Can Design Save the World?
Each time we are faced with the compelling question ‘What kind of world are we leaving for our children?’ it leads to a discussion on physical factors such as plastic-free packaging or organic fabrics that help reduce carbon footprint. But as members of the technological revolution, have we stopped to ask if we are designing responsible experiences for the future? If history is any indication, humans are highly adaptable creatures. Simple behavioral traits at a particular point in time can have far-reaching effects on human evolution. So, truth be told, designing the right experiences that inculcate desirable habits definitely deserves more attention than it presently receives.
But what is a responsible experience? Well, to understand that, let’s first discuss some not-so responsible experiences. Have you ever scrolled through your Facebook wall for a couple of minutes just before going to bed, only to realize that those few minutes have transformed into an hour or even longer? Have you ever said ‘This episode’s going to be my last’, but then ended up binge-watching an entire season on Netflix? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there! So, what are these apps goading you into doing? Basically, they act as bottomless pits of information, shamelessly pushing more and more content your way, till you are forced to stop. In simple words, they’re hijacking your brain. Another excellent example of this is to notice the number of times that you look at your phone to know the time. Do you ever just glance and stop? Or do you lift your phone, open up some apps and spend another 5–10 minutes scrolling aimlessly, completely oblivious to the fact that all you truly wanted to do was check the time?
Research conducted by British psychologists shows that young adults check their smartphones roughly twice as much as they estimate that they do. We are a society of pending notifications and blue ticks that are screaming at us, waiting to be noticed. To add insult to injury, we’ve been trained to respond to these signs as if they were natural parts of our existence. This is what illustrates an experience that makes poor use of our time, distracts us from our intended action and leaves us feeling unproductive. Responsible design, on the other hand, effortlessly enriches our daily actions, ultimately improving our everyday behaviour.
Google Pixel’s ‘always on’ display is a perfect example of this phenomenon. The designers at Google developed a screen that always displays the time and date, even when the screen is unused. This is a silent indication to the user that he needn’t even move to perform his intended action. A simple glance at his phone tells him the time and he can go about his day uninterrupted. Similarly, allowing the user to disable ‘blue ticks’ on Whatsapp, (a feature that shouldn’t have been designed in the first place), frees the user from feeling compelled to respond to a text instantly. He can take his time to react to a notification and decide whether or not to reply, thereby ensuring that he is not pressured into social reciprocity. Platforms like Medium that display the approximate time it will take to read a particular article empower the user by providing the exact time investment. It helps him forecast the consequences of a click, an option not many are willing to offer.
The ‘time to bed’ feature on the iPhone that politely encourages the user to shut his phone and get a good night’s sleep, reminds him of his priorities and promotes a healthier lifestyle. Uber, in an attempt to combat road rage, prompts its drivers to slow down each time they exceed the speed limit through a vigorous red alert on their screens. Apps like Snapchat and Waze that are able to detect motion, advise the user not to type when he is moving or driving. And in a stark contrast to Facebook’s ad strategy that tracks digital behaviour and eerily displays relevant ads, Netflix politely informs you why you’re receiving the suggestion for a particular movie by showing you a match rate based on your past viewing tendencies. In this way, responsible design is entirely achievable without manipulating the consumer and allowing him to make informed decisions to improve the quality of his life.
Thus, it is not just important to design well, but to design sensibly. We need a world where design is more motivational than ostentatious, more human-centred than user-centred and more liberating than captive.
‘So what kind of world should we leave behind?’you ask. The kind that has been designed responsibly by us.
Looking for ways to live more mindfully with your devices? Here’s how you can.