Using Intentional Patterns to Drive User Engagement

Have you ever noticed progress bars stuck at 90%, headlines teasing “You won’t believe what happens next!”, or conversational pauses waiting for your reply?

These intentional gaps are no accident – they leverage psychology to influence behavior. Keep reading to unlock the science behind crafting intentionally incomplete experiences that spark action.

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What are Intentional Patterns in UX Design?

Intentional patterns in user experience (UX) design refer to gaps or breaks that are strategically built into digital interfaces to encourage specific user actions. These patterns create a sense of incompleteness that motivates users to take steps to fill in the missing pieces.

Let’s break down what exactly intentional patterns are and how they work:

Defining Intentional Patterns

Intentional patterns create gaps in an interface that users feel compelled to complete. Here are some examples of common intentional patterns:

  • Visual gaps: Images or layouts with obvious gaps that draw the eye, such as a prominent blank space where something seems missing.
  • Conversational gaps: Chatbot interactions that pause at strategic moments, prompting the user to respond.
  • Interactive gaps: Forms, workflows, or onboarding flows that have teaser content or locked features before asking the user to sign up.
  • Progress gaps: Features like profile completeness bars that highlight unfinished steps.

These patterns leverage basic psychological principles to influence user behavior. Just like an unfinished task triggers the Zeigarnik Effect in our minds, intentional gaps spark a motivation to take action within an interface.

Creating Gaps That Motivate

Intentional patterns work because humans have an innate need for closure. When we perceive something as incomplete or interrupted, we feel compelled to resolve it.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • Quora intentionally surfaces intriguing questions in users’ feeds – even unanswered ones – to spark curiosity. The gap is a lack of information, which motivates clicking to learn more.
  • Pinterest highlights blank spots for new Pins when a user first opens a Board. This gap indicates where the user needs to take action to complete their collection.
  • LinkedIn displays profile completeness meters. The gap shows how much is left to do before reaching 100%. Users feel driven to fill out their profiles.
  • Spotify’s shuffled playlists intentionally leave gaps between songs. This gap triggers a craving for more music, leading to increased streaming time.

In each case, the interface creates a gap that users feel motivated to fill in order to alleviate the sensation of incompleteness. This compels specific actions aligned with business goals.

Types of Intentional Patterns

While intentional gaps commonly leverage visual or interactive elements, they can take many forms. Some patterns types include:

Conversational: Chatbots can pause at strategic moments or ask incomplete questions to prompt user responses.

Interactive: Teaser or locked content creates a gap in functionality that users want to unlock by signing up.

Visual: Images, illustrations, or layouts with empty spaces that draw attention to create anticipation.

Progress-based: Checklists, meters, and trackers that highlight unfinished steps trigger motivation to complete them.

Feed-based: Scrolling feeds where gaps between items drive continuous scrolling to fill the space.

Information-based: Posing intriguing questions or providing partial information sparks curiosity to learn more.

Whatever form they take, effective intentional patterns balance teasing content while ensuring the gap can clearly be filled through obvious user actions. Their versatility makes them widely applicable, but they should be chosen intentionally based on your audience, product, and goals.

Sparking Action by Creating Gaps

At their core, intentional patterns help shape user motivation and behavior. Just like a cliffhanger ending compels you to watch the next episode, intentional gaps give users an incomplete experience that demands to be resolved.

By strategically designing gaps that align with business objectives, UX designers can spark the natural human urge for closure. This drives specific user actions, whether it’s signing up for an account, exploring more content, completing a profile, or continuously engaging with an experience.

So next time you notice an intentionally placed gap while using a digital product, consider how that pattern subtly motivates you to eliminate the sensation of incompleteness. Carefully crafted gaps powerfully influence user actions – a foundational concept in utilizing intentional patterns.

Why Do Intentional Patterns Work?

Intentional patterns are effective at influencing user behavior because they leverage fundamental psychological biases and mental shortcuts. Let’s explore some of the key principles that explain why these patterns can successfully drive actions.

Harnessing the Zeigarnik Effect

One of the most important factors behind intentional patterns is the Zeigarnik Effect. Discovered by psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in the 1920s, this concept refers to our tendency to remember and be preoccupied with unfinished or interrupted tasks.

Zeigarnik found that people have a better memory for incomplete activities compared to completed ones. Our minds crave closure, so unfinished tasks stick in our consciousness, creating a sense of tension and unease.

This innate urge for task completion is precisely why intentional patterns work. Just like an interrupted task, intentional gaps create a sensation of incompleteness. User interfaces strategically trigger this effect to spark action.

For example, consider LinkedIn’s profile progress bar. The unfinished meter sticks in users’ minds, constantly reminding them of steps left to complete their profile. This prods users to fill in missing info to resolve the unease from the Zeigarnik Effect.

Quora also activates this bias by showing unanswered questions in feeds. The lack of information creates tension. By clicking to answer, users get satisfaction from “completing” the incomplete task.

Leveraging Cognitive Biases

Beyond the Zeigarnik Effect, intentional patterns take advantage of other well-studied cognitive biases. These mental shortcuts help explain why gaps compel specific user actions:

Loss aversion: Users are more motivated to avoid losing something than to gain something of equal value. Unfinished progress bars tap into fears of “losing” potential progress if users don’t take action.

