Ethical manipulation in UX design –

How can we design products that are addictive and good for own sake?

Hi, I am Sridhar and I am a binge watcher.

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It was late in the night and my eyes were bleary staring at the monitor for hours. My body wanted to give up but my monkey mind just wouldn’t. This happens each time I binge watch a TV show; latest relapse being House Of Cards.

I am a die hard fan of the Underwoods and for the love of God have no clue why I like unscrupulous people who kill for power. That is a topic for another day. Coming back to the issue at hand, I really must applaud the UX designers at Netflix Design Team for making binge watching so mindlessly simple.

Image credit: Giphy

I need to call upon Newton to overcome the inertia of rest to stop watching the next episode. A lot of streaming sites such as Amazon Prime already auto play the next episode to keep the viewers tied down. Netflix has taken it up a notch — skip the intro credits at the beginning and end of the show. Who needs to watch the same names for each episode right?If user does not click the screen in 5 seconds when credits start rolling, the next one starts playing automatically.

Image credits: Netflix (Left) Skip intro credits (Right) Skip end credits

Now logically speaking, shaving off maybe 30 seconds at the beginning and the end is no big deal. But the psychological impact is much more. Normally when the credits roll at the end of an episode, it is a rude awakening to the cruel reality. Get up, stretch, drink water, order pizza or check if the house is on fire. Those few seconds change my brain from passive to active mode. I stop consuming information and make some decisions. By removing the interval when my zombie brain shuts off and my rational brain turns on(hopefully), I have but no choice but to keep watching.

Image credit: Giphy

I cannot blame the designers at Netflix for creating a compelling UX and not accept responsibility of the situation. I could have turned off the computer any time but I didn’t. So who is to be blamed here? The company that created an addictive product or the irrational human that uses the product.

I am reminded of Nir Eyal’s article about tech companies creating effective ‘hooks’ and keeping their consumers tied in to the point where they become addicts. His suggestion for streaming services is giving an option to limit the number of viewing hours in a weekend. People are installing fewer apps and the top 10 apps are controlled by Google/Facebook, it is a no holds barred fist fight for user’s attention. How can the Netflix Design Team come up with a product that is addictive enough to stick around and not overdose?

Image credit: Giphy

My suggestion would be to gamify the situation. Limiting the number of hours I can watch TV makes me feel like a school kid all over again. Instead when a person is on a binge watching spree — do not auto play videos.

Image credit: Giphy
  • Display an avatar or mascot and nudge people to get off the couch and workout with the avatar. Nothing too hard — just walking around and even stretching a bit can do wonders for the sore limbs. Make it a game, make it fun. People always find reasons to not work out. Sneaking in 5 mins of physical activity in between shows makes you feel good that you are a healthy person(?).
  • Or play a short meditation track and encourage people to close their eyes and relax for few minutes.

Use a leader-board to show what other people who are watching the show are doing. Taking time off to feed starving kids once a while is not a bad idea. Trust me no one wants to eat veggies, just pour some salad dressing and make it look pretty.

Image credit: Giphy

What do you think about ethical manipulation and how can we make design that is addictive and good for our own sake?

Author: Sridhar Rajendran

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