How Slack brilliantly changed one of my 2-year-old habits in less than a minute
We’re used to doing things a certain way. And we don’t want to change. Our brains want the most reward for the least effort. Change requires effort and may not even produce a reward. So change is much riskier than doing what we’ve always done.
But if you can change someone’s habit, either through your words or your product, you’ll create a connection that’s equally hard to break.
This is why I’m so impressed with how Slack, our company’s messaging app, changed one of my behaviors I had been doing every day for years. I’ve never seen a product do this good of a job getting me to instantly change one of my deeply ingrained habits without pissing me off.
How Slack built, broke, then re-made my 2-year-old habit
Since we started using Slack about 2 years ago, I’ve used my ‘slackbot’ channel as a place to drop to-dos, photos, and links.
Recently, I noticed a message I hadn’t seen before when I put a photo in my slackbot:
(Here’s a zoomed in version because the bigger screenshot is hard to read:)
At first, I didn’t think anything of it. Slack often sends automatic messages in response to certain things you drop in. Usually a friendly tip like this:
But then, I uploaded a bunch of images and got this new type of message for each photo. I thought it was strange I didn’t get the typical option to turn these messages off.
I thought, “Hmm, usually slack allows me to stop seeing these messages, so maybe this is a different type of message?” At this point, Slack had already made serious progress towards getting me to change my behavior. They got my attention.
Then came the next trick. It’s subtle yet beautiful. Because I didn’t get an option to stop seeing these messages, I realized I had to close each message individually every time I uploaded something.
My lazy brain went, ‘Yuck. I don’t want to delete something every time I drop an image in slackbot.’ To add to this brain pain, if I didn’t close these messages, my slackbot channel would fill with these messages, making it harder for me to use slackbot as storage place for my todos and screenshots. Which is exactly what Slack is trying to do.
This was brilliant design.
Anyone can force someone to stop a behavior pattern in a product. Just remove a feature and boom, people stop doing it. But this way sucks from a psychology perspective because it pisses people off. If a product has been allowing you to do something one way for years and all of a sudden they don’t let you, you’re going to get pissed.
What makes Slack’s way beautiful is that they didn’t force me to stop my behavior altogether. They discouraged it. By filling up my slackbot channel with messages, Slack made it harder to use slackbot as my todo list. Slack didn’t piss me off. They just made me feel a bit of pain.
Because I was forced to delete these messages one by one, this was another way Slack got my attention to read the message.
While I was deleting messages, I started to read the message. And once I read the message, I said to myself, “Oh sure, that’s not so bad. I don’t have to change what I’m doing. I can just use another channel to do the same thing.” (I know took me long enough! But lazy brains like mine hate change so much they often don’t pay attention to it).
All this might not seem like no big deal. Slack got me to read a message and use a feature. Big whoop. But by looking closely at how Slack’s product designers changed my behavior so fast, it’s a great product design lesson.
We can all learn from this example to create the change we want to make with our products. To summarize, there’s 3 steps Slack did to get me to change my habit:
Step 1: Get my attention
Don’t underestimate this. People don’t want to change so whatever message you’re trying to get across likely needs to be repeated. But there’s a balance. Repetition is boring and can get annoying. You don’t want to annoy people. So think about clever ways you can place your message so people see it multiple times without being annoyed.
Step 2: Make me aware of the pain but don’t piss me off
Don’t flash popovers over and over until I break down. Or remove a feature altogether. Those are weak solutions. You can do better. Without removing it completely, how can you make my old way of doing things a little harder to show how easy the new way is?
Step 3: Make it easy to understand what you want me to do instead
Slack’s message was good but it could have been better.
Once I read Slack’s message, I understood it in about 10 seconds. Even though that seems fast, I was hesitant to read Slack’s message at first because the text looked long and included unique characters like the plus sign ‘(+)’ which made me feel the message might be hard to understand.
I thought the message included a complex keyboard shortcut command that I didn’t care about. Though Slack could have improved the message by making it shorter and removing longer words/complex characters, this may have been the best way of saying this message.
Sometimes it might not be possible to condense your message to a few words and visual but you still have options. Slack’s product designers probably new there was a tradeoff with a longer message. They condensed the message to 3 sentences but needed to tell us at a minimum what was there. So part of their solution for making it easy to understand, was showing the message multiple times.
As someone who designs a product that helps people design products, this example is a great one for me and for anyone who creates products. Products, features, and businesses, often fail to catch on even though you may have a better product.
You not only have to help people understand your way of doing things but you also have to overcome a behavior pattern that is hardwired in our brains.
Understanding habit change doesn’t just apply to helping people understand a little feature within your product. It is the key to the success of anything new.
If you can change habits, you can change the world.