Remembering what matters in product 

Photo by Jordan Rowland

What does it mean for a digital product to be nurturing? Can such a thing exist? While I don’t think the concept of “nurture” is a feature one can include in a list of product requirements, I do think a person’s can be designed for in a way that makes them feel like the product cares about them.

At a time when consumers’ mistrust in technology companies is at an all time high, it’s easy to think that many businesses have some nefarious intention with how they’ll use personal data, or that they don’t truly care about peoples’ well-being. But there are exceptions:

Headspace recently released a series of meditations called “Approaching Politics” to ease anxiety or other negative feelings that people can have during the election season. A week before the 2018 U.S. midterm election they provided these meditations free of cost. Not only was introducing the meditations appropriate, but their timeliness and generosity showed a genuine care in people’s well-being.

Spot On by Planned Parenthood is another app that shows a genuine care for people, allowing women to see information about when their last period was and to manage their birth control. Director Chelsey Delaney, who worked on Spot On, said that 41% of unintended pregnancies happen because of incorrect or inconsistent birth control use, while only 5% of unintended pregnancies occur when birth control is used correctly. Planned Parenthood saw this as an opportunity to decrease the number of unintended pregnancies by informing women about their birth control so that they stay compliant and live better and healthier lives.

Do all apps need to strive to enable better living? I don’t know. Strictly utilitarian apps, such as a Calculator or Clock app should just do their jobs, right? They enable better living by staying out of the way, by working as expected.

But it would benefit many people for designers, researchers, and product managers to consider opportunities for a sense of caring to come through the features of their products. What does a sense of care mean, anyway? Consider how your best friend or a good, close relative treats you, and think about how sensitive they are to your needs as a being — listening to you, laughing with you, and supporting you. Now take these same qualities, and consider the apps that we carry around with us in our pockets all day, apps that weave into the threads of our everyday lives. Product roadmaps should not only consider timeframes and milestones, but also the people whose hearts will be beating and the lives they’ll be leading throughout the product lifecycle.

For example, Google Calendar is one of my favorite apps, but I wish the Goals feature treated new skills I’d like to learn or new habits I’d like to form as something separate from just a mere event, or just as another item I’m needing to check off on my daily to-do list. When creating a goal, Calendar has great illustrations. But this same kind of attention does not follow through to the rest of the product experience. If I have a goal to learn how to play the trumpet or meditate, I’d like encouragement to come through as I’m completing my goal — either through playful copy, appropriate illustrations, relevant motion, or gamification to nudge me along.

Another app I’d like to see more care from is Facebook Messenger. I enjoy using the messaging app because it allows me to connect with so many of my family members from Kansas City. But when I open the app, advertisements suddenly animate in-between messages from my loved ones, and appear almost deceptively like personal messages. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against ads, and I know my use of this app is not free, but I’m just against them sitting in places where they don’t belong. We, as product makers, simply need to do better.

So, what are you designing? And is it opening up space for genuinely caring about the experience of the person who’ll use your product?

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