Recent studies have shown that evolutionary biology may be behind our persistent desires to check our the latest news in our social media apps. It turns out that hundreds of thousands of years worth of human progress has driven our need to be social.
Samuel P. L. Veissière and Moriah Stendel, from McGill University in Montreal, have concluded that smartphones are an “unhealthy platform for a healthy impulse.” We have a biological need to seek information and to connect and learn from our peers.
Our brains set off injections of dopamine when we connect to others and learn about them. It’s been this way for generations, only now it’s our smartphones and apps that trigger the rush as opposed to meetings and conversations. Technology is helping us find common ground with those around us. It’s making it easier for us to create virtual communities that span across continents. Sounds great.
Enter large technology companies and their “business goals.” Veissière and Stendel posit that tech companies have implemented random reward systems that capitalize on our need to connect. They then use that need to create and fuel an addiction.
It’s unhealthy. When business goals are centered around engagement, retention, and time spent in an app, some companies will use every tool at their disposal to hit those benchmarks. As designers, we have a social responsibility to design products and services that are not detrimental to society and its citizens. While that responsibility can sometimes be seen as at odds with what our managers ask us to do, there are ways for us, as designers and as users, to create things that are both socially responsible and business goal-oriented.
A design-centered solution
By following some digital product design best practices, we can help our bosses and our bottom lines while simultaneously looking out for our users.
First things first
Follow the guidelines and the process of human-centric design. If your product is well designed and user-focused, you’ve made it appealing without needing to use the bubbles and dings your competitors rely on.
The other thing designers can do to design for their users is to minimize or eliminate those little red dots. The good news is that both Google and Apple are aware of the damage constant notifications do to the overall user experience.
Do your part to eliminate the notification reward system. If you absolutely must use notifications, make them as unobtrusive as possible. Yes, users can disable notifications. But don’t make it so they have to.