Anticipated regret: Being aware of what we might miss out on causes regret and motivates us to take steps to avoid it. Teaser content hints at value users could unlock, which they’ll regret not pursuing.

Curiosity: Intriguing but incomplete information spikes curiosity, which people are driven to satiate by exploring further. Posing unanswered questions creates knowledge gaps that spark curiosity.

Flow state: Challenging but doable tasks provide satisfaction. Locked features present challenges just within reach, pulling users into rewarding flow states.

These principles explain why gaps grab attention and drive behavior. Intentional patterns work because interfaces spark psychological triggers that motivate action.

Fulfilling Innate Needs for Completion

Fundamentally, intentional gaps allow users to fulfill core human needs: completion and progress. Breaking tasks and experiences into achievable steps activates the brain’s reward system.

Even if small, overcoming intentional gaps gives users micro feelings of accomplishment. Step-by-step, this satisfaction pushes people to progress further.

Let’s examine some examples of how intentional patterns satisfy innate human needs:

  • Mastery: Overcoming challenges provides gratification. Gated content offers achievable milestones that impart mastery as users advance.
  • Autonomy: Filling gaps instills a sense of freedom and control. Intentionally incomplete forms allow users to shape experiences on their terms.
  • Progress: Visual momentum builds anticipation and enjoyment of improvement. Progress trackers keep users oriented on development toward goals.
  • Purpose: Intriguing but incomplete information creates purpose in learning more. Posing compelling questions gives users a meaningful reason to explore.

Checklists, unlockable features, teaser content, and unanswered questions all provide small wins. These intentional gaps satisfy our desires for completion, keeping users engaged.

Loss Aversion: Avoiding Potential Downsides

A particularly effective subset of intentional patterns leverage a bias known as loss aversion. This refers to how potential downsides or losses disproportionately influence decisions.

Loss aversion explains why unfinished progress bars powerfully motivate action. Leaving profile steps incomplete feels like squandering an opportunity and losing progress. Users take action to avoid regret and maximize gains.

To see how leveraging loss aversion works, let’s analyze some patterns:

  • LinkedIn’s profile progress meter tracks not just completed steps but total possible steps. This emphasizes steps still left unfinished – losses to be avoided.
  • Quora suggests questions users could answer, framing non-participation as missing out on sharing knowledge. Users are motivated to avoid lost chances to engage.
  • Spotify’s endless playlists minimize gaps between songs to play on listeners’ aversion to lulls. Gaps represent potential downsides of wasted time and tunes.
  • Pinterest highlights empty Board spaces to tap into users’ loss aversion. Not pinning is presented as missing out on completing collections.

In each case, irrational as it may be, not taking action feels like a potential loss. Even small progress bars leverage this quirk of human decision making. Loss aversion adds compelling motivation to eliminate intentional gaps.

Flow State: Compelling Tasks Drive Engagement

Finally, intentional patterns work by pulling users into rewarding flow states. Flow refers to the pleasurable experience of engaging in challenging but doable tasks.

Locked features and teaser content provide fun challenges just within users’ ability level. Pursuing incremental goals activates flow, driving ongoing participation.

For instance, Duolingo’s language learning app introduces new concepts slowly. Gaps in skill tree progress provide attainable challenges that pull users into flow as they complete lessons.

Quora similarly activates flow by posing questions just difficult enough to intrigue users. Answering satisfies users’ desire for knowledge mastery.

When gaps present challenges aligned with abilities, completing them imparts enjoyment. Progress and skill development provide their own intrinsic rewards.

This helps explain why intentional incomplete tasks grab attention until resolved – they provide fun and satisfying experiences. Flow states reinforce users’ motivation to eliminate gaps.

Psychology of Incomplete Experiences

Intentional patterns succeed by tapping into the inherent pleasure and gratification of eliminating gaps. Our minds crave completion, sparking unconscious biases that drive behavior.

Leveraging psychological principles provides a pathway to motivate user actions while enhancing satisfaction. Small incomplete tasks deliver compounding micro-wins that keep users engaged over the long-term.

So while intentional gaps may seem trivial on the surface, they have an outsized influence rooted in our shared fundamental human psychology.

Best Practices For Leveraging Intentional Patterns

Now that we’ve explored what intentional patterns are and why they work, let’s examine some best practices for effectively using gaps to boost engagement. Follow these guidelines to implement intentional patterns successfully:

Keep Gaps Obvious But Not Frustrating

The gap created should be apparent and explicitly highlight what needs to be done to complete the action. However, it should not be so vague that users become confused or so difficult that it creates excessive frustration.

Some ways to follow this principle:

  • For progress trackers, make the unfinished steps clear while keeping total steps achievable. Don’t let the gap seem insurmountable.
  • Visually, gaps should stand out on the page but still direct focus toward the desired action. Don’t let gaps overwhelm other important elements.
  • Conversationally, pauses should be long enough to spark input but not so long as to seem unnatural or confuse users.
  • Interactively, locked features should tease value but not hide away too much core functionality behind gaps.

Toe the line between gaps being obvious but attainable. Gaps that are too subtle fail to motivate, while those overly challenging frustrate.

Align Gaps With Intrinsic User Goals

Tap into user motivations and goals when choosing where to employ gaps. Aligning gaps with intrinsic motivations maximizes their power to drive actions.

