Is Your Product Designed to Be Calm?
A scorecard for creating human-centered, anxiety-free solutions

Amber Case
Oct 17, 2018 · 7 min read

By Amber Case

Since I started speaking about calm technology and designing with attention, designers and developers often ask me if a particular product they’re helping create is calm — i.e. designed to seamlessly, unobtrusively integrate with person’s life and daily habits.

“Facebook Messenger how to turn off notifications” is such a popular search requests, it returns 21,100 results, including this WikiHow guide

We deal with non-calm products every day. Jeremiah Owyang noticed that the new Facebook Messenger asks users to turn on notifications four times. Website users are frequently pushed into downloading mobile apps with banners and popovers. Some apps turn notifications on by default, resulting in a never-ending barrage of robotic spam.

Making a good product is an important responsibility, especially if the product is close enough to someone that it can be the difference between life and death. Even though the end result might by calm, designing a calm, human-centered product requires some anxiety and perfectionism from everyone on the team, not just the designer.

While every product comes with its own unique considerations, there are some clear cut calm design principles that largely hold true for most products. As a way to start, consider taking this Calm Design quiz (still in beta!).

User Experience

Start from 100, adding and subtracting points allotted to each question. (Skip this category if it doesn’t directly apply to your product.)

Photo credit: PCR Online

Does the product:

  • Have a stable interface with frequently used items grouped together that are accessible at the top of the interface with one click? (Add 5 points)
  • Allow users to assign favorite commands to be displayed prominently? (Add 5 points)
  • Require three or more clicks to reach a commonly used function? (Subtract 20 points)
  • Require two clicks to reach a goal? (Subtract 20 points)
  • Frequently ask for software updates before it can be used? (Subtract 30 points)
  • Have a bright blue LCD with a touchscreen? (Subtract 10 points)
  • Have an LCD touchscreen but the display is in an eye-friendly color (such as green or orange)? (Add 5 points)
  • Have physical buttons with a blue screen? (Add 5 points)
  • Have physical buttons with orange screen? (Add 10 points)
  • Change light quality based on time of day? (Add 10 points)
  • Allow the user to change the display’s text size? (Add 5 points)
  • Follow accessibility guidelines for Fitt’s law? (If Yes, add 5 points; if No, subtract 10 points)
  • Allow the user to change the notification style (i.e. from sound to haptics, or turn sounds off completely)? (Add 10 points)
  • Compensate for users with red/green color blindness? (Add 5 points)
  • If it contains a video, include a captions option? (Add 5 points)

Notifications & Indicators

Start from 100, adding and subtracting points allotted to each question. (Skip this category if it doesn’t directly apply to your product.)

Photo credit: Car Light Blog

Does the product:

  • Make notifications for everything by default, on sign-up? (Subtract 15 points)
  • Asks users how they would like to be notified on sign-up? (Add 5 points)
  • Defaults to all alerts on, but with opt-out option? (Subtract 10 points)
  • All notifications are by default off, except the most crucial ones? (Add 15 points)
  • All notifications are by default off, except the most crucial ones — which can be disabled every time they’re sent? (Add 10 points)
  • Device includes a safe mode with no interruptions allowed? (Add 15 points)
  • Allows users to turn all notifications off at the same time as a group? (Add 10 points)
  • Night mode option enabled in one click? (Add 5 points)
  • Night option but requires a couple clicks to set up? (Subtract 5 points)
  • Orange indicators lights which can’t be turned off? (Add 5 points)
  • Bright green lights which can’t be turned off? (Add 5 points)
  • Bright blue lights which can’t can’t be turned off? (Subtract 20 points)
  • Beep every time users touch it, the sound can’t be disabled, and it generates at decibel levels of 2K-5K htz? (Subtract 20 points)
  • Device beeps every time touched, user can’t turn it off, but it generates lower, tone-based sounds? (Subtract 10 points)
  • Emits high pitched beeps which can be disabled? (Subtract 5 points)
  • Emits low pitched beep which can be disabled? (Subtract 5 points)
  • Emits a haptic buzz which can be disabled? (Add 15 points)

Privacy

Start from 100, adding and subtracting points allotted to each question. (Skip this category if it doesn’t directly apply to your product.)

