I am in a small Cabin in India. I just finished high school and me and my friends are traveling. My friend sits across on a couch from me and he asks, hey Akash, why do you wanna be a designer? What is so cool about making things pretty? What impact can you possibly have? These were great questions and back then in that moment, I didn’t really have an answer. I knew that I wanted to go to design school. I knew that I wanted to work with international design teams. I knew that I wanted to learn from the best designers in the world and eventually someday have my own design company, but back in that moment on that couch, I did not have a good answer. I said you know design is more than making things pretty. Design has an influence on people. Design can manipulate people and that is what I want to do.
I knew that design could do more. I knew that the Future of our Global Society relies on the Design decisions we make today. Everything around us is designed. The chair that we are sitting on right now is designed by a designer. I am a UX Designer. My friend on that couch, he was right. Design does have a lot of creative quality to it. A big part of what we do is create visuals but UX design is so much more. As UX designer, I am like a psychologist. I am like a researcher. I know how to take a complex problem and turn it into smaller and adjustable pieces. I know that red circles for example attract attention like the one which we carry in our pockets, in our smartphones every single day. Being attracted to red circles is a primal instinct. We cannot help it. It’s a trigger. Something that we need to survive. I know how to take this trigger, mix them into flexible rewards to turn them into products that you love to come back to everyday. I know the importance of good user experience design and also the negative impact a bad UX can have.
I know that the overly complicated password field will make you forget the password you just created right after you created it and never sign back into that account again. In fact in 2018, PWC found out that 32% of all negative experiences resulted in having people never coming back to the brand ever again. Designers at companies like Facebook, Spotify or Twitch, they know about that. Those companies are dominant in their space because of great UX. They know how to create amazing user experiences for their users and THAT IS A PROBLEM.
See, all of these companies are services. They are targeted towards a mass audience and they monetize through advertisements. The more people use these services, the better. Actually those services only work when people do use them. How good a product is can be determined through key matrix like retention. We call this engagement and we base our design decisions on them.
We design to kidnap your attention but the real world impact of that is horrifying.
Last year there have been almost 800K divorces in USA. A British study found that over a third of them are blaming Facebook for their divorces. So the design decisions to give couples a tool that give them full transparency of interaction and a crazy amount of information about their significant other, resulted into unhappier relationship. Giving them a product that is designed to be used and attention grabbing, doesn’t really help either.
So whenever you read a news story about a kid who is spending too much money in a mobile game or how we are spending 13% of our productive time in Social Media or how great user experience product like Uber and Airbnb are driving the economy, all of these are design decisions. A design decision that truly stands out in my opinion is Snapchat Streaks. Whenever you are sending a message to your friends for a couple of days, you are on a streak. You get rewarded by a little fire icon right next to your name and you have to keep the streak going.Users of Snapchat do take this very seriously. So, what started as a small little feature to showcase and emphasize relationships has now resulted in something that drives anxiety.
We make these design decisions to optimize for longer usage but we underestimate the impact that these design decisions have on our relationships, our health and our life. We create these products that create fear of missing out. We get addicted to great user experiences and this is a direct result of lack of broader thinking.
As designers, we are basing our designs for short term goals. We want more users. We want more views and we do not understand the impact that it has. What we do understand though is that we need to shift the way that we design. We need to think beyond engagement matrix. We need to think beyond user. We need to stop thinking of Human Beings as users. We need to start designing products not for when they are being used but for when they are not being used.
Imagine a human being that you are designing a product for. Their dreams, needs, wishes and, their purpose in life. Imagine your product being a part of that. It is time that we stop thinking about User Experience Design and start thinking about Human Experience Design. It is time we start basing our design decisions on the human beings we are designing for. Helping them to fulfill their purpose in life and respect their time. The good news is there are already efforts being made to tackle the issue of addictive design.
Right now Facebook and Instagram are running an experiment to remove the like counter from the news feed and thereby removing a source of social anxiety and pressure.
So UX Design does have the ability to create a positive impact if we designers strive for it. Attention is not the key. Eyeballs are not the metric and usage is not sustainable. Try to think of the human being you are designing for. Switch perspectives. What would you expect from a digital product? If we want to live in a world where digital design serve us and doesn’t hold us hostage, we need to start making the right design decisions today.