For example:

  • Display progress for profile completeness because users are already motivated to present themselves professionally online.
  • Pose intriguing questions users are curious about instead of random topics they don’t care about.
  • Gate access to cool new features users already want instead of lackluster ones they don’t.

Appeal to existing user goals. This harnesses the motivating power of gaps instead of dragging users toward misaligned goals.

Test Different Patterns To Find Most Effective

Not all gaps work equally for all users. The pattern, placement, and size of gaps can dramatically impact results. The only way to know for sure is to test different options.

A/B test gaps like:

  • Progress bar vs checkbox lists
  • Teaser questions vs intriguing headlines
  • Half-finished onboarding vs mostly complete
  • 20% vs 80% complete meters

Measure the impact on key conversions and engagement metrics to identify patterns that best resonate with your users.

Testing also ensures gaps aren’t going too far and frustrating users. Pay attention to feedback and sentiment to avoid any backlash.

Onboarding Flows: Build Anticipation and Reveal Value

Onboarding is a prime opportunity to pique user interest with intentional gaps. Some best practices:

Tease Key Features Just Out of Reach

Provide a sneak peek at your product’s core value early in onboarding flows. Show exactly enough to demonstrate the possibilities without giving everything away too soon.

For example:

  • A social app could show an empty pending posts section that hints at the ability to post content later.
  • A messaging app might display message templates with locked buttons, teasing the capability to customize them after signup.
  • A fitness app could let users interact with a demo workout tracker that seeds anticipation for unlocking the full tracking features.

These gaps build anticipation and excitement to access the real functionality later in the onboarding flow.

Reveal Core Value Proposition Over Time

Don’t overwhelm users upfront with everything your product can do. Reveal features and messaging around the core value proposition gradually over multiple onboarding touchpoints.

For example:

  • Session 1: Explain only the very first action users should take.
  • Session 2: Highlight the next set of capabilities unlocked after the first session.
  • Session 3: Communicate long-term value users can realize by sticking with your product.

This gives users achievable challenges, a series of micro-wins, and reason to progress. Gaps keep motivation high over time while avoiding cognitive overload.

Visual Hierarchy: Lead the Eye with Intentional Gaps

Gaps in visual layouts can powerfully direct eye movement and focus attention. Some tips:

Draw Attention to Off-Screen Action Areas

Placing clickable buttons, tabs, or content containers near the edge of the screen leaves a gap for users to explore. Their eyes will naturally fall to the empty space and be drawn to take action.

For example, cutting off a content carousel with one final square peeking in from the side sparks curiosity about what else is off-screen.

Use Visual Cues That Lead to Intended Actions

Vectors, motion, and other indicators visually bridge the gap between elements on the page.

For instance, an illustrated map could use arrows to point toward locked areas, guiding users to click there to unlock them. Or hovering over a form field could generate a pulsing animation on the submit button to link them together.

Make sure visual gaps aren’t fully disconnecting elements. Bridges like vectors and motion maintain obvious relationships between gaps to enable easy completion.

Conversational Interfaces: Use Pauses to Prompt

In conversational interfaces like chatbots, well-timed pauses create productive gaps. Some tips:

Pause at Choice Points

When users must make a decision, intentionally pause instead of immediately offering both or all options. The gap allows users a moment to think and craft their own input.

Insert Quick Pauses to Prompt Additional Details

Occasional one second gaps while users explain a problem or make a request encourage them to elaborate with extra helpful context.

Pause After Questions Before Accepting Input

Let questions sink in for a few beats before listening for a response. Rushing into input mode can unintentionally cut off user reactions and thoughts.

Keep pauses brief enough to avoid confusion and maintain conversational flow. But insert intentional gaps to inject opportunities for organic user input.

Onboarding New Users with Intentional Gaps

Onboarding is a key opportunity to orient users and seed ongoing engagement. Let’s explore examples of how companies leverage intentional gaps to onboard users.

Quora: Teaser Questions

Quora focuses heavily on crafting the right teaser questions to show new users in their personalized feeds. These intentionally provocative and intriguing questions spark curiosity, the need for completion.

Some examples include:

  • “What are the most underrated US cities to live in?”
  • “What are some of the best life tips?”
  • “What do insanely wealthy people buy that ordinary people know nothing about?”

These incomplete information gaps hook users’ innate desire for closure. Answering questions provides micro-wins as the first step in long-term learning and contribution.

Duolingo: Gradual Unlocking

Duolingo draws users into flow states by slowly unlocking new lessons and features. New concepts are revealed over time to match advancing abilities.

Rather than overwhelm users, Duolingo introduces small knowledge gaps around vocabulary and grammar. This scaffolds lessons and skills into digestible chunks.

The gradual and intentional revealing of content keeps users challenged but engaged. Mastering lessons activates a sense of progress and control.

Dropbox: Step-By-Step Onboarding

Dropbox elegantly onboard users by revealing features across a multi-step process. Each screen provides a clear and obvious action to move forward.

Gaps are created not just within screens but between steps, with enticing headings like “Install Dropbox on your phone” compelling users to continue.

Concise copy maintains focus on the most immediate gap while hinting at the broader value to come. Gradual onboarding developmentally builds capabilities and knowledge.

