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When it comes to mastering consumer behavior in websites such as eCommerce, we always refer to the Fogg's behaviour model.

In UX, we always study human behavior and use the information to create a human-centered design. Today, we will discuss Fogg's Behaviour Model UX and use this model as a given unprecedented opportunity to understand behavior on a deeper level.

This article will also cover the following topics:

Back in the day, studying human behavior, and psychological and social studies were known to provide us with good research and correlations. However, they also lacked external validity, making it a challenge for us to transfer the findings into the real world.

Fast forward to today, we are now in a completely different situation. Thanks to the advancements in technology, we now have the right tools to test hypotheses founded through empirical research on highly-trafficked platforms such as eCommerce websites.

However, given the opportunity to test real human behavior along with scientific models to meet the needs of the digital space, why do we still fail to create new behaviors?

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When it comes to creating a new behavior, we need to think first about the final action. For example, we want to cut our daily carb intake. We need to think about our willpower to be able to do this.

Then you thought that you want to cut your carb intake now as you believe that this is the best way to get the change you want in life. So the next action you take is to simply stop and think why you are eating all that carbs. You just simply begin not to eat carbs.

On the first several days, you feel in control. You didn’t take any carbs and you were feeling great. However, during the 5th day, you just came back to your home feeling exhausted and your habit to take your daily carb cravings came back and for that your blame yourself making yourself feel worst.

Is this case sounds familiar to you? You may have also experienced a similar thing when it comes to creating new behaviors or habits to adapt. Since you do not have the right tools to analyze why behavior happens and how you should tackle it, then you will repeat the same process over and over again.

Additionally, the motivation, and willpower you've used to create a new habit happen to be the worst way to create it.

Why is this so? Simply because motivation is finite and by nature is something that varies through time and space. And finally, because you are thinking big and when you fail, you make yourself feel bad. And nobody learns by feeling bad.

Now, comes the solution on why we need the Fogg model to help us create new behaviors.

Fogg model: Taking one step at a time

One of the first things we need to know about the Fogg model is it teaches us to take little steps at a time and celebrate each accomplishment of new behavior.

The Fogg model is about creating a behavior by starting with a little step and celebrating each accomplishment after.

Why little steps?

It is better to do little steps at a time since we are not relying so much on huge amounts of motivation or willpower. It is easy to accomplish things faster because it requires no motivation to do them. Additionally, it lets us increase our ability, which is very important (we will discuss this further later in the post).

Why celebrate every accomplishment?

This is naturally programmed in our brain system. We react positively to a positive reaction and we are more prone to make that action in the near future because our reward system wants it.

The good thing about the Foggs model is that it recognizes every accomplishment made. So, instead of making yourself or another feel bad when certain behaviors occur, celebrate it every time something good happens. Do not focus on the failures too much.

The history of Fogg's Model?

BJ Fogg founded the Behaviour Design Lab at Stanford University in 1998. While a doctoral student at Stanford in the 1990s, Fogg ran the first-ever series of experiments to discover how computers could change people’s attitudes and behaviors, which he called “persuasive technology.” This research won him a Stanford Maccoby Prize.

What is Fogg's Behaviour Model?

The Fogg behaviour model states that any behavior will only happen when three elements converge at the same moment in time. These three elements include:

  • Motivation (Users are motivated enough to engage in the behavior)
  • Ability (Users are able to perform the behavior)
  • Prompt (Users are prompted at the right time for the behavior to occur)

While the Fogg model is fairly straightforward and easy to understand, it is not always the case when it comes to real-life situations.

Fogg suggests three things need to converge at the same moment for a behavior to happen. These are motivation, ability, and a prompt. If a behavior does not occur at least one of those three elements is missing.

The behavior model shows us that behavior is the result of three elements coming together at one moment in time (B=MAP).

For the ability to perform a target behavior, increasing the motivation or ability of a user will increase the likeliness of the behavior happening.

Secondly, that for behavior to occur, it needs to be prompted.

Lastly, the motivation or ability of the Fogg behavior model can be traded off, which means if motivation is very high, the ability can be low, and vice versa.

Digital products most of the time do not do well when it comes to promoting behavior prompts. Yes, we can see actual prompts like spam, pop-ups, and ads, but these rarely convert to users behavior since there is a low motivation to do what the prompt says. In addition, email alerts, bouncing icons, and notifications are prompts but can be too annoying and distracting.

When we are ready to occur at least one behavior, we can do with a well-timed prompt instead. But this won't be the case when it comes to low motivation for that specific behavior. This too can result in a distraction. In reverse, when we do want to perform a prompted behavior, but lack occur motivation ability, it can be frustrating.

Thus, in order to dig deeper into timed prompts, let us first discuss and examine the prerequisites of what makes these prompts work: A sufficient behavior to occur motivation and to occur motivation ability in the first place.


