Developing Products For Creatures Of Habit

It’s Hard To Let Go

As humans, we become creatures of habit. Our experiences form mental models that rest within the recesses of our brain and are triggered when we interact with circumstances we find similar. We inadvertently develop benchmarks and comfort zones with frequency and repetition that become difficult to escape.

On the other side of the fence, product managers are driven to develop their product into the best version it can be. In an effort to keep pace with competition, business requirements, feedback or data, PMs make modifications to product features and design. Unfortunately, executing these changes, as convincing as the arguments may be,  cannot always guarantee a positive response.


When Creatures of habit stand up

Remember the cold reception Tropicana received when it altered it’s packaging design? Sure, they wanted to breathe new energy into their packaging. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that line of thinking. But, the new design led to a drop in sales without the core product ever undergoing a change.

Long time customers had formed some sort of psychological attachment to the original design. Many claimed the design was generic, difficult to tell apart etc. I tend to see their point. After all, I am a creature of habit too. As humans, we are accustomed to reading text horizontally. The new vertical branding and a lighter weighted font made legibility difficult. In addition, the absence of the famous orange with a straw was a little too much of a departure. When you factor in the other visuals and layered graphics, it was a classic case of ‘too much, too fast, too soon’. 



In the digital world, SnapChat faced similar consequences when it changed part of its interface to what it perceived as an improvement in user experience. The result – 1.2 million patrons signed an online petition demanding the platform reverse the update. A simple information architecture change led to user outcry. 




CEO of SnapChat, Evan Spiegel had this to say…

“We learned that combining watching Stories and communicating with friends into the same place made it harder to optimize for both competing behaviors. We are currently rolling out an update to address this by sorting communication by recency and moving Stories from friends to the right side of the application, while maintaining the structural changes we have made around separating friends from creators and sorting friends Stories by relationships.”

Where did both companies go wrong? Was it a lack of research, oversight, a bullish attitude or plain arrogance? 


The Takeaway

Again, we are all creatures of habit. We become accustomed to certain practices that later affect us when change occurs, irrespective of how severe those changes are. Imagine our mobile phones going back to being button-operated. What would Gen Z think?  What if every automobile manufacturer decided to have its own proprietary sequence of foot pedals or gear changes? 

Certain expectations or habits need to be managed delicately and nurtured towards change. Google does this very well when it makes changes to its interfaces. They leave the decision or opportunity to the user to test the newer version and if not satisfied, to retain the former. 

Some businesses create time-bound changes to allow customers to phase themselves into the inevitable iteration. I’m a big fan of this practice as we cannot neglect business interests or the natural evolution of a product. At the same time, our customers interests need to be factored in and giving them time to adjust makes perfect sense.

Whether users are differentiated on the basis on frequency of use, preferences, purpose or output, they always approach products with certain pre-conceived notions, expectations, mental models or habits. Failure to meet these peculiarities leads to poor product acceptance, higher bounce rates, deflection rates, lower adoption, negative reviews and so on. In fact, trouble turns exponential when it solidifies a bond users have with competing products.

Being empathetic to user preferences and concerns is paramount to success. Product managers have to be perceptive of the masses that have come to depend on or appreciate the product they are currently exposed to.





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