Are UX designers, creating a more user-friendly world or a more addictive one?
What is happening?
As user experience (UX) designers, our primary goal is to create products and interfaces that are easy to use, efficient, and enjoyable for the user. However, with the rise of technology and the increasing amount of time people spend on their devices, there is a growing concern that we are not just creating a more user-friendly world, but also a more addictive one.
What is addiction?
In simple terms, it is when a person can’t stop doing something, even if it’s harmful to them. When a person engages in addictive behaviour or substance, it can activate the reward centres of the brain and release chemicals such as dopamine, which can create a pleasurable feeling. Over time, the brain adapts to this increased level of dopamine and may require more of the substance or behaviour to achieve the same effect. This can lead to compulsive use and addiction.
Why is technology getting addictive?
The short answer
Unlike some of the typical addictions, in today’s world, technology addiction is driven by its design to be highly engaging and increasingly accessible and affordable, leading to constant temptation to use it. This and the continuous stimulation and release of dopamine can make it difficult for individuals to disconnect and take a break.
The longer answer
One of the main reasons for this is the instant gratification and rewards provided by technology. Social media, in particular, is all about bragging one’s lifestyle and then receiving likes and comments on it. In an age where people do not have the time to interact with one another, metrics such as likes and comments play a significant role in feeling validated. Once this loop of validation begins, it is difficult to break free and feel good about ourselves on our own. Furthermore, the constant flow of information about what other people are doing and the events happening in their lives creates the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), which can lead to excessive use of social media.
Technology is all around us and it’s becoming constantly harder to put down our devices. With increasing accessibility and affordability, more and more people are falling into the trap of addiction.
“On 2021, a staggering 5.2 billion out of the 7.9 billion people on earth owned smartphones.”
Consumer-based companies are constantly working to make our experiences more personalized, creating a bubble where we only see information and perspectives that align with our existing beliefs and values. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like to be in a comfortable and safe space? But, this personalized bubble can also lead to a lack of diversity and an echo chamber effect, where we become increasingly isolated from different perspectives and ideas.
The truth is, many of us may not even realize the potential negative effects of excessive technology use, such as addiction. And it’s not just a personal issue, there’s also a social pressure to keep up with technology, which can make it hard to disconnect.
You know that feeling when you get a notification and you just can’t help but check it? Or when you feel a rush of excitement when you get a like on your post? Well, that’s because experience is designed to release dopamine in our brain with each notification or message received. It’s like constantly checking the fridge for new food, but without the disappointment and effort. It’s a feeling of pleasure that encourages us to keep using technology, making it hard to disconnect.
What is this kind of addictive technology?
These are some of the top leading addictions in technology
Examples: Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook
Addictive due to:
- The continuous loop of validation
- Fear of missing out (FOMO)
- Escapism: The escape it provides from reality
- Dopamine: Rewards like comments, likes and new followers that eventually release dopamine.
- Low commitment: Reels are also perceived as a low commitment entertainment due to the video length of 30-60 seconds but unfortunately, due to our low attention spans and the ability of platforms to constantly produce new material, users lose the sense of time and get completely engrossed.
Examples: PUBG, Free Fire, Clash of Clans, Candy Crush, Valorant
Addictive due to:
- The rush of winning: Winning the game can provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction
- The immersive experience: They provide an immersive experience that can make players feel like they are a part of the game’s world. This can be particularly appealing to those who are looking to escape reality.
- Social connection: Online multiplayer options allows players to connect and compete with others globally, which can be a way for people to feel connected and also validate their wins
- Dopamine: Gaming activates the reward center of the brain, releasing dopamine making the experience pleasurable
- Stress relief: They are also a way to relax and relieve stress
- Progression system: Many games have a progression system where players can level up and unlock new items, weapons, etc. This can be addictive as it provides a sense of accomplishment and progression.
Examples: Google, YouTube
Addictive due to:
- Unlimited Surfing: With such a vast sea of resources and unlimited permutations, it is hard to get away from the constant stream of information.
Examples: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar
Addictive due to:
- Convenience: Streaming platforms offer a wide variety of content, which is easily accessible and can be viewed at any time.