Slack: Empty State Screens

Slack onboarding cleverly uses empty state screens that focus attention on key gaps to drive action. For example, the initial empty channel view highlights the ability to create new channels.

Zero state screens pique curiosity about what could be while clearly indicating how users can fill the void. This gap pattern works particularly well at drawing eyes to clickable actions.

Pinterest: Blank Board Spaces

Pinterest activates users’ inner collector instinct by highlighting blank spaces on new Boards. The gap creates anticipation and urgency around populating the Board.

This incomplete state provides clarity about specifically where a user should take action. Visual emptiness draws the eye while reminding users of the progress to be made.

Ongoing Engagement with Intentional Gaps

Beyond onboarding, gaps help drive habitual usage by satisfying innate human needs for completion.

LinkedIn: Profile Completion Meter

Few patterns are as effective at continuous re-engagement as LinkedIn’s profile completion meter. The unavoidable gap stares users in the face every time they return.

Loss aversion kicks in – failing to make progress on the meter feels like squandering an opportunity. The Zeigarnik effect also continually reminds users of this unsatisfying incompletion.

Tracking multiple metric gaps (skills, endorsements, etc) provides stepping stones of progress. Curiosity around what else needs completing keeps users returning.

YouTube: Video Progress Bar

YouTube taps into our need for completion by prominently displaying video progress. The satisfaction of filling the progress bar keeps viewers watching.

Seeing the gap of time left triggers a desire to eliminate the incomplete viewer experience. This engages users until curtains close at 100%.

YouTube also motivates binge watching by autoplaying the next video. This automatically creates another incomplete experience begging for attention.

Instagram: Feed Gaps

Instagram engines continuous scrolling by introducing enticing gaps between photos and videos in the feed.

Variable post spacing intrigues users and creates anticipation around what creators might share next. Curiosity around what fills the incomplete experience drives tapping and scrolling.

Regular gaps interrupt content at unpredictable intervals. This inconsistent pacing exploits users’ zeal for completion by making gaps part of the normal feed experience.

Quora: Unanswered Questions

Quora habitual usage leans heavily on questions that have yet to receive answers. These information gaps provide pure catnip for those seeking completion.

The unfinished nature of questions piques curiosity and draws users in. Answering questions delivers intellectual satisfaction and a sense of contribution.

Optimizing to consistently surface questions with gaps ensures users always have something incomplete to dive into and help complete. This fulfills our need for progress.

Avoiding Common Intentional Pattern Pitfalls

While intentional gaps often boost engagement, some common pitfalls can backfire and frustrate users.

Overusing Onboarding Gaps

Fatiguing users with too many onboarding gaps causes them to drop off before experiencing value. Avoid overengineering guided tours and complex flows.

Prioritize only 1-3 key onboarding gaps to focus attention. Remove unnecessary vanity gaps that force engagement without clear user benefit.

Creating Deceptive Gaps

Patterns that mislead users undermine trust and damage experiences. Never deceive with false progress bars, impossible goals, or fabricated gaps.

Respect users by truthfully representing realities. Unethically tricking users into action delivers short-term results but ruins long-term relationships.

Interrupting Primary Workflows

Plugging gaps into workflows already efficiently satisfying user goals causes disruption. Avoid polluting focused journeys with unnecessary tangents.

For primary tasks, remove obstacles and friction instead of inserting new ones. Reserve gaps to guide discovery of secondary features without interrupting primary objectives.

Dead Ends to Nowhere

Leading users down a winding path of gaps that culminate in disappointment violates their trust. Always reward engagement with meaningful outcomes.

Whether onboarding flows, consuming content feeds, or completing profiles, ensure gaps ultimately reveal features that deliver clear value.

Examples of Effective Intentional Patterns

Let’s explore real-world examples of intentional gaps from popular digital products and analyze what makes them effective at driving user engagement.

Quora: Question Recommendations

Quora leverages the power of incomplete information to re-engage users and increase participation. One of their most effective patterns is highlighting unanswered questions in user feeds.

For example:

  • “What are the most epic ways to quit a job?”
  • “What new skills could everyone learn while social distancing?”
  • “What are some mind blowing facts about the universe?”

These teaser questions create knowledge gaps, playing perfectly into human curiosity. The unfinished nature sticks in users’ minds, subconsciously urging them to take action to “complete” the experience by answering.

Specific elements that make this pattern effective include:

Intriguing Topics: Questions cover interesting topics users naturally want to discuss, rather than random trivia. This aligns gaps with intrinsic motivations.

Curiosity Gap Headlines: Vague “most/best” prompts spark discussion by highlighting missing information users want to share perspectives on.

Subtle Cues: Small visual signifiers highlight unanswered questions, drawing attention without being distracting.

Clear Calls to Action: Buttons clearly enable writing answers, providing obvious direction for completing the gap.

Overall, Quora leverages the Zeigarnik effect and innate curiosity by spotlighting incomplete questions. This brilliantly simple pattern powers the platform.

LinkedIn: Profile Completeness Meter

Few intentional gaps are as ubiquitous or effective as LinkedIn’s profile completeness meter. The unfinished progress bar persistently motivates users to engage and complete their profile.

Key elements that make it work:

Omnipresent Placement: The meter is center stage on every profile, unavoidably drawing attention every visit.

