By Keith Shields, CEO at Designli

Users have never had more choice than they do today. To solve any given challenge, there are dozens of software products available, and new products are continually being introduced to the market. Software companies struggle to retain users as newer, shinier products appear on the scene. 

The challenge is even more difficult when it comes to apps. Every app company will recognize this issue: A certain percentage of users download apps to their phones, use them a few times and then delete them

How can software and app companies keep up with the continually developing market? And how can developers keep users engaged with their software and apps for the long term?

These are questions I ask myself in my work designing and developing custom apps. In this article, I’ll share how integrating behavioral design into the product design process will help developers build software and apps that not only attract users, but retain them as well.

Retention: The Holy Grail

Retention is what every software and app company is aiming for. Customer acquisition is a first step, but profitability is tied to retention. In order to retain users, you must provide a strong user experience that not only delights users initially, but also keeps them engaged on an ongoing basis. 

User experience (UX) design is the process of creating products that provide relevant and meaningful user experiences. UX design is a broad discipline and includes usability, accessibility and functionality. 

UX design impacts every interaction users have with the product -- not only how easy it is to use the product, but also the pleasure and fun of using it. The interactions and feelings generated from each aspect of the user experience should be considered as part of the design process. And, of course, UX design must also ensure that the product meets the user’s needs and desires in the specific context where the product is used.

Why Traditional UX Design Has Value

User interviews have long been the cornerstone for fueling data collection to inform UX design, and there is certainly some value gained by them. User interviews provide insights that you can’t easily get elsewhere, such as where the software is used, the context for usage and if there are other tools used in the workflow that must be integrated.

However, the insights gained through interview data are limited. Interview insights rely on what users share about themselves and the interpretation of that data. A significant weakness of user interviews is that humans often don’t accurately predict their own behavior, so your data may not be reliable. Additionally, the feedback shared by users may not reflect all users, just a subset of them. 

You should design products based on insights that apply to all users. That’s where a partnership between user interviews and behavioral design excels. 

Behavioral Design: Creating Habit Patterns

Behavioral design is based on principles of behavioral psychology. It provides insights about human behavior that apply to all users. The fundamental principle behind behavioral design is creating habit loops around product usage, centered on the cue-behavior-reward cycle. Users are triggered to open the software or app, which prompts them to perform certain actions in the, and then they’re rewarded (variably) for the actions they took.

Behavioral design fills in the gaps of traditional UX design by allowing developers to take advantage of reliable data on human behavior that can be used to drive increased software usage. Though behavioral design is new to many people, it is backed by scientific findings and principles of human behavior. By leveraging it, developers can build a UX that is enjoyable for people to use and that will drive continued usage. 

UX Design + Behavioral Design = Retention

When designers combine traditional UX principles with behavioral design, the resulting products retain users for the long term. As I stated earlier, you can learn important information through user interviews. And because behavioral design is based on creating habit loops, user interviews become more valuable as you get feedback on rewards that will motivate your users.

But if you limit yourself to traditional UX design principles, you’re missing out on building habit formation, which is key to retention. When you integrate universal principles of human behavior into your software design, it will help you create software that’s not only easy to use, but also enjoyable and habit-forming.

Keith Shields is CEO at Designli, a digital product studio that helps entrepreneurs and startup-minded enterprises launch transformative apps and web apps.