The pitfalls of persuasive design –

The technologies we use have turned into compulsions. What can we do about it?

Recently, the Guardian published an article elucidating how the makers of incredibly successful technologies now believe that their efforts paved the way to the formation of bad habits.

Some of these well known tech insiders now use plug-ins to steer away from spending too much time on social media. Although the designers of these technologies did not intend to create the so-called “slot machine” effect, the psychological methods they employed created a wide-spread addictive behavior to their products.

At Cornell, I study Information Science, which allows me to understand not only the design of technologies, but also how to predict human behavior with them. In one of my courses, persuasive design is covered and we learned about the triggers that designers use to achieve high user retention. The assigned lesson focused on finding a social issue and an associated user behavior. We were tasked with designing a technology to solve the issue and alter user behavior. From what I gathered, there are many ways to go about furthering change and making an impact.

When looking at social media technologies like Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram, the addictive behavior comes from the element of surprise and the constant desire to share your location, memories, or activities. The article explains:

“The technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions,” Eyal writes. “It’s the impulse to check a message notification. It’s the pull to visit YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter for just a few minutes, only to find yourself still tapping and scrolling an hour later.” None of this is an accident, he writes. It is all “just as their designers intended.”

So, what can we do about it?

For one, designers must continue to develop incredible products that hook users, but prevent the abuse of persuasive design by allowing people to be in control. Every user should have the ability to restrict and limit themselves in any way they see fit. If a designer’s intention is to persuade a user to change their behavior, they should still allow them to return to their original ways. If users are powerless, designers are not doing their job.

As designers, we must produce technologies that offer better alternatives to a large population of people. However, we must not lose sight on how oftentimes technology can do more harm than good. Our goal should be to design for social good, not for personal destruction. With great design comes difficult constraints and one of the greatest constraints is being able to provide valuable experiences to a user without jacking them into the system.

Author: Maya Frai

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