UX London: Designing the Right Behaviors

by May 28, 2014

In his The Most Harmful Profession presentation at UX London 2014 Aza Raskin made the case for more responsible digital design. Here are my notes from his talk:

  • There are professions more harmful design, but only very few of them -Victor Papanek.
  • But why is design harmful? When we design things they have a life. Yet we rarely think about the full lifecycle of the products we design -they often end up in landfills. The waste we create is a moral issue. In the US 149 million cell phones got thrown out in 2009. Designers need to consider how products are disposed as much as how they're sold.
  • If you can make things that people want (through design), you should be making things that you're proud of, that make people's lives better.
  • With digital design, the situation is worse. Never before could a small group of people influence so many (billions) through their design. Little design decisions effect hundreds of millions of people.
  • It took phones 75 years to reach 50 million users. It took radio 38 years. It took Facebook 3.5 years. It took Angry Birds 35 days. So our designs can reach people faster than ever before.
  • Instead of physical waste, we create mental waste/clutter in digital design. When there's a glut of information, attention is scarce.
  • Attention is the currency of our modern economy. This has a negative influence on business models. If not thought through, they end up with the path of least resistance: banner ads.
  • Random rewards are one of the most powerful ways to train animals. They also work on humans.
  • Slot machines are responsible for most profits in casinos and people become addicted 4 times faster to slot machines than other forms of gambling.
  • People's attention spans are increasingly short. Even after a few seconds, people pull out their phones to check email (which comes at random times).
  • Studies show people are less happy when using Facebook and Instagram. This boils down to comparison sadness - we see the highlights of other people's lives instead of their complete lives.
  • 80% of people hold their breadth when reading email. It adds stress. Design can change people physically.
  • Resorting content based on what people click on, ultimately reinforces existing beliefs. This becomes a design decision.
  • Because of the power design yields, we need to be more conscious about how we design and the problems we work on.
  • In the US, 52% of Americans will become diabetic to some degree. One in 3 Americans are obese. 100 years ago influenza, tuberculous, and other external issues killed us. Today, the biggest killers are inflicted on ourselves: diabetes, heart disease, hypertension.
  • All of these issues are manageable through behavioral change, which designers can influence.
  • Jawbone used a number of design techniques to change consumer behaviors for the better: provide more sleep, feel better, etc.
  • People around you have a lot of influence on what you eat. Companies like Facebook, could help you eat healthy by highlighting good foods in your news feeds, instead of bad foods.
  • Behavioral change will be the next blockbuster drug. This won't come from doctors.
  • Designers will be the next pharma. Use the techniques currently applied for distraction/advertising for good.