The Planet needs a Technology diet; This is the Way That designers can help.

The Planet needs a Technology diet; This is the way that designers can help.

It’s time we span the contrast between feel-good Design & Ethics panels along with work we do daily as digital product designers.

If you utilize digital goods daily, you have likely noticed the proliferation of dark layout patterns that attempt to control you to participate deeper, more in-depth, or even more on a web site or program.

UI replicates that fabricates a feeling of scarcity, urging you to reserve a hotel room before somebody else does. It was streaming platforms that fresh autopay episodes, boosting binge-watching behaviour.

Eager for views and clicks, technology platforms are always on the lookout for new ways to use fundamental human instincts such as pity, worry, and worry for their own advantage. Digital junk foods, out of social media programs to video streaming programs, assure users short term highs but abandon depressive existential lulls in their aftermath.

The outcome? Our relationship with technology is growing increasingly characterized by dependence, sorrow, and lack of control.

But wait… How did we get here?

While the goods we build each day have emerged, our ways of considering user participation have barely altered since the times of dial-up. We presume that the higher the metrics, the stronger the company and, consequently, the more complicated the merchandise designer.

Clicks, Views, Session duration, Shares, Sign-ups, Response rate, Avg time on page, Pages per visit, Dormancy rate, Leads generated, Opens per week, Bounce rate

But in a few instances, we’re just defining metrics from apathy. We neglect to question the actual business value behind every one of these KPIs. After all, more page views per trip to an e-commerce site don’t necessarily imply more sales. Likewise, the amount of unlocks per week to get a mobile banking program tells us little about client loyalty and satisfaction when it comes to their financial life, are not people searching for reassurance rather?

Over the last couple of decades, we’ve helped build a corporate culture which systematically prioritizes short-term earnings within longer-term merchandise wellbeing.

The business-as-usual hook model

01. Short-term rewards

Even innovative companies who tout their societal mission or imaginative vision in their own advertising and social media often benefit their workers for short term metrics.

02. Quarterly earnings reports 

That happens since the firms themselves are rewarded with shareholders due to their quarterly results — along with the promise of a much more rewarding future.

03. Corporate circus 

That happens since the firms themselves are rewarded with shareholders to their quarterly results — along with the promise of a much more prosperous future.

04. Don’t make me think 

Although we are aware that our design tactics can be misleading, we give them real names — like Growth Hackinggamification, and engagement loops — and try not to dwell on their possibly damaging effects.

The introduction of digital services and products to our own lives has considerably altered the way our relationship to time, effort, and initiative. We may not consider that all of the time, but we aren’t as accountable for these electronic tools as we’re of those real ones.

A tool like a chainsaw needs to be manually initiated with its consumer…
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels
. . .that’s not true for digital tools such as telephones, which are frequently initiating connections with us.
Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova from Pexels
If you look (or think about ) a mug, you understand pretty precisely how much effort it’ll take to lift up it…
Photo by himography from Instagram
. . .that’s not true when you click a “Get Started” button in an insurance policy provider site.
When you look at a tube and compare it to the size of your saw, you can estimate how much time it will take you to complete the task…
Photo from Soteck.com.tw
…that’s not the case with the endless feeds we are exposed to in social media apps and blogs.

Although the digital revolution has pushed technology forward, it has also left people with no choice but to conform to the new rules and paradigms set by this technology.
— Marigo Heijboer

The new digital tools of our era don’t have natural affordances unless the designer consciously decides to design them in a transparent, honest way.