Loss Framing: Displaying “30% complete” frames progress as potential value still left untapped, activating loss aversion.

Clear Completion Criteria: Actionable steps like “Add Skills” indicate specific gaps to be filled.

Incremental Steps: Multi-metric bars break overall progress into digestible sub-goals.

Peer Benchmarking: Seeing connections with 100% complete profiles spurs competitive motivation.

Reward Association: A complete profile unlocks access to premium features, linking progress to upside benefits.

This brilliantly simple gap pattern ties directly into LinkedIn’s core user goals of professional networking and branding. The profile completeness meter is highly effective at driving long-term re-engagement through unsatisfied urges for completion.

Instagram: Feed Gaps

Instagram intrinsically motivates habitual usage by introducing enticing gaps between photos and videos in feeds. Variable spacing between posts sets up a pattern of incomplete experiences for users to fill by continuously scrolling.

Some key elements that make this work:

Variable Inconsistency: Unpredictable gaps sporadically interrupt the feed, interspersing posts with blank negative space.

Curiosity: Gaps create anticipation about what creators will share next. This hooks the innate urge to fill voids.

Infinite Content: The never-ending feed means gaps never fully disappear, enabling endless scrolling.

Fresh Content: New original photos and videos continuously added keep content unpredictable and gaps novel.

Isolation Effect: Prominently centered posts with blank space surrounding them pop out, drawing increased attention after each gap.

Natural Interruption Points: Gaps provide organic opportunities to pause and re-evaluate attention, or choose to proceed to the next post.

By designing an infinite feed filled with teasing gaps in content, Instagram leverages our psychology to fuel addictively scrolling for completion.

Pinterest: Blank Board Spaces

Pinterest taps into its core value proposition by highlighting blank areas on new Boards. This gap pattern visually indicates where users should take action to complete their collections.

For example:

  • A new “Dessert Recipes” Board shows outlines for Pins to save recipes to try.
  • A new “Vacation Ideas” Board displays empty Pin slots to compile destination inspiration.
  • A new “DIY Crafts” Board highlights gaps to fill by saving creative project Pins.

This intentional pattern works because:

Clear Direction: The blank Pin shapes clearly show exactly where to take action. No ambiguity exists about how to fill the gap.

Completion Urge: Visual emptiness triggers an urge to populate the Board and complete the collection, satisfying the Zeigarnik effect.

Ease of Action: The prominent “Save Pin” button makes it effortless to eliminate the gap. Matching the ease of completion to the strength of the cue maximizes results.

Relevance: New users likely created Boards to compile ideas around passions. Highlighting next steps aligns tightly to underlying collector motivations.

Overall, Pinterest’s gap pattern brilliantly pairs strong visual cues toward highly relevant actions. This seamlessly onboards users by directing them to complete personally meaningful collections.

Google: Multi-Step Forms

Google often chunk forms into multiple steps with progress trackers. This intentional pattern improves complex sign-up and data collection by breaking it into more manageable gaps.

Some examples:

  • Gmail account creation distributes steps across multiple screens to be more digestible.
  • Google Pay’s multi-page onboarding sequence chunks money transfers into smaller sub-tasks.
  • Adsense signup flows organize ads code installation into incremental gaps to complete.
  • Analytics guides users through funnel creation using a step wizard with satisfaction of checking off each part.

Key elements that enable this pattern to be effective:

Incremental Steps : Multi-page flows split up complex tasks into a series of smaller incomplete gaps, creating approachable milestones.

Clear Cues: Descriptive headings, numbered steps, and progress trackers direct attention to the current gap to complete.

Satisfying Payoff: Ultimately, filling all gaps results in a meaningful outcome like sending money or embedding ads.

Reduced Cognitive Load: Chunking forms lessens the mental strain of processing complex flows and decisions.

Decomposing intimidating sign-up flows into digestible chunks improves comprehension while providing micro-wins as users complete each intentional gap.

When Intentional Gaps Backfire

While typically effective at driving engagement, intentional gaps can damage experiences if used improperly. Some examples of ineffective patterns:

LinkedIn: Fake Progress Bars

In one misguided test, LinkedIn displayed profiles as only “50% complete” initially. This aimed to motivate completing steps users had actually already finished.

But users saw through the deception, damaging trust in LinkedIn’s credibility. Deceptive gaps undermine long-term engagement for quick hits.

YouTube: Too Frequent Ad Breaks

YouTube originally inserted excessively frequent mid-video ads to interrupt and create more gaps. But this overwhelmed and irritated loyal viewers.

Disrupting the core video experience eroded enjoyment. Gaps should enhance, not obstruct, primary user flows.

Pinterest: Over-Teased Onboarding

Pinterest historically over-indexed on onboarding guided tours, spotlighting too many feature gaps before conveying core value.

Fatiguing new users with unnecessary gaps causes frustration and dropoff before experiencing “aha” moments. Prioritize only the most crucial 1-2 gaps.

Facebook: Fake Notification Counts

Facebook has tested inflating notifications counts and using other deceptive tactics to grab user attention.

But when discovered, these misleading engagement bait attempts breed resentment instead of motivation.

In short

The unifying thread is that ineffective gaps either disrupt primary goals, mislead users, or over-index on onboarding at the expense of conveying core value.