Photo credit: Meerkat’s Medium

Does the product:

  • Detect a user’s location and send it to a remote server? (Subtract 10 points)
  • Share user data with third parties? (Subtract 10 points)
  • Have a stated privacy policy in legalese? (Subtract 10 points)
  • Have a plain language privacy policy? (Add 5 points)
  • Use face recognition without the user’s permission? (Subtract 20 points)
  • Allow users to opt for an anonymous mode? (Add 5 points)
  • Share data with third parties by default? (Subtract 10 points)
  • Own all of the user’s data without allowing them to download it if the app ceases to exist? (Subtract 20 points)
  • Allows users to export their data at any time? (Add 5 points)
  • Does the app sell user data to third parties? (Subtract 20 points)
  • Offer opt-in for data sharing? (Add 5 points)
  • Offer opt-in for sharing data with other services? (Add 5 points)
  • Offer opt-in for sharing data with other people? (Add 5 points)
  • Gives users owners access to their own data, which can be exported? (Add 5 points; if Not, subtract 20 points)
  • Show users which data it collects — when, where, and why — and allows them to delete it? (Add 10 points)
  • Store login information in plain text on the server? (Subtract 20 points)
  • Require passwords to have letters, numbers, and special characters? (Add 5 points)
  • Require 2 factor authentication? (Add 5 points)

Digital Well-being and Time Well Spent

Start from 100, adding and subtracting points allotted to each question. (Skip this category if it doesn’t directly apply to your product.)

Photo credit: Engadget

Does your product:

  • Allow users to see how much time they’re on a device? (Add 15 points)
  • Allow users to pause activity (i.e. pause inbox) (Add 15 points)
  • Allow Allows users to take a break from the device (Add 15 points)
  • Enable one-click replies? (Add 5 points)
  • Allows you to type in a full sentence with autocomplete as you type in? (Add 5 points)
  • Give users suggestions but not a specific response? (Add 5 points)
  • Allow users to do something else while interacting with the product? (Add 10 points)
  • Doesn’t require interrupting a conversation or other social engagement to give the user information (for a voice app — the use of tones vs. full sentences)? (Add 10 points)
  • Does the app force you to rate it after using it for only a moment? (Subtract 10 points)
  • Does the website try to get you to download the app or view content in the app in a banner, popover, or pop-up, or force you to sign in to view more content? (Subtract 10 points)

Customer Support & Fail States

Start from 100, adding and subtracting points allotted to each question. (Skip this category if it doesn’t directly apply to your product.)

Even if Google Chrome is unable to connect to the Internet, Google Docs can still be used in its offline mode

Does your product:

  • Include different notification types based on importance instead of one notification type? (Add 5 points)
  • Does the system give the user the option to ignore specific notifications once each notification type is sent? (Add 5 points)
  • Change contrast in bright light (i.e. if the sun is out)? (Add 5 points)
  • Allow the customer to personalize the user experience? (Add 5 points)
  • Allow users to skip/click past unnecessary steps? (Add 5 points)
  • Allow text-based or chat-based customer support with automatic ticket creation? (Add 5 points)
  • Allows multiple support contact methods, including voice? (Add 5 points)
  • Include a chatbot that defaults to a real human if response is not in the database? (Add 10 points)
  • When requested, connect users to a real human and gives them option to auto-send account and device details to support rep? (Add 5 points)
  • Allows for a “low speed connection” mode if product is slow to load? (Add 20 points)
  • Has an offline mode with save states or full functionality? (Add 10 points)
  • Maintains some functionality even without Internet connection? (Add 5 points)

Calculate your Calm Score for each category

Review all the scores you’ve tabulated so far. For any score that falls below 0, your total is 0; for any above 100, your total is 100. The result is your Calm Tech grade for each category, scored along the standard US school system. As noted, it’s likely that most products will score well in one category, but poorly in others — even many products that are often acclaimed for having a great user experience.

This is the first iteration of the calm technology quiz, which is very much in beta — thanks so much for taking it! I hope to update it soon — please connect with me on Twitter to share your thoughts.

For further thoughts, see: Does Your Product Respect Users’ Time & Attention? A Calm Technology Checklist, and Calm Tech UX & Inclusive Design Principles at Microsoft.

Amber Case

Written by

Design advocate, speaker and author of Calm Technology + Designing With Sound. Research Fellow at Institute for the Future. Caseorganic.com

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