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Implementing the 4 UX design principles

Explore ways to deliver apps that enhance digital wellbeing through real world examples — part 3 of 3 of our wellbeing series

Google Play Apps & Games Team
Google Play Apps & Games
8 min readMar 17, 2021


This article is the final part of a 3 part mini-series on digital wellbeing. The content is authored and contributed to by the Google Digital Wellbeing Team (Kate Lockhart) and the Google P&E Developer Brand Marketing Team (Lily Sheringham).

Across the first 2 articles in this wellbeing series, we’ve introduced the 4 UX principles
— empowerment, awareness, control, and adaptability — that help support the 7 dimensions of wellbeing — physical, environmental, emotional, financial, occupational, intellectual, and social.

This final article shows the 4 UX principles in action through 3 case studies on Google products that promote better sleep, focus, and self-image.

Helping your app users find a balance with tech

Promoting sleep

Sleep is an important part of overall wellbeing. Sleep’s pivotal role means that it’s an area that has received a lot of attention in Google products.

We’ve already touched on Android’s Bedtime mode earlier in the series. This mode enables people to set a schedule that activates Grayscale and Do Not Disturb features. Activating these features reduces the likelihood that phone activity will interrupt sleep.

Bedtime mode incorporates several features that follow the wellbeing design principles of awareness, control, and adaptability.

Chart of time spent on mobile apps

Starting with awareness, Bedtime mode offers a dashboard where people can check their activity history. And the design principle of control drives the shortcut option to add Bedtime mode to the phone’s Quick Settings panel. This way they can easily turn the mode on and off. Adaptability is achieved with the option to activate Bedtime mode simply by charging the phone. When someone places their phone on charge during their scheduled bedtime, a host of features, such as Grayscale, kick in to support sleep.

Bedtime Mode interface

Building on the adaptability of Bedtime mode, Google Assistant offers a Bedtime Routine. When people say, “Hey Google, bedtime,” Google Assistant places the phone on silent, adjusts lights, sets an alarm, and gives them their schedule for the next day.

Google Family Link builds further on the design principles of control and awareness by letting people set digital ground rules and screen time limits. Then, parents can monitor use by everyone in the household, and lock a device at bedtime or when they think their child needs a break.

Supporting focus

Google surveyed more than 100,000 people to understand their priorities for digital wellbeing. Three key needs emerged from this research: free time for themselves, quality time with others, and focused time for work or school.

With this in mind, Android’s product team created Focus mode. This mode embodies the design principle of control by allowing people to switch off distractions. Focus mode does this by silencing the apps that most often require people’s attention — such as email, social media, or the news — to help them get quality work done in less time.

Focus Mode on notification

People can also take more control over their behavior by setting up a recurring schedule for Focus mode. This schedule can help make focus a habit.

Google Wifi also incorporates features to enable control, particularly when it comes to prioritizing quality time with others, by letting people schedule internet breaks on specific devices or manage screen time by pausing WiFi during bedtime or dinnertime. They can also ask Google Assistant to pause the internet connection.

Focus can also be about concentrating on the most important things. To help people do this, Gmail follows the design principle of empowerment in a feature that limits notifications to those indicated as high priority. People access this feature by turning on Priority Inbox. Gmail then automatically organizes emails into categories so that people can quickly see the most important ones first.

Gmail Smart Reply and Smart Compose show how adaptability can be incorporated into a product. Smart Reply provides quick response suggestions for emails. For messages requiring a more detailed reply, Smart Compose suggests words and phrases as people write to help them respond quickly.

Do Not Disturb offers another option to achieve focus. Encapsulating the design principle of empowerment, this feature lets people silence all notifications, including phone calls. However, people rarely want to block all notifications, so control is provided by letting calls and messages from “starred” contacts to break through. This way, close family and friends — or anyone that users choose — can reach them if needed. Activating Do Not Disturb is something people may need to do quickly. To provide this type of control, the Pixel 2, 3, and 4 include Flip to Shhh, a feature that turns on Do Not Disturb by placing the phone face down on a table.

Safeguarding selfies

The growing popularity of “beauty filters” and face retouching features sparked an important question on Google’s Digital Wellbeing team: Do these filters impact mental wellbeing?

After conducting several studies across four countries and speaking with child and mental health experts from around the world, the team learned that the potential for harm is real. The studies showed that 80% of parents said they’re worried about filters, and two-thirds of teens have reported being bullied by peers based on how they look in their selfies. Fortunately, designers and developers can understand and address these issues early on by providing features without sending unintentional signals about personal worth or beauty norms.