- Binge-watching: Many streaming platforms release entire seasons of shows at once with cliffhangers after every episode, which can lead to binge-watching.
- Personalization: Streaming platforms often use data and algorithms to create personalized recommendations based on a user’s viewing history. This can make it easy to find new content that is similar to what a user already likes, which can lead to longer viewing sessions.
- Escapism: Streaming can be used as a way to escape from stress or negative emotions, by providing a way to relax, unwind and forget about the real world for a while.
- Social connection: People feel a sense of connection to the characters and stories they see on streaming platforms, which can make them want to continue watching.
Examples: WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram DMs, Facebook Messenger
Addictive due to:
- Social connection: Chatting on these platforms allows people to connect with friends, family, and even strangers, which can fulfill a need for social interaction and validation.
- Instant gratification: Chatting on these platforms allows for real-time conversations, which can provide a sense of instant gratification and validation.
- Convenience: These platforms are easily accessible through smartphones, which means that people can chat anytime, anywhere.
- Fear of missing out (FOMO): People may feel a need to constantly check their chats to stay in the loop with their friends, family and social groups, and not to miss any important message or update.
Examples: Dream11, PokerStars, Betway
Addictive due to:
- The thrill of winning: Gambling can provide a rush of adrenaline and a sense of excitement, especially when people win.
- The possibility of winning big: Online gambling platforms often offer large payouts, which can be a big draw for people.
- Convenience: Online gambling platforms are easily accessible through smartphones, which means that people can gamble anytime, anywhere.
- Escapism: Gambling can provide a way to escape from stress or negative emotions, by providing a distraction and a way to relax, unwind and forget about the real world for a while.
- The sense of control: Some people may believe that they have control over the outcome of the game and that they can beat the odds, which can lead to excessive gambling.
Examples: Amazon, Flipkart, Myntra, OLX
Addictive due to:
- Convenience: Online shopping platforms offer the convenience of shopping from anywhere, at any time, without having to leave the house.
- Variety: Online platforms offer a wide variety of products, which can be overwhelming and make it hard for people to resist the urge to buy.
- Impulse buying: Online platforms make it easy to make impulsive purchases, as the buying process is quick and simple.
- The sense of instant gratification: Online platforms offer easy and fast delivery, which can provide a sense of instant gratification and reward after making a purchase.
- The thrill of getting a deal: Online platforms often offer discounts and deals, which can be a big draw for people.
So what is the difference between technology addiction and good user experience
Think about it like this, technology addiction is when you can’t put your phone down, even when you know you should be doing something else. It’s like an unhealthy relationship with technology, where it starts to negatively impact your daily life, like making you inclined towards a sedentary lifestyle leading to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, eye strain, headaches, neck and back pain, affect your mental health and relationships leading to feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness, social isolation, problems with attention, concentration and time management.
On the other hand, a good user experience is like having a best friend who always makes things easy for you. It’s when the technology you use is intuitive, efficient and makes your life better, not worse. Imagine, being able to find what you need quickly and easily, feeling in control and empowered while using the product, enjoying the experience and feeling satisfied with the outcome. Additionally, good user experience helps to build trust and loyalty towards the brand and improves overall productivity and effectiveness. Good user experience is all about making technology work for you, not the other way around. It’s the difference between being addicted to technology and having a healthy relationship with it.
So what can UX Designers do about it?
Tech companies are primarily in the business of making money, and one way they do that is by keeping us hooked on their products. We constantly use their apps and websites and thus they promote their paid services/ads and make money to survive. But it’s important to remember that it’s not all bad, these technologies are the ones that make our lives easier. Thus what we can do is:
- Be personally mindful and conscious about our usage of tech products by striking that delicate balance so that technology works for us and not the other way around.
- Speaking from the angle of a UX Designer, it is up to us designers, product managers and engineers to use our skills, empathy and abilities with the support of businesses to create products that enhance the lives of users and not exploit their time and mind.
About the Writer
Tanvi Mehta is a User Experience Thinker at Rezonant. She aims to design experiences that connect with people around the world and make them rethink the possibilities in life through design.