Intentional patterns must respect users, guide them to real value, and enhance real goals to drive sustainable engagement.

Testing Intentional Patterns with Users

Identifying the most effective intentional gaps requires validated learning through user testing. Some key ways to test patterns:

A/B Test Patterns

Try different gap variations against each other to see which most improves key metrics. Test ideas like:

  • Teaser copy vs gated content
  • Progress bar vs step numbers
  • Onscreen coachmarks vs tooltips
  • Middle vs bottom position
  • Incomplete vs mostly filled states

Measure Behavior Impact

Look beyond surface metrics to understand how patterns impact user behavior. Analyze effects on:

  • Click depth
  • Session time
  • Feature adoption
  • Conversion funnel drop off

Observe User Reactions

Direct user observation offers insights into how gaps influence attitudes and perceptions. Note reactions like:

  • Confusion vs comprehension
  • Delight vs frustration
  • Motivation vs annoyance
  • Satisfaction vs apathy

Validate Against Business Goals

Confirm patterns ultimately help achieve core business goals, not just inflate vanity metrics. Tie observed user behavior changes back to real objectives.

Pitfalls to Avoid

While intentional gaps often boost engagement, implementing them poorly can damage user experiences. Avoid these common pitfalls when leveraging intentional patterns:

Frustrating Users with Overly Vague or Misleading Gaps

Gaps should clearly indicate the next steps users need to take to complete the action and fill the void. Cryptic gaps that are too subtle or lack obvious calls-to-action only serve to confuse and frustrate users.

For example, an unclear vector shape hidden in the corner of a page does little to direct attention and provide clear direction. Ambiguity undermines gaps from motivating action.

Additionally, deceptive gaps deliberately mislead users about progress or achievements. This breeds resentment once the trickery inevitably comes to light.

Users lose trust in brands that treat them as a metric to game instead of humans to respectfully guide. While gimmicks may temporarily juice vanity metrics, only authenticity builds loyalty.

In short:

  • Keep gaps obvious by highlighting desired user actions
  • Maintain transparency instead of deceiving users
  • Prioritize long-term relationships over short-term growth hacking

Stretching Gaps Too Long Damages Experiences

There’s a sweet spot between gaps being too subtle and painfully long. drawn out gaps quickly swing from intriguing to tiresome.

For example, guided tours that meander through endless onboarding hoops fatigue users before reaching core value. Or signed up walls hiding too much key functionality become barriers rather than incentives.

Keep in mind:

  • Users have finite patience. Dragging things out risks frustrating more than hooking them.
  • Convey value early so users understand promised payoffs for filling gaps.
  • Err toward compact flows focused purely on key aha moments.

Gaps should feel challenging but attainable. Make sure completions deliver outcomes worth their effort.

Disrupting Core User Journeys

Plugging gaps into flows that already efficiently satisfy user goals causes unnecessary friction. Avoid polluting focused experiences with tangential gaps unrelated to immediate intentions.

For example, interrupting an online bank transfer workflow to highlight account upgrade features diverts focus from the primary task. The discontinuity does more harm than good.

Keep in mind:

  • First understand primary user jobs-to-be-done and build flows to directly enable them.
  • Next identify potential secondary actions that could enhance value.
  • Finally introduce occasional re-engagement gaps to guide discovery of secondary features without hijacking primary tasks.

Seek to eliminate obstacles, not inject new ones into functioning user journeys.

Poor Onboarding Overuses Gaps Without Conveying Value

Onboarding presents a particular risk of overplanning gaps that force engagement without clearly conveying core value.

For instance, guided tours and walkthroughs often highlight an exhaustive series of tips and tricks just because they can, not because they provide actual value.


  • Users are unlikely to “get” the aha moment until actually experiencing your key features.
  • Frontload enabling this first autonomous experience.
  • Follow up later with re-engagement gaps to broaden product knowledge.

Don’t let onboarding gaps delay value. Prioritize immediately empowering users over highlighting every bell and whistle.

Deceptive Patterns Undermine Trust

Some companies are tempted to use intentionally deceptive gaps to trick users into engagement. For example:

  • Fake progress bars priming further action
  • Inflating metrics like notifications to grab attention
  • Misleading interface elements that obscure facts

But these dark pattern techniques erode user goodwill. Trickery trains users to distrust interfaces and scrutinize for deceit.

Sustainable engagement requires authenticity. Respect users with honest gaps that guide, don’t manipulate. Prioritize building trust through transparency.

In summary:

  • Never intentionally deceive users (dishonest progress trackers, inflated metrics, etc).
  • Surface truths in interfaces – obscurity breeds distrust.
  • Guide users ethically to value, don’t trick them through gimmicks.

Avoiding Frustrating Users with Long Onboarding Gaps

Onboarding is a particularly risky area for stretching gaps too long and fatiguing users. Some examples and lessons learned:


Pinterest originally focused onboarding heavily on feature gaps, failing to convey the core value proposition upfront through an authentic pinboarding experience.

This caused users to lose interest before understanding the real utility. Now Pinterest gets users directly collecting and engaging with content, saving extended onboarding for later.

Key Takeaway: Guide new users directly into experiencing aha moments firsthand rather than forcing them through exhaustive tutorials.


LinkedIn today drips feeds value via numerous engagement gaps keeping users hooked. But they initially overwhelmed new users by frontloading too many profile optimization prompts.

