How to Use Digest Emails to Help Users Build Habits


YogaBuddy is an easy way for yoga teachers to host classes anywhere and students to find them. In fact, I actually tried yoga for the first time ever through Kristen D's class a few weeks ago (It was in the park — just like the splash screen!). It's a great way to blow off steam and relax my body during lunch.

As a psychology buff (and a fan of Kristen’s class and YogaBuddy), I’m always trying to find better ways to integrate a new hobby into my routine and develop a habit.

What can help me solidify this habit?

So, when I first started boxing, I watched instructional videos outside class, and got critique from my coaches when I was in the gym — this created a feedback loop that allowed me to nail down the fundamentals and make quick progress early. And getting better felt great; humans are hardwired with a reward system that releases dopamine whenever we make incremental progress. So boxing became fun… and a habit. 

When starting a new hobby, the beginner phase is fragile and requires the most hand-holding, because every day progress is stalled, it becomes increasingly more difficult to build that activity into a habit. 

As beginner at yoga, I’d love to see a few basic techniques in emails. I don’t have the time to seek out instruction, but if they came in my inbox as a low effort way to learn, like an animated gif, I’d watch it. It could come as a “pose of the week" along with a few personal stats. 

The instructional email could look something like this:


While watching others perform an action, our mirror neurons fire and nudges us to imitate it. The cool thing is, the action gets performed in the brain regardless of whether you actually perform it physically. Now that yoga is on the mind, following up with a list of classes in the area is a great call-to-action. 

If that is successful, we can get more advanced….

We can segment people who hasn’t attended class in a week or more and send them an email with a different pose. They should get an email with an “office friendly” pose — stuff that people could do in street or office attire that won’t involving lying on the floor or crazy stretches. It should also come with a different personal message. 

The re-engagement email could look like this:


Knowing the people behind the app thought about me shows a great deal of empathy… and I’d probably feel warm and fuzzy. I’d also be more likely to practice a pose that fits my context. This is a great way to re-engage users without being too obvious about it. 

We could even go further and also experiment with a “Featured Instructor of the Week" email. An important aspect of yoga is being part of a community, and I think this is a great way to humanize and show the personality of instructors. For something like this, the mere exposure effect will also comes into play and subconsciously build comfort with users. 

The community building email could look like this:


Heck, if this is successful we can even do an email with featured students!

Again, a strong component of Yoga is community and it’s great to know you’re part of a something bigger. For the students who were featured, it’s a cool story and they’d probably want to share it with their network, but for the longer term, they’d be tied to the consistency principle and more likely to be an ambassador for the brand. 

In closing

I think starting with a “pose of the week” email is a great idea.

As an intermediate level boxing hobbyist, I see advanced techniques as something to aspire to, but it’s also refreshing to see the basics and brush up on them. This sort of email would appeal to all skill levels, and following up with local classes is a natural call-to-action — I’d love to see something like this get done. 

These are just some of my thoughts on using digest emails to help users build new habits. Although I used YogaBuddy in this example, this can really be applied to anything. 

You can learn more about building great digest emails from Derek Skaletsky, our in-house email guru. 

I also want to thank Fiticle for giving me the idea of teaching proper form with animated gifs… because I totally ripped that idea offa them. 


Originally posted on the Knowtify blog. Emails designed with

Why we love Todoist, and how they can make their digest emails better

Keeping a team focused and organized is difficult. There’s an abundance of productivity apps in the market. How do you know which one is right for you?


Here at Knowtify, we needed help staying organized with a few specific projects. And we tried many solutions, but for one reason for another, they didn’t fit our workflow - I felt like I was doing more work to try to get work done. No good. 

Enter Todoist

We heard good things about Todoist and decide to give it a shot. It’s been a few weeks… and we’re still using it! The ability to quickly create, assign, and complete tasks is amazing. Visually, the interface is simple and well organized. And we can start discussions about tasks in real-time - it fits great into our workflow! We love their delightful finishing touches too - for instance, when all tasks are completed, you see a different message based on the time:


They also send a daily digest email to help users stay organized outside the app. 

Their daily digest email


The completed tasks and productivity chart is great for keeping me engaged and motivated! The Karma chart underneath is a bit confusing, because as a new user I’m not sure it means. But I think they’re definitely on the right track here with these data-viz charts. 

