6 Mistakes of Products that Fail to Engage Users

6 Mistakes of Products that Fail to Engage Users

With technology advancing faster than ever, anybody can launch a new product. There are now thousands of apps launched daily, but most of them fail. The most common cause of this failure is product limbo: the product works but fails to engage users.
At The Octalysis Group, we have worked on, analyzed and investigated hundreds of products. Here are the 6 most common mistakes that jeopardise your product’s success.


An emphasis on efficiency over motivation

engage users

Most of the products we see focus on making the user experience intuitive, easy, and efficient. This is all great if the user is already highly motivated to use the product (Hint: they usually are not).
For example: You need to check your bank balance, so you have motivation to use the app no matter how frustrating the experience is. Of course, if it feels intuitive and efficient, that makes it even better.
But for the vast majority of products there isn’t any motivation by default. Just because a product is efficient, it doesn’t mean the user will be inspired to use it. Most products we see are missing that motivation.

Remedy: Use Human-Focused Design (instead of function-focused) to focus on why someone should use the product, not just how they could use it. Design motivational elements into the system from the start rather than building a product and then trying to work out how to get someone to use it.


The next action is not clear or motivating enough

desired actions engage users

When creating a product, designers should map out a specific chain of actions that users need to take for the optimal experience of their product. Once you have this journey mapped out, however, your job is not over yet! You must make sure then make sure that, at any point in the experience, your user is aware of and motivated to take the next best step. A confused or unengaged user will simply drop out, rather than muddle through.

Remedy: Every page should have a clear Desired Action (you may know this as a “call-to-action”) to engage users. The Desired Action should be so clear and prominent that the brain should feel a bit awkward NOT interacting with it (why would you touch anywhere else on a door if there is a doorknob?). Even if you went on a website in a foreign language, you should immediately know what the desired action is just by the interface design alone, and then feel smart about knowing what to do intuitively.


Data-driven design that causes burn out

engage users

The huge amount of data we can now collect shows us what triggers cause actions with the greatest frequency. With a persistent pressure to drive up metrics, designers just double down on what gets immediate results. But, focusing exclusively on triggering interactions that generate immediate action leads users to feel out-of-control and eventually burnout. This is what we call Black-Hat Motivation in the Octalysis Framework.
For example: Having “10 days in a row” streak designs has shown to greatly engage users while the streak still lasts. As a result, designers make streak designs more and more prominent in their experiences (learning apps, workout apps…). However, eventually, this creates a lot of anxiety for the users, who grow afraid of losing their streak (Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance). The moment they lose their streak often feels so punitive that they burnout and never want to come back again.

Remedy: Balance short-term triggers with experiences that will engage users on a longer term: inspire creativity, meaning, and accomplishment.


The product is too focused on linear actions

engage users

Optimizing each individual action in isolation is a common approach to improving a product’s ROI. We’ve even worked with companies where each page/feature has it’s own design team that is dedicated to hyper-optimising that single page. But this fails to consider how those actions feed into an overall engagement loop throughout the user journey.
For example: When Facebook launched, it didn’t have any special amazing technology nor mind-blowing features. However, they have a clear user flow design that allows short activities to tightly interconnect with each other. This keeps users constantly moving from one action to another. Before you know it, 40 minutes have passed and you still haven’t started on your homework yet. (Btw – did you know Mark Zuckerberg’s major at Harvard was actually Psychology?)

Remedy: Create engagement loops, where actions tie into one another and the user is always motivated to go back to the beginning. Embed the triggers for one activity inside another activity and don’t have too many large actions, otherwise users will run out of motivation and decide to come back “later”.


The product tries to appeal to everyone

engage users

For a product to be successful, designers try to appeal to as many people as possible. The idea is that the more people are in your target market, the greater the chance someone will like it. But you can’t optimize for everyone and in fact if you try to do this, you will end up mediocre and unremarkable for everyone. Design is all about tradeoffs. You can either be 95 for one group and 75 for other groups, or you can be 80 for everyone.

Remedy: Identify and prioritise user types for your product and focus your design on your top user type as much as possible. Accept that some users may be less engaged because of your decision.


Rewarding people with cheap gimmicks for taking actions

meaningless badges don't engage users

The promise of a reward is highly motivating, but is not sufficient to engage users on the long run. Too many “empty” rewards make the experience feel transactional instead of transformative. When this happens, users will only be motivated extrinsically and their long-term motivation plummets. This is the approach of most loyalty programs, and apps that improperly include points, badges, and leaderboards.

Remedy: Only use extrinsic rewards to nudge the user into using a product. Then focus on making the experience fun, engaging, and intrinsically rewarding. Give users a feeling of creativity, social connection, and curiosity to keep them coming back again and again.


In summary
Designing products people love to use, as opposed to merely being nice to use, is the key to avoiding product limbo. By focusing on the human in the system, as opposed to the pure efficiency of the system, you will find that even clunky and ugly designs can significantly outperform beautiful and intuitive ones.

If you want more insight on how to implement Human-Focused Design to engage users and avoid these 6 mistakes (and many more) for your product, contact us at albertine@octalysisgroup.com for a free consultation.

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