Thoughts on UX

UX. User experience. User interface. Human focused design. It’s odd – every conference, youtube video, TED talk, etc. I’ve listened to/watched has all talked about how this design is meant to make it easier for a person (user) to complete an action basically. Look at how easy it is to tweet! Look at how many images I can upload to Instagram! Look at how easy it is for me to find the next YouTube video to watch!

Look at how much time I’ve wasted. 

When I was young (late 90s, early 2000s), I remember having dial up internet. What a horrible user experience! In the same sense though, what a great way to get me to be more purposeful with time spent on the computer. You didn’t want to spend too much time on the computer when I was growing up because it was so slow. You could feel the minutes pass trying to load a page or play a game. Now? We probably spend more time than we ever did back then purely because it’s become so easy to. Why is this? We have a focus on UX to thank for that. By making it easier to complete tasks and spend time, we have thus started spending more time than we ever did waiting around for the internet to work back in the day.

When did UX turn into keeping someone hooked to your product? What does user engagement really measure? Why aren’t we looking at how quickly someone disengages as a measure of UX? Boom – someone sent an email and closed out of it. Task complete. No time wasted. There’s a balance here for sure but we have swung from one end of the spectrum where everything took forever and it was always convoluted to the other end where it’s so incredibly easy to do something that we have a hard time stopping.

Instagram is a great example. You begin scrolling and it’s hard to stop. Twitter is the same way. Oh, you guessed it, so is Facebook. It’s designed to keep you engaged and consuming. Consumption is easy when it’s 140 characters and images. Our desire for quick consumption has led to less reading and time spent on pages. This has only bled into other areas of our lives:

“A recent study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the average American spends only 19 minutes a day reading; young people read less than ever, apparently, with people ages 25 to 34 reading eight minutes a day on weekends and holidays, while those 20 to 24 average around 10. This, of course, is a decline: a report from Common Sense Media found that 45% of 17-year-olds admit only reading for pleasure a few times a year — up from 19% in 1984.” – From You Won’t Believe How Little Americans Read

This article does a great job of really diving into the data that’s in place behind this trend.

“Schwartz’s data shows that readers can’t stay focused. The more I type, the more of you tune out. And it’s not just me. It’s not just Slate. It’s everywhere online. When people land on a story, they very rarely make it all the way down the page. A lot of people don’t even make it halfway. Even more dispiriting is the relationship between scrolling and sharing. Schwartz’s data suggest that lots of people are tweeting out links to articles they haven’t fully read. If you see someone recommending a story online, you shouldn’t assume that he has read the thing he’s sharing.” – From You Won’t Finish This Article

We’ve gotten to the point where it’s so easy to engage in content that we’ll share content we don’t even read fully. It’s almost like we all have a social media twitch. Where does UX fit into this? True UX in my opinion would also help us disengage. Do you know how hard it is to deactivate your social media profiles? I do – I deactivated mine this past year and it took forever. True UX would allow for engagement AND disengagement so that you could, you know, live your life. This should really be renamed to HX (human experience) as user experience is ultimately starting with the definition that we are building something for a user of our product not for a human who is a parent, child, daughter, employee, etc.

To close, I would like to provide a throwback to 2010 when Google created a PacMan doodle resulting in a loss of “4,819,352 hours of time or $120,483,800 in productivity”. Why did this happen? UX not HX. In the same way I can’t just measure my vacation time and expect that this will be enough for me to actually take the time off, we have to be aware of our humanity and put boundaries in place to keep things in check.

Have you ever watched Netflix until it eventually asks if you are still there and want to keep watching? This should be in place with a slight change: after 3 hours of watching it should ask you if you’ve been outside or talked to another human or if you need to go to bed. It should offer disengagement rather than re-engagement with its product. Both are equally an important part of design. What started out as something that should be time saving (“we’ll make it easier and faster for people to post!”) has created a time-sucking monster that leaves us asking where the time went. It’s a careful balance but it’s one we need to begin to think about as technology expands into more parts of our society. It’s up to those of us who build the products to think about the moral and societal implications as much as we think about our “engagement statistics”, “churn”, and “growth”.


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