This produced sign up fatigue before experiencing the core social networking value. LinkedIn now frames initial steps around building authentic social connections, saving extensive profile prompts for later.

Key Takeaway: Balance educating users with allowing organic discovery. Don’t let onboarding gaps delay conveying the primary value proposition.


Dropbox won praise early on for elegant frictionless onboarding. But growth pressures later led them to test adding more guided steps and gaps.

Extending sign up forms and tutorials backfired, confusing and frustrating users. Dropbox recoiled back to minimal lightweight onboarding centered on core file syncing value.

Key Takeaway: When a process isn’t broken, don’t add gaps trying to fix it. Avoid overengineering for overengineering’s sake.

Maintaining Trust by Avoiding Deceptive Gaps

Some companies have damaged trust by designing intentionally deceptive gaps aimed at manipulating users. Always avoid trickery and maintain transparency.


As mentioned earlier, LinkedIn tested inflating profile completeness metrics to 50% during onboarding. This aimed to motivate completing steps users had already finished.

But savvy users noticed the deception, eroding LinkedIn’s credibility. They quickly reverted back to truthful progress indicators.

Key Takeaway: Never intentionally misrepresent facts and progress. users will eventually notice and lose faith.


Facebook has faced backlash for dark patterns like inflating notification counts to drive engagement.

These tricks breed resentment when uncovered. Be transparent about true numbers, don’t manipulate metrics.

Key Takeaway: Refrain from exaggerating or misrepresenting metrics just to boost vanity KPIs. Truth builds, lies erode.


YouTube once rampantly used misleading thumbnails and titles to draw views based on false premises.

But creators found success through authenticity and openness. Manipulative patterns ultimately undermine sustainable growth.

Key Takeaway: Transparently set accurate expectations, don’t trick users with mismatched headlines.

Testing and Optimizing Intentional Patterns

Identifying the most effective intentional gaps requires continuously testing and optimizing different options. Here are best practices for experimenting with patterns:

A/B Test Different Pattern Variations

Run A/B testing to determine which pattern variations best improve target metrics and behaviors for your unique users. Try comparing elements like:

Pattern Type

  • Teaser copy vs interactive demo vs gated content
  • Static progress bar vs step-by-step checklist
  • Onscreen coachmarks vs subtle hotspots
  • Middle screen position vs bottom

Pattern Execution

  • Short vs long copy
  • Icon vs text CTAs
  • High incomplete vs near complete progress states
  • With vs without microcopy explanations

Pattern Placement

  • Homepage vs product page position
  • Above vs below fold
  • Between paragraphs vs spaced between sections

Measure Impact on Key Engagement and Conversion Metrics

Analyze metrics beyond surface level vanity stats to understand how patterns truly impact user behavior. Look for changes in:

Engagement Metrics

  • Session length, retention, frequency
  • Click depth
  • Scroll depth
  • Feature adoption

Conversion Metrics

  • Funnel drop off rates
  • Form completion rates
  • Conversion rates
  • Churn/cancellation rates

Social Metrics

  • Sharing, referrals
  • Reviews, ratings, testimonials
  • Brand sentiment, NPS

Dig into the behavioral data to confirm intentional gaps are contributing to business goals, not just inflating meaningless interactions.

Iterate Patterns Based on User Feedback and Behavior

Go beyond the numbers to gather direct qualitative insights through:

User Surveys

Ask pointed questions around:

  • Comprehension
  • Attitudes
  • Relevance
  • Delight

**Usability Testing **

Directly observe user reactions like:

  • Confusion vs understanding
  • Frustration vs motivation
  • Satisfaction vs apathy

Support Tickets & Reviews

Monitor emerging themes in user comments:

  • Appreciation vs complaints
  • Praise vs criticism

In-Product Behavior

Note if users actually complete guided gaps or skip/abandon them.

Choosing the Right Success Metrics

Pick metrics that truly measure the impact patterns have on strategic goals:

Macro Conversions

  • Signups
  • Sales
  • Loyalty

Micro Conversions

  • Clicks
  • Page views
  • Shares
  • Form fills

Behavioral Metrics

  • Session time
  • Feature adoption
  • Funnel drop off

Avoid vanity metrics like impressions and shares that don’t link to real objectives.

Analyzing Results and Identifying Winners

Confirm overall outcomes to determine winning patterns:

Do patterns drive business wins?

  • More signups, sales, referrals, retention?

Do users comprehend and appreciate patterns?

  • Tests show positive sentiment and narratives?

Are users actually taking intended actions?

Which patterns deliver the best ROI?

  • Winning designs provide the highest lift?

Refine efforts around gaps delivering the strongest measurable impact aligned to strategic goals.

User Testing Patterns in Context

Beyond analytics, gain qualitative insights through:

Usability Testing

Observe firsthand how gaps impact attitudes and usability during key journeys. Note confusion, delight, motivation levels.

Customer Interviews

Probe user reactions to specific patterns. Identify pain points and areas for improvement.


Ask targeted questions around relevance, comprehension, motivation, and other reactions to patterns.

Go beyond guesswork by directly engaging with real users.

