Kick-off for the community events of the (Re)Design Team of for you and your cus to mers
This article is the start of a series of articles in which we will introduce you to the team in Amsterdam and the topic of Responsible Design.
The newly formed Responsible Design Team of foryouandyourcustomers Amsterdam , is committed to demonstrate that there are responsible ways to design, build and evolve digital businesses, products and services, by applying sustainable, respectful and equitable principles to design processes. This article is the start of a series of articles in which we will introduce you to the team in Amsterdam, the topic of Responsible Design, its origins and future opportunities. Next week you will read more about “Responsibility is the new Customer Experience” at the same place.
Through our community events, we aim to foster a critical conversation about digital technologies and connect experts who want to push the boundaries of digital design toward a more sustainable and equitable future. Our first online community event on the topic of behaviours shaped by digital products and services was very well received.
We looked at digital products and services, and their unintended consequences together with a group of around 50 participants. In preparation for the event we created a survey to gather firsthand insights on people’s experiences. During the event, we presented the existing research around the theme, an analysis of the state of affairs and what brought us to the current situation.
Behaviours formed by digital products and services
As digital professionals we have been bringing disruptive and positive innovations in people’s lives. Meanwhile, we have also contributed to form unhealthy behaviours and habits. That is why we are convinced that it is time to consider different perspectives and take a responsible approach towards the unintended consequences of digital design.
Our relationship with digital technology
If we look at what people thought about mobile phones in 1999, we can say that much has changed within 20 years; in fact, smartphones and the Internet are “the most rapidly adopted consumer technologies of all time” (Dediu, 2012). What we also recognise is that online frustration is driving people offline, and making them question the benefits that the Internet has brought – how do we prevent this to happen?
Overall, our relationship with digital technology is becoming increasingly characterised by dependency, regret, and loss of control, to the point that people’s attention is one of the most valuable resources of the digital age. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has made us more connected and globalised than ever before, yet it is also shaping an age of social isolation and addiction.
We spend more time on the screen than we feel is healthy for us; we check our phone while in face-to-face conversations; we lose focus easily; we check our notifications constantly. We experience digital fatigue. We feel like we are addicted to our devices. Anxiety, stress, information overload and distortion of time are consequences of how we constantly interact with our devices. We experience lack of movement and sleep disorders.
We need to learn (better) how to apply an ethical lens without overcomplicating people’s choices or without creating too much complexity.
So, why are we building this?
Over the past few decades we pushed the concepts of efficiency and ease of use. We have helped build a corporate culture that systematically prioritises short-term gains over longer-term (product) health. A culture based on performance and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), and overly focused on profit. A culture where success is measured by clicks, shares, visits per page, with a focus on quantity but too little on the quality of interaction. And too often we forget to question the real values behind each of those KPIs.
We see success in usability, efficiency and user centricity, but we don’t allow ourselves to pause and evaluate the effects of this efficiency, fastness and simplicity.
Showed above, a list of indicators we use to measure the quantity over quality of interaction.
When profit alone is our goal, we might fall into the trap of creating patterns and features that trick our users and that prioritise short-term satisfaction above a long-term relationship based on trust.
We need to learn (better) how to apply an ethical lens without overcomplicating people’s choices or without creating too much complexity. And this comes as no surprise when we look at how we are educating ourselves to score well on the KPIs we have set to measure our success.
So how could we build differently?
In evolutionary terms, all the technology that surrounds us today just happened yesterday. You could even say that we experienced the adolescent phase of Digital Design: full of enthusiasm and playfulness, we designed things, we experimented, sometimes without any rules, sometimes without thinking of the long-term impact of what we were putting live. What if we would use our skills and experience to prevent products from being addictive, harmful and exclusive?
There’s no one solution for this. We need to strive for a mix of individual and collective choices; industry standards, regulations and better measurements for example. Some things are already happening: regulations aimed at protecting people’s data are being created (like the CCPA in the US and the GDPR in Europe), yet this is only scraping the surface.
Designing for the future
In our opinion, it is time to evolve our professions, learn new skills and most importantly unlearn some of the practices that brought us here. We need to shift our perspective and move from a finite business culture based on efficiency, user satisfaction and short-term gains, towards a more systemic business culture focused on responsibility, equity, user wellbeing, long-term gains and stakeholder value.
In order to get there, we have to change the way we define success. We need to inform our users with more transparency; we need to apply inclusive and participatory practices; we need to educate ourselves on the subject of ethics and encourage moments of self-reflection throughout the design process. We need to respect the wellbeing and agency of our users, and take a long-term approach when thinking about the impact our products could have on individuals, societies and the planet.
A message from the future
In the community discussion, participants shared what kind of Internet they dream of. Keywords mentioned most often were safe, fair, accessible. Before we looked at ways to achieve that, we wanted to understand where we currently stand by analysing existing digital products for potential harmful effects.
This analysis and discussion made clear that participants are aware of the urgency of the situation. And while there was a general consensus that change needs to happen, there also was a sentiment of not knowing how to make it happen. Where to start?
We ended our first session asking the participants what steps they would be willing to take to embrace the change. Some will bring awareness to their teams by starting a conversation with their colleagues. Some others will spent more time learning about the issue. Others have and will continue to reach out to people higher up in their company’s organisational structure, in order to put ethics and responsibility on their agenda. We closed with a positive and hopeful feeling, which reaffirmed that these are conversations we need to continue to have together.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Would you like to share some feedback with us? Would you like to discuss with us how your digital channels can contribute to a better digital landscape? – Get in touch with us [email protected], we’re always up for a cup of coffee!
Want to know more?
Find here a recording of the event, the slides presented and a selection of the resources we used to prepare the event.