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Respecting our users time and attention

Over the last decade there has been a rise in everyday tools fighting for our constant attention. Smartphones gaining widespread use have been big enablers of this.

After living with a constant barrage of interruptions for years I’m noticing a change. Friends and people I follow have started to restrict which apps get to show so much as an unread-count badge.

Many turn their smartphone back into a plain phone. Calls and messages get to make a noise, everything else is off. Further calls & messages are only allowed outside “Do Not Distrub” times.

Coming up with reasons to message your users is simple. Imagine a site to keep track of your favorite TV shows. Giving it a minute of thought I can come up with a handful of reasons to ask for notification permission. Alert a new episode is about to air, ask you to come back after not using it for a while, inform you about schedule changes, and many more.

This is not something I want for my users. It is not what I want for myself.

Likes, upvotes, and karma are the other side of the same coin. They try to keep us engaged with something longer than needed or even healthy. Using the example above, I could add a count of how many hours you watched TV and compare that with other users. Watching a show should be a form of enjoyment or relaxation not something you feel you have to do or compete at. It should be on your own terms. How we design these things has a big influence on our customers.

I see it as our obligation as designers/makers to build products which respect our users time and attention. Make every form of interruption opt-in. Don’t try to add fictional internet points and social to everything.

When you find yourself in the position where your boss asks you to implement such manipulative tactics you have to make a choice. Try to push back. This can be difficult, especially when you depend on your job for food and a home. It is worth the effort though.

turned on Focus signage