What I’d also love to see is a snapshot of yesterday’s activity, speaking of which….

By default, I’d receive a notification about every action taken, which in theory is good for staying in the loop, but in reality you get something like this:


Yup, that’s a lot of emails. I started ignoring them after a while.

Sure, I could go into settings and manually change my notifications, but the power of defaults are strong. Although I haven’t seen the numbers, I imagine many users going through the same experience will stick with it.

Jakob Nielsen writes,

"Users rely on defaults in many other areas of user interface design. For example, they rarely utilize fancy customization features, making it important to optimize the default user experience…"

Having smarter defaults and bundling related actions into fewer emails would definitely help. 

I would also offload some of this into their daily digest. 

Their daily digest could look like this:


Seeing a summarized recap of yesterdays activity is a great way to stay motivated without being overwhelmed by a sudden barrage of emails, and knowing what tasks are due today keeps me focused. This is more concrete and actionable in comparison to their existing digest.

Actually, they could have 2 digests.

Two different digests


While the new daily digests will cover the nitty-gritty and help me plan my day, the weekly digests (their existing emails) are great for higher level overviews of my productivity. These digests provide complementary information and I see it working great in tandem. 

If users find daily recaps and actionable tasks as useful as I think they will, their productivity should shoot straight up, which will then be reflected on the awesome charts in their weekly emails - this is an awesome way to keep users engaged in a positive feedback loop

Anyway, we love Todoist and will continue to use it for future projects. A more actionable daily digest would totally help us, and we think it’d help other users too. We’d love to see it happen!


Originally posted on the Knowtify blog

Shippo’s landing page : LOVE IT
These guys are from the current batch of 500Startups. I don’t know about the service, but I love the landing page!


1. Their CTA isn’t in the middle of the page and place subtly on the top right. My assumption is that because this is a new and unique service, they wanted to “defer” the sign-up and nudge people to read so they understand the service. The primary CTA here: SCROLL DOWN.


2. Their value prop is “simple.” I love how the entire feel of the landing page reflects that, with sparse text and lots of white space. Notice how the descriptions are all consistently 1 headline followed by 2 lines of text. 


3. Also interesting is how they placed “How it works” (the button says learn more) as a secondary CTA all the way on the bottom of the page instead of just adding on and making a longer form landing page — they didn’t even place it on menu bar. Great way to reduce cognitive load, providing the information to those who are looking for it and getting people to sign up with the least amount of information.


Good shit - I’m keeping these patterns in my pocket and using it for myself at some point!

The Lean Human Evolution Startup Machine - Lessons learned from our disruptive ancestors


Humans escaped extinction with the thinnest of margins, and against all odds, staged a remarkable comeback to disrupt other, more established hominin populations. How we did this can shed some light into how some startups become successful.

2 million years ago, the hominins of Africa ran a few A/B tests to decide whether they should make a product pivot. Should they leave, or stay in Africa? One group, who saw leaving Africa as a winning test, hugged the Mediterranean coastline and traveled into East Asia, evolving into Homo Erectus. Another group left 600,000 years ago and traveled north into Europe, evolving into Neanderthals.

Both of these groups made the correct decision at the time, and produced a superior product that proliferated as the original group in Africa, following a different signal, saw their revenue model battered by harsh, dry (literally) market conditions. Their runway was almost up as they dwindled down to as little as 5,000 members.

But as the ancestral human population in Africa flirted with failure, they produced an incredible innovation in a desperate hackathon — a mutation in the FOXp2 gene that granted them robust language capabilities. It tested well with a select few, and quickly swept through the entire population.

Soon, all humans were carrying the improved FOXp2.

With this gift, humans worked better together, formed larger tribes, released bountiful product updates, and scaled blazingly fast outside of Africa, catching their meandering hominin counterparts off-guard, and finally securing unstoppable network effects through hockey-stick growth.

We completed our conquest of the world in less than 50,000 years (2 startup years).

Species that were more successful under the lens of the evolutionary process were ultimately usurped by an underdog with a radical innovation.