The recommendations suggest ways in which harm from face filter use can be anticipated and preempted through defaults, value-neutral language and visuals, transparency, and education. These recommendations are incorporated into the Pixel phone and Android Camera app, promoting wellbeing through small adjustments and interventions.

Empowerment — off by default

The first recommendation is simple: consider making face retouching features off by default. Research revealed that automatically turning on an app that changes people’s appearance can quietly send a message about how people should manage their appearance. This subtle sense of criticism was one of the most common concerns. As recommended in the wellbeing principles, default settings should support people’s mental wellbeing. This research is why the retouching feature is off by default on Pixel phones.

Retouching is set to off by default

Off by default: When face retouching features are on by default, people can infer that their appearance needs adjustment.

Awareness — value-neutral feedback

“Enhancement,” “beautification,” “touch up.” The language of face retouching implies improving or correcting a person’s physical appearance, which suggests that the way they look is bad. “Beautification” is a common name for face retouching features that unnecessarily adds a value judgment to a person’s edited image. The same is true of terms such as “slimming,” which imply that one’s body needs improvement.

Even icons follow this pattern. It’s common to see sparkling design elements in face retouching. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoyable imagery, it can be harmful when connected to something as personal as one’s identity. People can get sparkly if they desire, but apps should take care when imposing it on a person.

Before and After of value-neutral feedback

Pixel’s face retouching option before and after the introduction of value-neutral language and visuals.

Value-neutral language and visuals focus on describing features and controls while avoiding implications that the features enhance, correct, or beautify one’s appearance. Pixel phones use the feature name “Face retouching,” rather than “Beautification,” and updated icons: the face is still there, but an editing pen now replaces the sparkles. Adjustment levels follow the same guidelines, using numbers and symbols or simple terms such as “low” and “high.”

Awareness — transparency

Face retouching features can be subtle, making it difficult to know when images are altered. People might be unaware of the camera’s default state or forget which setting is active; real-time previews don’t always communicate the state of a face retouching setting either. All of these factors can lead to distress when people see their unretouched appearance.

The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery notes that 72% of their members in 2019 saw patients seeking cosmetic surgery to improve their selfies — a 15% increase from 2018. This information makes transparency about face retouching settings especially important. Transparency means taking measures to clearly indicate when face retouching is applied; in the real-time camera feed and after capturing an image.

Notification that pops up when retouching is turned on

Providing transparency can be done discreetly, such as a pill-style indicator

Awareness and adaptability — education

The effects of subtle face retouching are easier to spot by comparing still images rather than real-time camera feeds. It’s even easier to compare still images when they’re on the same screen, but this is rarely an option. Also, camera feeds don’t always accurately represent the picture’s final look, leading some to confusion about the level of face retouching. One way to create educational moments is with a post-capture comparison of still images.

Interface of comparisons between original and retouched images

Single-screen gallery comparison for evaluating degrees of face retouching intensity

The digital wellbeing principles of awareness and adaptability suggest that context-aware experiences help adapt to people’s diverse goals, abilities, and needs. Therefore, it’s perhaps unsurprising that our research indicates that many people would appreciate apps that provide more information about the connection between face retouching and well-being.

Description of what face retouching entails

Educational guidance is provided in the camera app or in a help article accessed through a “Learn more” link.


Designers and developers create experiences that affect people across all dimensions of their lives. Whether playing, working, exercising, relaxing, or learning, achieving a state of wellbeing is a constant journey.

Promoting sleep provides a solid foundation for wellbeing. Enabling people to focus better and achieve work or educational goals directly enhances wellbeing. Taking pictures is one of the most common things people do with their phones, and prioritizing a positive self-image can greatly improve wellbeing. By prioritizing wellbeing through thoughtful UX, these everyday experiences can enhance, rather than detract, from a person’s wellbeing.

Hopefully, this look at a practical implementation of the 4 UX principles — empowerment, awareness, control, and adaptability — inspires you to explore how you can design your apps to positively contribute to people’s wellbeing.

What do you think?

Do you have thoughts on digital wellbeing and how to help encourage it? Let us know in the comments below or tweet using #AskPlayDev and we’ll reply from @GooglePlayDev, where we regularly share news and tips on how to be successful on Google Play.