Originally published here
Technology is not neutral. It is not impartial
Who we are reflect on what we build.
When you navigate a physical space, you are following the plan of the architects and urbanists who designed it in the first place. Of course how you navigate the space is unique to you – like the way you walk or the order you decide to visit each area — but your overall path follows a larger plan envisioned by the creators of that space.
Same applies to digital channels.
Sure, as a user, you have your specific digital footprint, your specific behavior, and specific experiences cannot be designed. But your overall experience follows the plan envisioned by the designers of that app or service.
The truth is: the values of the creators are deeply ingrained in everything you interact with. The feeds you scroll through. The buttons you click. The imagery you see.
- Someone decided the main Facebook experience was going to be based on an infinite feed, to keep you engaged as much as possible. No one at Facebook has created cards that show up every dozen posts reminding you to breathe, to go outside, or to call a friend.
- Someone decided on Tinder you would swipe away the people you don’t want to engage further with. Can you swipe away unwanted people in real life?
- Someone decided Alexa would take your orders without you having to say “please”, or “thanks”. Will that possibly affect the way you treat waiters (and other service providers) in a few years?
Choices, made by other people, can have a profound impact in how you experience a certain product.
That’s not to say one single designer at Facebook was responsible for that decision of creating its endless, addictive newsfeed. It was not part of an evil plan, created by evil people. But your environment’s fingerprints are also all over you. When companies reward employees who come up with ideas that will increase user engagement, they are setting the tone for what’s considered good vs. bad in their workplace. Features that increase the time users spend with the product will lead to recognition, salary increases, promotions.
As designers, we face those decisions several times over the course of our careers. The decision of adding an extra button to try to get higher conversion rates. The decision of softening a button label so users don’t feel like they are making a big commitment. The decision of auto-selecting a checkbox, reducing the size of the “unsubscribe” button, designing a pop-up.
Our fingerprints are all over the screens we design, and the screens we design are our legacy in the world. Be mindful.
Original published here.