A/B Testing Pattern Variations

A/B testing alternative versions identifies the optimal patterns for each unique scenario. Some examples of elements to test:

Pattern Type

  • Teaser copy vs interactive demo vs gated content
  • Static progress bar vs step-by-step checklist
  • Onscreen coachmarks vs subtle hotspots

Pattern Execution

  • Short vs long copy
  • Icon vs text CTAs
  • High incomplete vs near complete progress states

Pattern Placement

  • Homepage vs product page position
  • Above vs below fold
  • Between paragraphs vs spaced between sections

Analyzing Results and Identifying Winning Patterns

Analyze results thoroughly to determine which specific patterns deliver the best outcomes:

Do patterns drive business wins?

  • More signups, sales, referrals, retention?

Do users comprehend and appreciate patterns?

  • Tests show positive sentiment and narratives?

Are users actually taking intended actions?

  • Analytics confirms pattern usage?

Which patterns deliver the best ROI?

  • Highest lift relative to development costs?

Fail fast and double down on the intentional gaps with the greatest measurable impact.

Qualitative User Testing of Patterns

Supplement analytics with direct qualitative insights:

Usability Testing

  • Observe motivation and confusion during key journeys

Customer Interviews

  • Probe reactions, pain points, areas for improvement


  • Assess comprehension, relevance, delight

Go beyond data by engaging real users for contextual insights.

Conclusion and Key Takeaways

Intentional patterns leverage fundamental aspects of human psychology to influence user engagement and behavior. When applied effectively, gaps provide a powerful tool to guide users to value.

Let’s recap high-level takeaways:

Intentional Gaps Drive Engagement When Used Thoughtfully

Small gaps strategically woven into interfaces compel specific user actions by creating unfinished tasks. The tension of incompleteness triggers innate needs for closure.

But gaps must walk a fine line between obvious and obscure, brief delays and endless dragging. Prioritize clarity and relevance over deception and interruption.

Core Psychological Principles Underpin Pattern Effectiveness

The Zeigarnik effect, loss aversion, curiosity, flow—these and other mental quirks explain why intentionally incomplete experiences grab attention.

Gaps sway behavior not through tricks but by tapping into core cognitive biases. Understand and align with user motivations for sustainable results.

Follow Best Practices to Avoid Pitfalls

While intentional gaps often increase engagement, poor execution can damage experiences and erode trust.

Keep gaps obvious but not frustrating. Never deceive users with false progress or inflated metrics. Avoid overusing onboarding tutorials. Guide ethically and transparently.

Test and Optimize Patterns Tailored to Goals and Users

Not all gaps work equally across contexts. Validate assumptions through robust experimentation and analytics.

Observe user behavior and qualitative reactions. Measure business impact. Continuously refine and double down on highest performing gaps aligned to strategic objectives.


  • Intentional patterns refer to strategic gaps woven into interfaces that motivate specific user actions by creating a sense of incompleteness.
  • Common types of patterns include visual gaps, conversational gaps, interactive gaps, and progress gaps.
  • Intentional gaps leverage the Zeigarnik effect and innate human urges for closure and completion. Unfinished tasks stick in our minds.
  • Gaps should be obvious but attainable, hinting at value while providing clear direction to fill voids.
  • Effective patterns align gaps with user motivations like curiosity, loss aversion, autonomy, mastery, and progress.
  • Poorly executed gaps frustrate users by being vague, disruptive, deceptive or overused. Maintain transparency and relevance.
  • Test different patterns using A/B testing and analytics. Measure business impact and user reactions. Refine efforts around top performers.
  • When applied judiciously, intentional gaps influence user behavior by satisfying psychological needs for completion. Guide ethically and drive value. Here are some frequently asked questions about using intentional patterns:

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some examples of common intentional patterns?

Some popular intentional patterns are progress bars, conversational pauses, incomplete forms, teaser content, unfinished tutorials, variable content feeds, unanswered questions, and visual gaps.

How do intentional gaps motivate users?

Gaps leverage psychological biases like the Zeigarnik effect, curiosity, loss aversion, and our innate needs for completion. Unfinished tasks grab attention and drive engagement.

When should you avoid using intentional gaps?

Avoid gaps that are frustratingly vague, misleading, overly disruptive, or overused in onboarding flows before conveying core value.

How can you determine the best gaps for your product?

Test different patterns through A/B testing and user research. Analyze behavioral impact on engagement and conversions. Double down on gaps aligned to business goals.

How can intentional gaps damage user experience if poorly executed?

Poorly done gaps confuse users, erode trust through deceit, interrupt primary workflows, delay conveying value, and fatigue users. Maintain transparency and focus gaps on user motivations.

Should all gaps be completely obvious?

Gaps should be apparent enough to direct users but can still involve some discovery. Subtlety sparks curiosity but ensure the desired action is clear enough to prevent frustration.

How can you avoid abusing or overusing intentional patterns?

Listen to user feedback, conduct usability testing, only guide users to legitimate value. Don’t let gaps become gimmicks or dark patterns through deception.

What metrics best indicate gap effectiveness?

Look beyond surface level vanity stats to behavioral metrics like session time, conversions, feature adoption, retention, sentiment. Confirm patterns ultimately contribute to business wins.

How can you refine ineffective patterns?

Test variations to isolate issues. Analyze user feedback. Remove unnecessary gaps or adjust executions. Ensure they provide value, not just meaningless interaction.