Consume Consume Consume

This is a rough transcript of a presentation that I gave at Interaction ‘11. Years later I believe this still has great prevalence in our ever connected world. Please be mindful of the things you create and the people they touch.


Congratulations!

We’ve done it. Every single time I get up from my desk to go to the bathroom…I reach for my phone. Not for fear of theft, but for use. I can not go to the bathroom without my phone.

Disgusting. Unsanitary. Disturbing?

But I’m not alone. It was found that 27% of americans use facebook in the bathroom…You guys are good…too good. We’ve replaced reader’s digest as the holy grail of bathroom distraction.

Do you know any other profession that could brag about having users so enamored with their product that they take it with them TO THE BATHROOM? I’ve never taken my favorite skillet, my favorite clock, or my favorite snow shovel into the bathroom. Yet now I grab for my phone like my office is sinking before heading out to the bathroom.

This is a problem.


Let me tell you a short story. Last year around this time, I was developing a persona for a project. It went something like this…

Tim wakes up, rolls over to his iPhone and checks his email
Tim sits down at the breakfast table and eats a bowl of cereal while browsing googlereader on his laptop.
On the train Tim plays scrabble on his iPad while listening to music
Tim gets into work and checks his personal email for 15 minutes and work email for 20 minutes.
Tim heads out to a meeting and watches TaxiTv in the cab
While waiting in the lobby he reads his ex-girlfriend’s facebook wall
During the meeting, Tim scans twitter during any quiet moments.
Tim foregoes lunch with coworkers so he can watch the newest TED Talks.
After lunch, Tim catches up on updates from google reader, twitter, and facebook.

I stopped myself…..Tim’s life sucks!!

This person was a slave to updates and notifications, spent most of the day staring at screens, and openly neglected real interactions with coworkers. This all got me thinking. Is this really the life that we are designing for? Is this really the life we are crafting for our friends and family? Then, I really began to freak out. Is this the life i have?

So being a neurotic interaction designer as I am, I decided to test my own patterns. At first I wasn’t sure how to do this, but I thought back to my childhood. My father had a simple conversation starter. During any lull in conversation, he’d simply ask ‘whatcha thinking’. At first I would just respond ‘nuthin’, but overtime I actually took a moment to track back my thoughts and see what I was thinking. I realized this could be a great way to collect my own patterns.

I would just constantly ask myself. ‘What are you doing?’ I would ask myself this question at random intervals throughout the day. I took this question as a moment of reflection and a way to highlight what I spend my time on throughout the day.

What am I doing? Reading the last 50 tweets from Kanye. What am I doing? Reading 3 pages of comments on a gawker article. What am I doing? Trying to find out the name of the character michael showalter plays in wet hot american summer.

It was like I had a two year old next to me constantly asking ‘what are you doing?’ all day long. Our days are filled with little passive decisions that in aggregate have a dramatic effect on our lives. After a few weeks of questioning myself, I realized something. There were simples trends in my replies. All of my actions could be grouped into 3 basic categories.

First I noticed curation. I reblogged a photo on tumblr. I called my friend Drew to tell him to buy the new Iron & Wine album. I sent out a list of reference websites to coworkers.

Curation is putting our stamp on things. It’s us labeling something as good, significant, or part of a collection. Best albums of 2010, most important social media companies, or favorite movies about hacking. We curate our own space in the world to communicate who we are, what we believe in, and our personal style or taste.

The second category I noticed was creation. I created a bourbon affogato (see me after the talk if you want to buy me one?). I created a sitemap for an iPhone application. I created a song to sing whenever Carl shows up at Jo’s.

Creation is us taking obscure references, ideas, and relics of society and mashing them together until something truly new and unique enters the world. We create things to feel ownership, pride, and impact upon the world.

Finally, there was consumption. I watched a 20 minute time lapse video of New York. I read all of my unread items in google reader. I rewatched every episode of Archer on Hulu.

Consumption is letting what others create sink deep into your brain. We consume data, and media for entertainment, education, and to be part of the greater culture.