In evolution, sometimes accidents win, and these happen… well, accidentally. But unlike evolution, startups can be guided by a visionary leader who can foresee the power of accidental discoveries, and will take paths that do not appear to be immediately successful to surface them. 

Is your startup going the way of Neanderthals, or will it find the Foxp2?

Habit Summit Thoughts

In preparation for the Habit Summit next week, I should begin organizing my thoughts about psychology now.

So, I’m interested specifically in subconsciously influencing peoples’ behavior. I think research on human behavior has gotten to a point where we can predict behavior to a certain capacity, especially in the context of a digital product. I mean, we all derive from the same evolutionary ancestor and share the same universal fundamentals, such as morality, range of emotions, needs, fears, etc. We also share many of the same “bugs” in our brain, such as cognitive biases. And our brain is developed the same way, with the Neo-cortex covering the emotional and instinctive regions of the brain.

Brain areas

Instinctive: This area controls basic wants and needs that are critical to human survival and proliferation. It regulates hunger, thirst, sex. Also called the “reptilian” brain, it’s actually traceable to reptiles that predated mammals for millions of years. A human functioning solely on instinct is effectively a zombie. Most predictable.

Emotional: Research across several dozen cultures in the world reveals that humans recognize the same range of emotions. Although we cannot predict what emotion a specific stimuli will trigger at any particular moment, we can reasonably expect that one categories of stimuli will trigger similar emotions. For instance, tragedy triggers sadness, and success triggers happiness, etc. Because of this, if we can deeply understand a persona, it is possible to design to influence their emotion. Predictable in context.

Rational: This is the newest part of the brain. Known as the Neo-cortex, it hit its evolutionary growth spurt 2 million years ago when our homo habilis ancestors started consuming meat, giving its brains the nutrients to grow. This area of the brain does not actually receive stimuli, but rather, it interprets feedback given from the older brains. I believe the Neo-cortex is formed by mostly learned behavior, and maintains executive control over our action. It’s powerful. But, it uses “brain juice” for fuel.

This cause a few problems. First, if there’s a shortage, it gets lazy, relinquishing control to the emotional and instinctive brains. Secondly, it tries to conserve fuel by relying on shortcuts known as “heuristics.” Sadly, heuristics often make predictable mistakes known as “cognitive biases.”Executive control is unpredictable, but burns expensive fuel.

Knowing this, 

If we design with human fundamentals in mind, understand our users deeply, and can find use-cases where they may be fatigued, this is the opportune time to subconsciously influence their behavior, and where our designs will make the most impact. I can imagine how this can be used nefariously. And I am drawn to it. I want to understand this better.

It’s cool though. I’m a white-hat.


This was originally posted on Medium

I’m writing 1 post every day

It’s happening on Medium

Mostly ramblings, for now. My hope is it will get better, my writing becoming more fluid as the days progress. 

We’ll see. 

Dissecting Healthtap’s onboarding process

Googling for medical advice doesn’t always bring up the most relevant results. 


WTF happens backstage at the stone pony???

That’s why I’m thankful Healthtap exists! Over 1 million questions have already been answered by doctors. 

Let’s check out their onboarding process:

I love the large images - they’re well shot and instills a sense of trust. I think it’d be better if it wasn’t a carousel. Studies show carousels annoy people, and convert worse


Embedded in the 3rd screen of the large carousel… is a small carousel. Double ugh. Carousels aren’t all bad, but if you do it, they need to be done right.


I’m not quite sure whether the search bar or “sign up” is the stronger call to action, but I clicked the button since it wasn’t moving. 


I love how signing up only requires e-mail and password. I’ve seen other medical sites hit you with a barrage of fields. 

I question the video placement though. If users are already intent on signing up, I’d let them progress through the flow instead of learning more. I also initially missed the “free” banner. I would instead change the CTA text to: “Sign up for free” (or a variation). 


Step 1. The progress indicator is great - I love how step 1 is already lit up. This makes people more likely to continue through the flow because of the endowed progress effect


The country selection is sorted alphabetically. It would be more intuitive to sort them by popularity because people don’t think A-Z 


Step 2. Let’s say I want to learn more about breast cancer (my mom survived). 


Step 3. Here are doctors I can follow. As a new users, I’m not sure what doc score means. Are they doctors who answer a lot of questions, or the ones who are most relevant to me?


