the framework in the essay and ask yourself where you sit on the Manipulation Matrix.”

We Are Feeling Machines That Think, Yet Rationality Depends On Feeling Emotions [WATCH]

Antonio Damasio

NE: “Studies of brain trauma victims have recently demonstrated that the ability to perform logical inference and complex reasoning is not the core of effective decision making. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio found that when people lose the ability to experience emotions, they cannot make up their mind. As the philosopher Hume explained, ‘Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.’ Identify which of your customers’ emotions guide them to engage with your product.”

Nir Eyal

Nir Eyal writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. He previously taught as a lecturer in Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford and has been called “the prophet of habit-forming technology” by MIT Technology Review. Eyal is the author of two bestselling books, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, and his writing has been featured in The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Time Magazine, and Psychology Today—as well as his blog, NirAndFar.com.