Presented by Steve Wendel, author of Designing for Behavior Change and organizer of Action Design DC.

The Five Stages of Processing Before Users Act

  • Conscious actions pass through a number of stages before execution: cue, reaction, evaluation, ability, and timeliness.
  • All five of these actions must occur at the same time.
  • No one wants to retire poor, yet we don’t save.

Step 1: Detect a Cue

  • The buzz of a cell phone. No one stares at their phone and waits for a TXT message.
  • Does your application appropriately cue users?

Step 2: React Intuitively, Emotionally

  • We have an immediate, intuitive reaction to cues. We can’t help this.
  • HelloWallet presents budgeting as a “Wellness Score.”

Step 3: Conscious Evaluation

  • What are the costs and benefits associated with taking this action?

Step 4: Ability

  • Does the user know what to do? Can they do it? Do they believe they can succeed?
  • 500px’s iOS app onboarding process explains the basics of the app to new users.

Step 5: Timeliness

Jim Rohn: “Without a sense of urgency, desire loses it’s value.”

  • Is the action urgent? Is it urgent relative to other external factors that may require action?
  • The Washington Post’s homepage relies on inherent urgency. News stories tend to disappear over time.
  • Twitter created inherent urgency. Tweets remain available but the sense is that they won’t be.


Techcrunch has built a strong cue between themselves and technology news. Someone mentions a new tech gadget, your brain immediately thinks to visit Techcrunch’s website. News websites prey on user’s Fear of Missing Out.

The benefit is knowledge, being a part of hype, exclusivity. The cost is time. Benefit generally outweighs the cost.

The five steps are a checklist for a product.

How to Improve Your Users’ Likelihood of Voluntary Action

  • The actions are a funnel, starting with the cue.

CREATE: Cue, Reaction, Evaluation, Ability, Time Pressure, Execute Action

  • A user could bail at any of these steps for various reasons.
  • Knowing where your product goes wrong at any of these steps is key.

Three Strategies to Pass the Funnel

  1. Conscious choice.
  2. Build a habit through simple repetition.
  3. Cheat. Shift the burden of work from the individual to the product.


In the financial world, auto-enrollment in services is one of the most popular way to cheat. The power of defaulting.

Step 1: How to Cue

  • Get in people’s line of sight.
  • Become part of the environment.
  • Become part of routines.
  • Hook into stuff people already attend to.
  • Avoid crowded places (like email).

Step 2: Pass the Emotional Test

  • Don’t be ugly. Don’t make a painful, ugly product. Medium feels like a newspaper, not a “crappy old blog.” Hook into things people already love.
  • Tailor to the user’s prior experiences.

Step 3: Provide Value

Step 4: How to Pass the Ability Test

  • Show them how.
  • Make them confident.
  • Or, cheat.

Step 5: How to Pass the Timeliness Test

  • Make it urgent. (e.g. The Rolly Clock)
  • Make it specific.
  • Ask users to pre-commit.

Specificity has a power that vagueness doesn’t.