Value Human Attention
Human attention is too often peripheral in the race for driving sales and advertising revenue. It is important to recognise that the way you design your products has an impact on the human mind and mental wellbeing. By assimilating a deep-rooted respect for human attention into your organisation and examining the impact of the design decisions you make through a user-centred process, you can then build attentional products that prioritise the facilitation of meaningful engagement between a user and your product.
Be Honest About Dark Patterns
“A Dark Pattern is a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.” (Brignull, 2010) It is common practice to use so-called Dark Patterns as ways to boost profits, and trick users into completing actions they didn’t notice or mean to. Be aware of the interactions built into your products, talk openly about their ethics, and commit to reducing your dependencies on deception. Instead, aim to build a positive relationship between your brand and your users. The causes of these ‘sneaky’ design decisions can be tackled at their root and if they are continued to be used, it can be assumed that they are done so with the deliberate intention of their impact.
Respect Information Zones
In a world where the quantity of digital interactions is growing exponentially, considering the nature in which digital products impinge on our attention is becoming increasingly important. To do so, we need to understand the different ‘zones’ to which information can be delivered and the timing of the delivery to each of these zones. Ask questions like, ‘Is this important enough to interrupt the user?’, ‘Can this be delivered in a less intrusive manner, using, for example a sound, a sensation, or subtle status change?’, and ‘Does this notification really need to be quantified?’. Information zones can also be reflected by maintaining a good visual hierarchy across your product or platform, allowing an individual to act with more agency when deciding which pieces of information to engage with.
Place an emphasis on quality of content, not quantity. This can be done by creating systems which place a value on quality of user-generated content over quality, stripping back unnecessary and distracting ephemera, focussing on the key experience, and minimising distractions. Far too often the quantity available is far more than the average user can consume. In these situations, consider whether such an overwhelming array of choices is actually useful.
Discourage Addictive Usage
Since addictive feedback systems are perceived as being good for business, they are deliberately designed into everyday products. However, while these systems are often useful in the short run, they do not foster a positive relationship between the user and product in the long-term. Addictions are often cultivated by unpredictability - a common technique known as variable reward - where something different happens every time you click. You don’t know what is waiting for you in your inbox, you don’t know which Pokemon is nearby at any given time. While variability and mystery can be authentic and integral parts of some products, they are capable of actively creating unhealthy and unsustainable addictions. Instead, creating more manageable and predictable experiences would help mitigate this problem.
Provide Exit Points
Bottomless pits, infinite scrolls, and attention traps are all ways of attempting to keep users in a product against their explicit will or knowledge. Instead, provide exit points, focus on the finite, and not the infinite, and actually make experiences that have an endpoint. This way users can disengage with a sense of completion and calm, instead of building an association between your product and time wasting.
Establish Holistic Metrics
The majority of key product metrics ignore the quality and impact on wellbeing of user interactions. To make meaningful progress, there has to also be measurable progress where valid attention and wellbeing-focussed metrics are included as part of a company’s overall measurement framework.
Apply Principles Company Wide
All parts of your company impact the design of your product. Consider how your internal culture, practices, and ethos, lead to the decisions and environments which affect what you make. Consider aspect such as leadership, recruitment, corporate culture, and investor relationships. Given their impact on how you operate, it is important to also include these values and principles across other parts of your organisation.