And since I was interested in learning about breast cancer, I’d find doctors with cancer expertise most relevant. Perhaps relevant specialities can be highlighted. 


Step 4. I’m prompted to find my doctor by entering his/her name. The auto-complete is a nice touch as I’ve had multiple doctors and can’t recall their full name. 


And I’m in! First question on my feed: My period was due today, but it has not showed up. Am I pregnant?


If you were backstage at the stone pony, you might be.


Hope this helps! I think I’ll test their mobile app next!


Oh yeah, follow me on twitter @LennsHu! I share (occasionally) awesome UX articles.

Always Room to Improve: a usability study on travel app Peek

Peek is an activities and tours booking site that just launched an awesome new iOS app last month. It’s simple, beautiful, and well organized. 


As a fan of the app, I thought it was well designed, and fairly intuitive. 

But what do “normals” think?

So I recruited a few friends (who don’t work in tech) to test it. I encouraged them to think out loud and explore for a few minutes before giving them specific tasks to complete.

This is what I observed:

Booking options confused people

What’s the difference? Should I book or should I call?


This “Call to Book” option is actually visible on the upper-right corner throughout the 4-step flow. Here, in the final step, users also had questions about the default blank e-mail state. 


“I think I would call if I needed more info. I’d rather book it online though.”

-Ronald Alunan

Users assumed Napa activities  would be listed under San Francisco

When tasked to book an activity in Napa (users are SF locals), most looked through the activities in San Francisco, then used search, before returning to dig through activities again. They did this futilely for several minutes. To complete the task, they actually had to first switch their city to Napa.


After seeing people visibly frustrated, I had to step to move the test along.

"I would have given up. Napa is usually listed under San Francisco in guide books." 

- Kevin Huang

Nobody discovered tapping their current city opens the location menu

Although not a huge issue as location is accessible under the main menu, it would have cued users and mitigated a lot of unnecessary frustration in the previous task.


People weren’t sure what the “map view” icon does

When I inquired, most thought it was either a check-in or showed your current location. Interestingly, when I gave a task to look for activities in a particular neighborhood, users preferred to use search over city guides or map view (even after they discovered it was map view). 


Users weren’t sure if Peek prices are discounted

This may prevent some from booking if they have seen a similar deal on a discount site. 


"So, is this like Groupon, or is it retail?" 

- Ronald Alunan

Event duration mistaken as travel time. 

Some thought it meant ETA to activity location.


Nobody read the City Guides

People saw the wall of text and tapped through within seconds. Admittedly, I tested locals, so I’m curious if people planning a trip elsewhere would read the guides. 


Nonetheless, they can still can be improved. The guides inform people what to do/see without clear direction on how to do it.

People loved the visuals, so I believe replacing it with full page photos of a few interesting scenes in the neighborhood, along with short descriptive captions would much more delightful.


I didn’t spot any issues that would break the product (unless you were an SF local looking for stuff in Napa). Even as people were confused about the “call to book” option, they still progressed through the flow.

Redesigning the flow:

It sounds like Peek’s users are either booking their activities last minute, or even making plans as they are on vacation, as VentureBeat reported:

Peek said that only one in five people plan their vacation in advance, and this app is geared toward last-minute bookers.

Because of this, I think the activities page can be improved.

Things that bother me on the current page:

The photos on top are not expandable — they’re gorgeous, and visuals communicate faster than words. And I think the date selectors are unnecessary as there are opportunities to pick dates directly before AND after this screen; the precious space above the fold can be better used.


Because last minute bookers and are probably distracted, I think the activity descriptions are too heavy, imposing unnecessary cognitive load.


For my re-design, I had 2 inspirations:

1.) I love Hotel Tonight’s layout here. Only the necessary information is displayed while the details are hidden kept to another page.


2.) In contrast, AirBnb has a long-form page for its layout, with more detailed information available in the main flow, and landscape photographs staggered throughout.


It’s interesting to see the difference between the two approaches. One consideration is the uniqueness of personal homes vs chain hotels. Chain hotels are pretty standard, so users already have a solid idea of what to expect, while the quality of personal homes can vary, and users need more info to make a buying decision.

