The Bell Curve of People Giving a Shit

Sophia V Prater
May 20, 2017 · 4 min read

What I am about to write is nothing revolutionary. I make no promises of telling you anything you don’t already know. But this is a concept that rattles around in my head often as I doddle about my design business. It’s a way of visualizing what’s behind the value of design and it has been philosophically useful to me. So, I thought I’d pass it on.

The reason that design has the potential to be so influential is because there is a bell curve of people giving a shit.

On one end of the spectrum, you have people that don’t care about X, will never care about X, and even if X was handed to them with free beer, foot massages, and packaged with the best design on the planet…they still wouldn’t waste their time with it.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have your brave souls that REALLY FRACKING CARE about X. They will fill out the overly lengthy form for a second time after their original hard work was washed away by a incomprehensible error. If they have to, they will spend more than 34 seconds searching for the DONATE button. They might even go so far as to explore what’s behind that little hamburger icon. This small minority is determined to take action when it comes to X.

And finally, we have the flirty majority in the big hump of the bell curve. Sure, they care…if it’s convenient, immediately valuable and spikes their dopamine. This is how the majority of people care about the majority of things. We humans are curious and pleasure-seeking creatures living in a modern world of too many potential-things-to-care-about. A new photo-sharing app? Yay! We’re curious, but mostly ambivalent. We’ll flick through screenshots in the app store, check it out on a friend’s phone for 8 seconds of research, and maybe take that precious moment to download it. But as soon as it triggers the slightest bit of annoyance or confusion — we’re done. Nope.

In a similar vein, we’d also love to send that $20 to the latest climate disaster’s relief efforts. But, most of us probably won’t do it if we have to manually enter credit card information using our phone on a non-mobile-optimized website. Literally, our fellow humans could be in a life-threatening situation while watching their houses float away…and we’d be complaining about tiny buttons.

This doesn’t make us bad people or lazy people. We are just already over-saturated by potential-things-to-care-about. If some new potential-thing-to-care-about pings us for our attention and energy, it’s going to have to make a good case and make it quick — no matter how objectively “important.” As Mark Manson tells us, we only have so many fucks to give. We have to spend them wisely.

Here’s another bell curve for you.

Does this seem about right for you? And, are you become more and more discerning and about the things you pluck from that vast yellow ocean of “mildly interesting”?

Minimalism is on the rise, counter-balancing our culture of consumption — exasperated modern men and women are actively trying to remove things from their lives. So, as designers of new products and services, as designers wanting users that care about our X…where does that leave us?

With a ton of influence.

It’s design that differentiates, that greases the wheels, and encourages users take actions that help themselves, help others, help the environment, and help your company thrive (hopefully not solely that last one).

It’s packed with interactive exercises, articles, and expert demos on how to create beautiful floral arrangements at home. But the experience is pretty clunky (they didn’t want to spend the money on a designer). They have a small and dedicated user-base of people that have been fantasizing for years about quitting their day job to become a florist (ahem…the tiny green slice in the bell curve). They love that they can spend 20 minutes of their lunch break moving closer to their long-time goal. They deal with the crappy design.

But what if the Joe and Kevin (they need names) invested some bang-up design? What if the interactive exercises were more like addictive games, the social aspects compelling and encouraging, the progress monitoring clear, and every detail of the UI simple and intuitive? Well, then. Perhaps quite a few of the mass of curious-ambivalents would be drawn in. Joe and Kevin did not just gain more users and thus more in-app purchase dollars. The guys introduce a delightful new hobby to thousands (millions?) of people that previously had never considered this art form. Some of them may be rediscovering their creativity for the first time in decades. Joe and Kevin changed lives by designing for that camel hump of the bell curve.

I told you this would be nothing new. But perhaps it’s a new way of framing what you already know. Sometimes we forget how much we actually can make a difference. So if you are feeling overwhelmed by the competition or the fickleness of your potential user base, remember the opportunity that lies in the middle of the bell curve.

Sophia V Prater

Written by

Found and Lead UXer at Rewired. Speaker on object-oriented UX. Recovering perfectionist.