The importance of reward systems in UX

Reward systems have been part of the digital world for years. They vary between direct beneficial rewards like flying club miles, points, cash, etc to social rewards that aim to keep users engaged. These could be unlocking new levels, earning badges, community recognition, etc. Authority is what matters and making the user feel significant and socially accepted  is usually the fast pass to successful reward systems. Products like Sony Playstation, Xbox, many fitness apps and social networks have based their logic on rewarding users.

Although reward systems have been used by marketers and business people for some time now, not much has been done to explore the connection between reward system and user experience. Just giving something extra is not enough to hook up your users. If there’s a mismatch between what they need and what you assume will bring them back, then you’ve  failed to achieve customer engagement.

When it comes to UX, the goal (on paper) is simple – users must want to use your product, not feel they have to or put too much effort to understand it. The design experience should make them want to come back and feel comfortable and confident using the service as opposed to explaining or educating how to use it. Rewarding should be easy, intuitive, smooth. You don’t need much to get a Facebook like and this is one of the best rewards people get online nowadays. Your friends liking (socially approving) your update or latest photo excites you and makes you feel better. You come back for more. Why? Because it’s easy and it makes you temporarily happy. It’s addictive.

User experience has progressed beyond making easy to use products. It’s our job as UX designers to come up and suggest rewards systems that enrich products and make them addictive. Let’s take Pinterest and Instagram as an example. The never-ending wall of beautiful images enchants you and you keep scrolling to come across this stunning image that will match your mood or will be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s so appealing and easy to use that you feel tempted to contribute, You can create similar images, people could be liking and repinning your updates! So you sign up and start pinning/instagramming.

Not every product could achieve the success of Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook, but every new digital service should aim to become habit-forming. I’ve recently read one of the best books I’ve come across “Hooked: how to build habit-forming products” by Nir Eyal. I strongly recommend it to everyone who’s in a process of building a new digital product. One of my favourite quotes re UX design is:

“Companies that successfully change behaviours present users with an implicit choice between their old way of doing things and a new more convenient way to fulfil existing needs.”

Nir Eyal explains the idea that to change behaviour, products must ensure that users feel in control of their choices. They’re not forced to change their habits, they choose the new way because they have the option to do it.

The bad news is that there’s no universal rule that will be the right move or feature to make your product the next digital miracle. The good news is that by understanding what your users really need above the obvious and offer it in the easiest and simplest way, you can make people repeatedly come back and be genuinely interested in what you offer. There’s only one simple always-working rule that I’ve learned in the past few years – you don’t have to tell users what to do when using your product, you have to offer them what they want to do. Sounds easy, but we all know it’s the the million-dollar question of today’s digital world.