How TikTok’s design engages users

I’m a big fan of behavioral psychology, and I love to analyze the design of popular apps to determine what methods they use to attract and engage users. Today you will learn how TikTok attracts new users, forms habit cycles, manages our behavior, and forces us to keep using the app. Let’s get started! 👇

registration

It all starts with the registration screen. It’s pretty cool – everything is clear and focused on user actions without distractions like onboarding. Of course, TikTok can afford it, because many people already know what it is and why register with it. Therefore, the designers focused all their efforts on keeping the registration screen clean and clear.

Also notice how they organized the selection architecture for registration options. They only show three options at a time while hiding the rest.

TikTok designers know Hick’s Law:

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The more options users have, the more difficult it is for them to make a choice.

Thus, there is no need to place all available options at once. You can show the options you want first, making it easier for users to choose.

The registration process is quick and easy. You must indicate your birthday, phone or email and confirm it. One task per step is a common solution, as users find it easier to complete a complex task if it is broken down into smaller ones. Also, like Tinder, TikTok automatically provides you with your current mobile number and verification code.

Why is this a smart move? TikTok designers know the essence of motivating people:

If you want people to do something, keep it as simple as possible.

This is the essence of BJ Fogg’s behavioral theory. To get a person to do something, you need three things: motivation, ability and trigger… Together they create a simple formula for human behavior. To do something, people need desire, the ability to do it, and a trigger that will push them to take action. It’s hard to manage people’s motivation, but you can keep the product as simple as possible.

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How TikTok's design engages users

TikTok takes every opportunity to reduce the number of interactions it requires from the user. You don’t even need to remember and then manually dial the phone number – just one tap is enough. The country code is already entered according to your phone’s location settings, so you don’t have to search for it in a long list. After a short onboarding, the first time TikTok tweaks your feed content and teaches you how to use the app, you’re ready to go.

How TikTok's design engages users

Getting to know the app

Once a user has created an account, the designer’s main goal is to keep them in the app. TikTok does this in two ways.

They immediately show you an auto-playing video after a short contextual onboarding. 15 million views? Wow, there is a high probability that this will be an interesting video, and the user will want to watch it to the end and, possibly, like or share it with friends. It is very wise to show the best material first in order to hook the user and make them want to watch such content. TikTok creates a positive experience from the first seconds of using the app, and you literally don’t have to do anything to do so. Just one video per screen is a powerful idea. TikTok focuses on content, so you don’t need to be distracted by other videos.

How TikTok's design engages users

Take a look at these prominent notifications at the top and bottom of the screen. The first one shows the user that there are new videos from the accounts I follow. However, I am not following anyone. TikTok automatically subscribed me to a popular account (with cats, of course). This is a good way to solve the blank state problem for this screen. Instead of showing the user the text “Follow someone to watch their video,” they are already showing content.

Another notification in the navigation menu shows that you have two messages in your inbox. This is another example of a reasonable solution to the empty state problem. They show real content on the screen, telling the user how it works, and you have the option to place a call to action to nudge users to start recording a video or broadcast.

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When you go to the Account screen, you will see an animated tooltip that prompts you to create your first video and also explains how to do it. This animation grabs your attention and leads to the main action – video recording. Why is it important? Because content is the fuel of TikTok. The more interesting videos they have, the more likely users will come back to check if there is something new to watch.

TikTok feed

How TikTok's design engages users

Simplicity is at the core of the TikTok app. A simple swipe – and you have everything you need. Tinder also uses this gesture as its primary interaction model.

TikTok’s designers have created a user-friendly navigation. Content takes up the entire viewing area. Additional content such as author name, description, music, and reaction icons (eg, share, comment) are conveniently located in the thumb zone.

The number of views, likes, comments and reposts allows the user to quickly form an opinion about the video. The more likes, the more chances of viewing. This is why video creators try to get as many likes as possible, because they know that users will rate accounts on these values.

The TikTok feed is endless, so you can flip through it looking for interesting videos almost forever. Ease of interaction and focus on content are combined with the primary method of user retention. The same principle as in slot machines – variable reward. You don’t know what awaits you next – a cool story or a funny video – so you keep scrolling through the feed. This is a truly powerful method for drawing users’ attention to your product. Instagram did the same until it added the message “You’re all caught up” to break this cycle and give users the opportunity to stop interacting.

How TikTok's design engages users

The cool feature of the TikTok feed is the very smart algorithm. It takes into account the time you spent watching a particular video, your interactions with it (for example, commenting, flagging the video as not interesting), and highly rated universal content (cats again). This allows them to fill your feed with videos that you would like to watch. They require little interaction but generate an interesting feed.

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Maintain context for the user

How TikTok's design engages users

Another interesting principle of interaction with TikTok is the use of the bottom sheet for comments, sharing, and so on. This allows the user to stay in the context of the video and reduces the chances of them leaving the home screen. In addition, the bottom sheet is in the thumb area, which is easy to reach.

Video creation

How TikTok's design engages users

Making videos on TikTok is as easy as the rest of the app. Record or upload a video, add music from your library, add filters or effects, and you’re done. After you’ve downloaded a video, the notification at the top of the screen offers you several ways to share your new video. This is another great example of using a math model – you keep users motivated, make sharing easier, and give a trigger to start sharing videos at a time when it makes sense.

TikTok limits video length to 1 minute, which is another way to boost creativity. Limits such as 280 characters on Twitter encourage creators to use their imagination to live up to those limits and create cool content.

Immediately after uploading a video, TikTok should check if you have used the automatically generated nickname and suggest making it more personalized. Another great trigger point when you are most motivated. If they sent this message while the user was scrolling through the feed, it could be confusing. You are watching videos with cats and do not want to change your nickname now. But when you’re doing something related to a nickname, it’s time to ask a question.

Output

As you can see, TikTok uses many principles of behavioral psychology to get its customers involved. Using ease of interaction and engaging content, they created an app that users will come back to.

TikTok reminds me of a mix of Instagram, Coub and Snapchat, taking the best of them and spicing it up with clever algorithms and a mathematical model. And this is great because you are using interaction patterns that millions of users are familiar with. People don’t need anything new; they want the familiar to be done differently.

By the way, don’t forget to follow the author of the article on TikTok 🤙

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