Did you wake up this morning and think ‘Today, I want to spend hours on social media’? Probably not, but you did it anyway.
Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. Many apps are designed to absorb attention, with the hidden objective of keeping you on the platform for as long as possible.
Fortunately, as a design team at Picnic, we’re not led by a business model that pivots around hijacking people’s time, attention, and clicks. We design a service that acts as a supermarket in your pocket. Every minute spent within the Picnic app is time-well spent, so you no longer need to spend hours shopping for groceries, creating free time for more valuable activities.
Inspired by ‘Time-well spent’
Time-well spent is a movement. Led by Tristan Harris, former Design Ethicist of Google, time-well spent is a reaction against big tech companies and social media platforms that hijack time with addictive design patterns, in order to monetize attention. The more time a user spends on their platform, the more money the company makes.
But time is sacred, there are only so many hours in a day. Rather than trying to keep a user on a platform, the task of designers and developers should be to use time in a meaningful way. They have a responsibility to empower the user and not manipulate them. They should think about how much time people spend on a service, what that service gives back in return, and how a user feels about it.
When products are built with the user’s best interest at heart, digital services can offer added value to a user’s life. We can create systems to enhance people’s time, rather than consuming it.
Converting hours into minutes
Groceries are essential, but going to the supermarket costs time. Consumers spend up to 5 hours a week grocery shopping, and many people consider it a mundane task.
At Picnic, we have created a digital tool that takes the time-consuming process of grocery shopping and transforms it into something easy and enjoyable. And with delivery to the doorstep, no extra time or effort is used in travelling to supermarkets, standing in queues, or carrying heavy groceries.
However, it is not as simple as just offering an in-app grocery service. We take the effort to get to know our customers, really understand what their needs and values are, and how they use the app. At weekly user-testing sessions, the design team meets with real customers to test new features and identify areas for improvement.
This allows us to offer a service that takes the minimum time necessary for an effective and rewarding shopping experience, but never more time than that.
Each minute that a customer spends on our platform is an investment that creates hours of free time, to be enjoyed however they want.
Creating time: a measurement of success
For me as a designer, building a commercially sound supermarket to fit in your pocket is a technically interesting project. Every day, I work on shaping a service that breaks people’s ingrained habit of going to brick and mortar supermarkets.
In my position, I align the company’s commercial goals with the best interests of our user. But this professional challenge became sincerely rewarding once I understood the true impact that we have on people’s lives, and the free time that our app creates.
This is my personal measurement for success: the time spent in our app in relation to the amount of free time created for our users. For each week Picnic delivers groceries, the accumulative free time created for all customers amounts to years and years. With the rate that Picnic is growing, we will soon create a lifetime’s worth of free time on a weekly basis.
It is this perspective that gets me out of bed each day. The knowledge that my work creates time, rather than consumes it, fuels a desire to design interesting new features and optimise every minute spent in the Picnic app.