Curate, Create, Consume

This became my framework. Anytime I asked the question ‘what am I doing?’ I would answer create, curate, or consume.

create, consume, consume, curate, consume, consume, create

These answers became the DNA of my daily activities. Once I started looking at everything through this lens, I quickly realized exactly how much of my life had shifted to consumption; check out this video, read this blog, here’s another video, read these comments, listen to this interview, look at this chart. These activities were eating up much of my day without providing any tangible benefits. I thought back to my childhood. I used to DO things. I used to MAKE things. Even though I loved video games, there was nothing better than playing tomato baseball in my backyard with friends.

So this is our problem. Consumption. No one has won an Emmy for watching every episode of LOST nor has anyone written the great american novel by reading the best of craigslist. Yet our days have become increasingly weighted to consumption.

What are we designing for?

As designers, we commonly dump content into an endless activity stream for the user to dig through. We install touchscreens in our cabs and hand out ipads for our wine menus. We tease one news article and immediately try to sell the user on viewing related videos, interactive pieces, community comments, or reference links. This is a problem of our interfaces and not of our content.

Let’s think back to poor Tim. Before a single wireframe, I had already defined his life as one of hyper consumption. What kind of product do you think I would have ended up designing for him?

Subtly over time our skill at getting users to ‘sign up’ and ‘read more’ has transposed over to the odd subtext of ‘don’t stop consuming’, ‘pay attention to every screen’, and ‘you can’t go to the bathroom without your phone’. These interfaces are not just pixels and buttons, they are highly addictive systems that encourage people to all new levels of consumption. I do have hope. I know a few people who are responsible for building these interfaces.

So I must tell you something. Tim…he’s fake. He doesn’t actually wake up and check his phone and he doesn’t actually like TaxiTV (no one does). That’s the problem. As a designer, I had no problem sending him through these consumption loops because it was Tim’s life and not mine. How often do you sit down and project YOURSELF as a future user of your product day in and day out?? When you do put yourself in that position, what kind of life do you have? Is this a life that you’d want? Is this a life that you’d like your children to have? Perhaps most importantly, if a billion people are living that life…how would the world change?

We must establish a new system of values to ensure that our experiences are aligned with the world we wish to create. For me, these values are Action, Balance, and Creation.

Action

Always demand action. Not ‘like’ this or ‘friend’ that, but actually encourage people go into the real world and make something happen. The digital realm is great at pooling resources and connecting people as a communication medium….let me repeat that…as a communication medium. We must remember that most true creation happens in the real world. Help the user find out what they need, but then also help them get offline and do it.

Ask of your designs…Does this design encourage me to create something new in the world? Can this design connect me to other resources in the world Does this design value action over consumption?

Balance

While we many interfaces are geared towards consumption, it would also be wrong to design interfaces that only value creation or curation. Our designs must help users create and maintained a balance life including consumption, creation, and curation.

Ask of your designs…Does this design encourage a balanced life? Does this design make me return to the experience more than I need to?

Creation

Deam Kamen said it wonderfully…

‘Free cultures get what they celebrate’

Within the framework of creation, curation, and consumption, what do your designs celebrate? Personally, I’d love a world where we celebrate creation and actively build systems that provide the tools for anyone to create anything they’d like.

Ask of your designs…Does this design provide me with tools so that I can create better? Does this design connect people who are creating fresh content?

The Petesona

A week ago I sat down and wrote up a ’Petesona’…

pete wakes up and watches the sunrise
pete meets up with a friend for morning coffee and debate
on the train, pete sketches the people around him
pete gets into the office and quickly browses the 5 most important notifications of the day
pete heads into a meeting and his phone automatically activates do not disturb mode
after the meeting pete receives a notification that Kelsey is out of her meeting early and is waiting at miso for lunch.
pete goes to the bathroom….without his phone

This is a life I can design for.

Change

Look around this room. We are the first movers, we are the hyper connected, we are the builders of these systems. Believe it or not, people do look towards us to see where the world is going. We must believe in what we preach and be examples of what we believe. Do we support the application that constantly steals our time and attention, or do we support the application that allows us to better connect with people in real life? Do we promote the experience encouraging action or the experience that keeps you tied to the desk and connected to your phone? We must show in our designs how we value action, balance, and creation in life.

We have gotten quite good at getting people to do what we want, but now it’s time to look back at ourselves and make sure we are using our skills to build a world that we’re be proud to live in.

Thank you for your consumption.


Peter Knocke is a User Experience Strategist living in NYC. He’s a Co-founder of GothamSmith LTD & Specials on C.