01. Discussions around our poor relationship with technologies have become mainstream.

Politicians starting to create laws against dark patterns
Tech companies drowned in scandals about privacy and user data
Mass media outlets started covering tech issues more frequently

02. Companies observing this tendency have started to behave — but in shy manners.

1.    Instagram lets users know when they finish scrolling through the feed
2.    Youtube, iOS and other mobile OSs let people track and limit how much time they are spending in each app
3.    Bumble gives users the option to disconnect, including taking a “digital detox” mode

03. Companies observing this tendency have started to behave — but in shy manners.

Tiny Homes: a show about people choosing to simplify their lives by downsizing their living spaces. Episodes from Netflix
Minimalism: a documentary about those who have rejected the American idea that more consumption brings greater happiness. Episodes from Netflix
Marie Kondo: the Netflix sensation who teaches American families to prioritize belongings that ‘spark joy’ while purging the stuff they don’t need. Episodes from Netflix

As designers, how do we break the cycle of designing addictive engagement?

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Keep scrolling, keep scrolling

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Change has to begin somewhere. Seeing a difference between our well-intended suggestions and the job we do every single day, we’ve opted to produce a more sensible guide to sparking change.

How can we break the business-as-usual cycle…

In our design

Set solid design principles

Design principles that strive for reduction and simplification have been around for a while. The philosophy at the core of the 20th-century Modernist aesthetic movement, for example, lay the idea that the world had to be fundamentally rethought and streamlined, promoting sleek, clean lines and eliminating decorative additions that were purely for the sake of embellishment. 

Choose respectful design patterns

  • Stop endless scroll

Instead of designing for infinite engagement, what if we prioritized more relevant content?

  • Reduce notifications

Not everything is essential. What if we rethought our notification strategy to be more mindful of people’s attention and time?

  • Reveal info gradually

What if instead of giving users all information at once, we were more thoughtful about when and how each message is revealed?

  • Give them control

What if we design user experiences that are more transparent, giving people control over their level of engagement?

In our process

Run better research

Research helps us better understand our users. However, not all research is equally sufficient. 

  • Know your tools and when to use them
  • Go wide in your research
  • Be mindful about how you frame questions

Challenge default metrics

For each business metric, the product can have a user-centred parameter as well as a counter-metric to keep the bigger picture in play.

  • Forget growth hacks
  • Follow your heart
  • Measure what you value

Anticipate unhealthy behaviours

Here are some tips you can use to brainstorm on your own or with your team:

  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Exclusion
  • Oversharing 
  • Abusive relationships

How to act:

  • Brainstorm unintended, unhealthy behaviours
  • Dive deeper in user research
  • Quantify the current state
  • Seek opportunity for positive impact
  • Generate awareness 

In our company

Spread healthier habits at work

How to act:

  • Respect people’s calendars
  • Play your meetings
  • Don’t bring your computer to a meeting
  • Send shorter emails and don’t Slack after hours
  • Don’t rush to reply or to follow up
  • Use whiteboards more often
  • Discuss work policies
  • Run retrospectives
  • Lead by example

In our community

Engage beyond panels

If design is the rendering of intent, just having the intention is not enough: we need to execute it. How can we engage past our own bubble to make real impact in the world?

  • Reach out to other specialists
  • Go beyond your own bubble
  • Be a team player
  • Volunteer your craft

In our personal life

Design your own tech diet

  • Understand your own use cases
  • Defining your personal KPIs
  • Implement and iterate

Hold other companies accountable

It doesn’t matter if our field holds values like respect dear, if we’re not able to get businesses and institutions to adopt those values and apply them to their work.

Cyd Harrell
  • Report as spam
  • Leave honest reviews
  • Change your consumption habits
  • Tweet about it

It’s not a detox, and it’s a re-education

Be wary of “digital detoxes”. Similar to our relationship with food, short-term fad diets don’t create long-lasting change but often instil a sense of failure and shame instead.

Digital nutrition is about developing and implementing cognitive skills and creating new habits to help us stay in control of our technology consumption.

We know that calls for change are easier said than done. The reality of the corporate world is harsh and leaves very little room for anything that is not driving short-term business results. Designers are in a unique position to spark change, by influencing product decisions, C-level execs and users themselves and UX improvement. To be the change we want to see in the world, we need to start somewhere.

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