Because Peek’s activities are varied and unique, I thought an Airbnb-like layout, but with scannable text, would be most successful.

More importantly, as the activities and events Peek sells are “experiences”, I wanted users to be able to imagine themselves doing it. After all, people buy emotionally, THEN verify rationally.

My re-design:

I think captions on photos draw users into a compelling story. They may take up visual real estate, but in this case, I think they are worth it. 

I also put a review blurb above the fold, replacing the activity details. It’s a blurb, because users don’t need to read an essay, they just need to know it’s legit and fun. 

Here, I expect users to scan the page, flick through a few photos, then tap to expand.


Gorgeous photos (preferably portraits to fit peoples’ default orientation) paired with descriptive captions are key. If people can imagine themselves in the experience through expanded photos, they’re practically sold. The rest of the booking flow will be filtered through confirmation-biased eyes.


I took a cue from Airbnb and put another photo further down the page to emotionally re-engage users when they scroll.

Also, understanding that our users are distracted, and that mobile content is twice as difficult to understand, I truncated the details into more digestible bullet-points and hid the nitty-gritty behind a separate page, presenting only the minimum information required to make a buying decision.


Lastly, I placed the location at the end. 


That’s it! What do you think? Do my design decisions make sense?

If you enjoyed this post, please say hi on Twitter! I occasionally link interesting articles!


I’m currently studying UX @Tradecraft under the tutelage of Laura Klein and Kate Rutter. Will be graduating and looking for exciting opportunities March 2014.

Groupon Getaways UX: 2 easy ways to eliminate frustration

I’ve always liked looking at Groupon Getaways when I have a case of wanderlust. 


The problem is, there are seemingly hundreds of Getaways, and no way to filter through them.

The search function isn’t specific to Getaways (combs through the entire site), and only returns matching terms. As you see here, both deals are all-inclusive, but searching “all-inclusive” will only return the 2nd trip. 


After scrolling around a dozen pages without seeing the “perfect” deal, fatigue sets in, and I give up.



I’d find filters and a map view very useful! 


Filter options

I might have included too many filters, so perhaps the “Deal type” can be eliminated, if deals outside North America are by default all-inclusive.

Also, the number of results is displayed on the bottom, so there’s no chance of people applying the filter and seeing a very frustrating “no results” state. 


Map view

This is useful for obvious reasons. Groupon actually already has map view in another part of the iOS app, so I would assume implementing it with Getaways wouldn’t be a huge hurdle. 


SUCCESS! I can finally find relevant travel deals!!!




additional questions:

How likely do people to book Getaways on Mobile? Is improving usability here worth the resources? Are there any downsides of adding these 2 features? What’s a better way to organize the filters? 

Another interesting idea for Swoon

Expanding upon a female-only feature I suggested for dating app Swoon, I had another interesting idea today. 

From Mashable article:

"If a women is evaluating a guy, she cares a lot more about what her friends think than if a guy’s evaluating a girl," said Greg Tseng, CEO of Tagged. "Sharing to either get some feedback or introduce someone as a possibility, that’s a very female-focused feature."

With this, I think the Swoon team is developing a feature that allows females to send profiles to their friends and get their recommendations. That makes sense. 

This might work as well: Allow females to create a group with their friends and suggest matches for each other. 

It’ll work like this:


When a female sees someone who is perfect for a friend, she hits the orange button to propose a match. 


Modal window pop-ups (as opposed to a new page, user stays in core flow), and she can propose a match with one of  her friends.


Once a match is proposed, others in the group can vote. If passed, the dude will be notified and be allowed to chat, if he chooses to. 

The friend in the group will not be notified of the proposed match or any details of the vote. She will only know she’s been set up with someone when she receives a message. If the guy sees her profile and decides she’s not his type, he simply does not make contact. This way, there is no explicit rejection and everything is gravy.

This feature may be good for a few reasons:

  • Increases number of times users open the app (gotta vote). This will build a habit. 
  • Increase amount of matches without exposing females to an overwhelming amount of unwanted messages. 
  • When nudged by friends, there is pressure to move forward and potentially result in more real-life meetings. 
  • Girls like to play matchmaker and gossip anyways, right? Perfect.


What do you think? Yes? No? Gimme a tweet or something!