Aggressive KPIs. Short deadlines. Bonuses that are tied to performance and to higher engagement metrics. The sad reality of the corporate world has forced designers to come up with new ways of engaging our audience.
We have become really good at accelerating engagement. As an industry, we have created incredibly refined frameworks that try to explain the science behind engaging products. We have deified products like Instagram or Tinder for their unashamedly addictive qualities. We have learned and taught each other how to design for addiction, always thinking of reasons for people to come back to our product begging for more.
The engagement pendulum has gone all the way to one side. It’s now starting to swing back.
Users are starting to feel the effects of years of addictive digital behaviors. From 33% of divorced couples citing Facebook as a reason for their split, to gamers who die of starvation after binge-playing for several consecutive days, to more extreme cases like the Youtube campus shooter who was allegedly angry at the company’s monetization policies. Companies are getting a lot of pushback and being questioned about their responsibility in this behavior shift. Society is awakening to the need of establishing a more mindful relationship with technology. It is a potent public health topic now.
In 2018, we have seen a few companies move towards healthier experiences — or at least they’re advertising that they do so. Apple’s iOS12 has introduced new features that reduce interruptions and give users a more transparent view of how they are spending their time on their iPhones — and so have Youtube, Facebook and Instagram.
A few more examples:
- Google Inbox (RIP) and Gmail allow users to snooze emails for later
- Bumble allows users to pause dating to take a digital detox
- Google has launched an entire program for well being across products
- Instagram notifies users when they “are all caught up” to avoid endless feed scrolling
While these may seem like a lot of work, they are actually quite easy to do. These relatively small changes are incredibly powerful in how they impact society.
UX is not only about the times when people are using our products, but also about the times when they are not. In the era of ever-vibrating smartphones and increasingly demanding apps, there is no better user experience than peace of mind.
Amber Case’s recent book on Calm Tech (inspired by 1995 Mark Weiser’s paper “Designing Calm Technology” and covered in our 2017 report) outlines a few principles for how technology should be mindful of its impact in the user’s life.
- Technology should inform and create calm
- Technology should make use of the periphery
- Technology should amplify the best of technology and the best of humanity
- Technology can communicate but doesn’t need to speak
- Technology should work even when it fails
- The right amount of technology is the minimum needed to solve the problem
- Technology should respect social norms
With great power comes great responsibility
As designers, we have both the power and the responsibility to implement these principles. The same way we take pride in limiting our red meat consumption to avoid cardiovascular diseases and protect the world resources, or campaign against smoking, designers can be the ones advocating for healthier UX.
We are the ones who can push back next time someone proposes to add infinite scroll to a social feed.
Or videos that autoplay.
Or popup forms.
Since we are equipped with research-proven user insights, we are the ones who have the power to push for business metrics that are not measured in old-school standards — like views, pages per visit, or dwell time.
We are the ones who can call out a “Growth Hacking” idea for what it really is: a vicious cop-out solution.
We are the ones who can help our teams choose better metrics.
This trend of people wanting products and services that fulfill their needs while respecting their time will only accelerate in 2019. Instead of fighting for attention, the products we design should be striving for relevance and comfort. Our KPIs will start to shift from engagement-centered metrics to affinity-related ones. Ultimately, our metric will become making sure users themselves are achieving their own personal KPIs. Not because we are benevolent gods, but because it’s part of our job. And because users will demand so.