Not doing what you’ve been taught about User Experience may be the best way to help people reduce screen-on-time.
So, COVID-19 is happening and many of us have been (and will be) staying home for a long time. Remote work is now part of our daily lives and let’s face it: We’re using phones and computers like never before. I’ve been looking for solutions and found a rather interesting UX principle we can tweak to help people connect more to the real world.
Personally, my daily-average use on my phone went from 1.5h/day to 2.5h in the past month. Now it’s even worse, but it was pretty bad even before the pandemic. According to The Guardian last year, the average daily-use of a phone is about 3h15m. Wow.
Treating the symptoms, not the cause Both Apple and Google tried to do something about phone-dependence recently. Google introduced Digital Wellbeing and Apple Screen Time. Both features do the same:
They monitor your phone usage everyday and tell you which apps (or type of app) you use the most. They’re embedded into user settings of your device and when you open them, they will basically tell you how addicted you are to your phone. Once you’re deeply disappointed of yourself by how much time you’ve wasted scrolling through instagram, they will offer you a quick fix:
This setting basically lets you determine how much time you want to consume on a certain App during the day. Say you limit instagram to 30m. Once you’ve reached the time, the app icon will turn gray and you won’t be able to open it. Or so they say... you can easily go to the settings and disable the time limit.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work vey well.
The approach that inspired me A few weeks back, I was thinking about my digital consumption and remembered The Light Phone. It is a tiny beautifully designed e-ink slab with the most minimal UI since Microsoft’s Zune, like a mini kindle-phone that’s extremely desirable. They sell it as a phone for humans, as it is intended not to be used that much. The first time I saw it on kickstarter I thought: I’m getting it.
Their recent Light phone 2 fixed some of the issues with the first version;
It now supports Google Maps, Uber, Music playback and Calendar.
The Light Phone
Problem solved! Right? I get a Light Phone, my digital usage decreases instantly without sacrificing “the fundamental contemporary features” plus, I will have the coolest dumb-phone on the block.
Well, not exactly. While this approach seems to be the one, there is a catch: It lacks affordance.
Affordances The term affordance, introduced by Gibson in 1977 refers to “the actions possible by a specific agent on a specific environment”. A chair for example, affords to be sat on (if the user can sit on it) as both the physical capabilities of the object and the users’ match to perform the action.
Later on, Don Norman famously modified the term by adding perceivable to the equation and by doing so, creating a new term called, surprise, perceivable affordances. For Norman, the affordance of something not only requires physical capability from both agents, but it also requires the action to be perceived by the user. A door for instance, affords to be opened and closed, if the user can perform the action. Now, for a door to perceivably afford being opened, the hinges must be visible (indicating in which direction it pivots) and the handle must indicate how to be operated (left or right). Now the door is not just openable by a certain user, but its structure also indicates how it should operate.
The door hinges, just like the underline in this text are called signifiers, and they help accentuate a perceived affordance:
It refers to any mark or sound, any perceivable indicator that communicates appropriate behavior to a person.
Now, these terms, will help us understand what follows. I highly encourage you to read The Design of Everyday Things if you want to dive deeper.
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