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.
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.
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 Hacking, gamification, 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.
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.
02. Companies observing this tendency have started to behave — but in shy manners.
03. Companies observing this tendency have started to behave — but in shy manners.
As designers, how do we break the cycle of designing addictive engagement?
Keep scrolling, keep scrolling
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:
- 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.