Technically, when you think about it, the user who visits your website already has the behavior to occur motivation simply because they already clicked the link to your website. Now, your role is to help these users do what they already want to do on the page. Thus, you can already guess based on the Fogg behavior model: the more motivated people are to do a behavior, the more likely they will do it.

On your website, you may increase the level users motivation and ability to perform by creating effective sales copies. However, if you’re trying to artificially prompt motivation for behavior to happen, you are definitely going in the wrong direction.
Motivation is a term that’s used widely across various fields. BJ Fogg created a framework for motivation that has three core motivators, each with two sides. 

The three core motivators

Pleasure and pain

The first motivator has two sides: pleasure and pain. This kind of motivator is different from the others because the result of this motivator is immediate.

In this kind of motivator, the users almost have no time to think or anticipate anything. Instead, people's behaviour is always responding to the moment. Pleasure and pain are considered to be primitive responses related to self-preservation. Such examples are hunger, sex, and other related behaviour in order to the humankind going.

In addition, these motivators: pleasure and pain are very powerful motivators. This is one of the first things to be considered when you are trying to have high motivation levels. However, t kind of his motivator may not be the ideal approach, especially with pain. But of course, a thorough review of motivation means you are also considering these options.

Hope and fear

Hope and fear are the second motivators. This dimension is characterized by anticipation of an outcome. Hope is the anticipation of something good happening while fear is the anticipation of something bad happening, oftentimes referring to the anticipation of loss.

The second motivator can be considered to be more powerful than pleasure and pain. For example, in some situations, people will accept pain (buying home insurance) in order to overcome fear (anticipation of your house burning down). However bear in mind that there’s no ranking of core motivators, so you should always give it some thought as to which one is the most appropriate to use.

Hope and fear have long been powerful motivators in persuasive technology. For example, people are motivated by hope when joining a dating website. They are motivated by fear when they update settings in virus software.

BJ Fogg himself considers hope as the most ethical and empowering motivator.

Social acceptance and rejection

The third core motivator has these two sides: social acceptance and social rejection. It impacts everything from the clothes we wear to the language we use.

As you probably know well from your own life experiences, people are motivated to do things that win them social acceptance and status. People are especially motivated to avoid any negative consequences like being socially rejected.

The roots of this are again deep in the history of the human race –  we depended on living in groups to survive. Regardless of the origin of the social motivator, the power over us is undeniable. We don’t need to look far to see evidence for this – even a simple thing like posting pictures on Facebook is driven significantly by the desire to be socially accepted.


Ability is all about whether the task at hand is easy to do. If you want them to sign up for your product, but it takes filling 10 fields to do so, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Remember the $300 million dollar button story? A classic example of how taking action was made too difficult by forcing buyers to create an account first.

Ability is more important than motivation. If I’m committed to eat healthy – my motivation is super high – but there’s no healthy food around when I’m hungry, it’s very difficult to take desired action and I’ll probably grab something unhealthy instead. Motivation alone is not enough.

Its easier to increase conversions by making it easier to do, not by increasing motivation. If you have to choose what to optimize for, always choose ability over motivation. Become a master of simplification, not motivation.   Have it as your goal to always make taking action as easy as 1-2-3. The more “work” prospects need to do to understand and/or buy what you offer, the higher motivation is needed. Some think they need to teach or train people to use their software to address the ability issue – which is a good idea on paper  – however most people don’t want to be taught and trained. They want single click-and-done behaviors. Also – don’t ask people to do something that’s against their routine. If they put their kids to sleep at 8pm, don’t have your webinar at 8 pm.


Without an appropriate trigger, the behavior will not occur even if both motivation and ability are high.

Let’s say you read a blog post on this blog. You find it useful (motivation), and decide to share it with your followers on Twitter (ability – easy to do). Once you hit the ‘tweet’ button, you see this: That’s a trigger – urging you to follow me on Twitter. You weren’t thinking about following me, but now it’s right there. You probably have the motivation since you just shared my content, and you definitely have the ability – it just takes one click.

The trigger is what prompts you to take action: green light at the intersection, a lady in the supermarket asking you “would you like a sample?” or an email from your spouse saying “Call me right now”.

A call to action on a website is a trigger. Be careful what the content of the trigger. You need to trigger the right sequence of baby steps. If you’re selling $50,000 cars, the first trigger should not be “buy now”.

BJ Fogg likens this to the metaphor of swimming. You wouldn’t expect a person to just jump in the water and start swimming. Instead, you need step-by-step instructions and build up. BJ believes this is how we should approach health behavior; providing individuals with small steps towards large success.

An example of a successful trigger would be getting an email from Facebook saying your friend tagged you on a photo. Who hasn’t responded to being tagged on a Facebook image?

Obsess about triggers like your business depended on it (since it does)

If you want your business to thrive and keep the sales coming in, you need to obsess about triggers! Don’t be afraid to use them – a trigger is not a nag, you’re helping them. You just need to make sure that you focus on triggering people that have the ability or motivation:

  • If you trigger people at the right time, they will thank you.
  • If you trigger then when they lack ability, they’ll get frustrated.
  • If you trigger people when they don’t have motivation (e.g. asking people to shop for Christmas present in September), you’re annoying people.

Kinds of triggers: hot and cold

Hot triggers are things you can do right now (e.g. buttons saying “Get immediate access” or “Download now”). Cold triggers are things that one cannot act on right now (e.g. billboard ads for a website you spot while driving).

BJ Fogg’s mantra for effective website design is: to put “hot triggers” in the path of motivated people.

Don’t try to artificially create motivation, but instead tap an existing motivation people already have. It’s very difficult to motivate people to do something they don’t want to already do. Understand what motivation already exists then make it easy to get done.

Understanding behavior types

Step 1: Understanding the target behavior

It has to be as specific as possible if you want to boost conversions.

Step 2: Understand target behavior type

BJ Fogg describes 15 ways behavior can change. Each of the 15 behaviors types uses different psychology strategies and persuasive techniques.

Types of behaviors:

  • Dot — It happens just once (e.g. they buy your e-book)
  • Span — It happens over a period of time, like for 7 days (e.g. they take part of your 7-day course)
  • Path — It happens over and over, from now on. (e.g. they join your social networking site and start hanging out there)

There are  5 sub-types for each three:

Most online conversions (join email list, sign up, buy product) are either green dot (taking a single action for the first time) or blue dot behaviors (taking a familiar single action).

Optimizing for green dot behavior – first time single action

Green dot behaviors are often used in the beginning stages of complex behavior inductions. For example, if a company is interested in creating a loyal, repeat customer, they might start off with a small introductory offer. This can then lead to more extensive, prolonged relations and, eventually, habitual purchasing behavior.

The main challenge that we face while triggering a Green Dot behavior is a lack of ability. Since Dot behaviors occur only once, the subject must have enough knowledge to successfully complete the action on the first attempt. Otherwise, frustration, and quitting, may occur.

  • Couple the trigger with a motivational or facilitative element.
  • Increase the ability of the subject by explaining the novel behavior in terms of one that is familiar.
  • Increase the motivation of the subject by explicitly highlighting the benefits of the action.

Optimizing for blue dot behavior – familiar single action

Blue Dot Behaviors are among the easiest to achieve. That’s because the person, by definition, is already familiar with the behavior. They know how to perform it (such as exercise, plant a tree, buy a book). In addition, they already have a sense of the costs and benefits for the behavior.

  • Three core motivators: sensation (pleasure/pain), anticipation (hope/fear), and belonging (acceptance/rejection)
  • Best trigger: tell the visitor person to “do this behavior now.”

Creating a conversion-ready website with the Fogg behavior model

Make sure that as you implement the takeaways from this model, you stay consistent in your messaging and design. Customers set expectations when they are exposed to your brand online and offline. Ensure that the standards are met (or exceeded) as you design your website.

Keep a close eye on your analytics to gauge which landing pages are succeeding as well as which are lagging behind. Heat map tools might also be a solution to finding those areas of improvement. But, most importantly, be sure to understand your customer’s expectations, motivations, and behavior.

The goal is to ultimately remove shoppers’ barriers to conversion. By providing a service and experience free of hiccups, these barriers will disappear.

This customer-centric approach will not only improve the UX for your customers. But you will benefit from an improved conversion rate. Just keep in mind, don’t go overboard with persuasion prompts. Shoppers are sharp, and they will catch on to any attempts to con them or blatant attempts of manipulation.

Run tests, collect feedback, (re)iterate. If done appropriately, all those involved come out with more satisfaction.


To summarize, keep the following in mind:

  • Motivation, ability, and a prompt are needed to nudge desired behavior.
  • Motivation is the most difficult to increase but can be encouraged by appealing to the users’ motivators (or cognitive biases).
  • Ability can be best increased by making your site simple to use.
  • Different prompts are needed for different situations, make sure you design with users’ motivation and ability in mind.
  • Test, test, test!

At all times, there will be more than one behavior competing for our attention. Several motivation waves will similarly at all times overlap, each requiring its own different behavior. For example, we can be struck by a motivational wave to get back in shape and start exercising, while at the same time, we get a call from the school our kid goes to, that he or she got hurt. In this case, you would hopefully feel more motivated to pick up your son or daughter from school, than you would go to the gym. At all times, we are choosing between competing behaviors and motivation waves.

Breaking big tasks up into small baby steps, which wouldn’t require as much motivation to perform, is a great strategy for managing to do both. BJ Fogg advocates for building up tiny habits, letting users take baby steps, to begin with, simply to lower the needed ability to start a behavior.

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Mary Ann Dalangin

About the author

A content marketing strategist and a UX writer with years of experience in the digital marketing industry.

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