Designing for Wellbeing (Part 2/3)

At Senic, we love technology but we believe it should be less of a distraction and more like your favorite piece of furniture. “Designing For Wellbeing” puts humans in the center — taking into account our natural capabilities, attention, cognitive capacity, emotions and behavior patterns.

* This is part 2 of our 3-part series on “Designing for Wellbeing.” Check out part one where we discuss the issue of tech companies designing for ‘stickiness’ or time on app instead of for the wellbeing of the user.

* This post is also available in German | Hier zum deutschen Blog-Eintrag.

We Need Alternatives to ‘Sticky’ Tech

Designing for stickiness can have serious negative side effects such as anxiety, social isolation, lack of empathy. These side effects inevitably impact our health, relationships and society as a whole.

Luckily, there is an alternative form of designing which we hope to see the next generation of tech companies implement in order to build better products that put the human and their wellbeing at the center.

We call this alternative “Design for Wellbeing”.

Wellbeing can be a hard thing to define, but here we mean a physical product or app that has human needs in mind. Well-being (or quality of life, healthy living, green living etc) comes in a lot of flavors and sizes. However, there are certain constraints that designers can use to gauge whether or not their product is having a negative or positive effect on the user in a holistic sense.

According to Parfit and Griffin, psychological wellbeing includes the following: Liberty, Friendship, Autonomy, Accomplishment, Wisdom, Understanding, Morality, Development of One’s Abilities, Enjoyment and Aesthetic Experience.

All of these things sound great — but how does one channel them into a product? We have defined our own constraints for what we believe a product must have in order to be truly “Designed For Wellbeing.”

Technology Designed For Wellbeing Must:

Improve Our Capabilities

One of the core reasons that humans evolved to create tools was so that they could increase our own capabilities. In the same way that a hammer allows us to exert a heightened amount of force on an object, newer tools like the smartphone allow us to communicate with thousands of more people than we innately would be able to. Improving the capabilities of the user is a result of a product designed for wellbeing.

Whenever a new tool is introduced however, we must keep our eyes open for unforeseen side effects.

Value Our Attention

Humans are inherently social creatures — this is one of the reasons we have developed common verbal and written language, created societies organized around certain beliefs and can work together to promote the health and sustainability of our civilization. Socialization is massively important to humans — so why isn’t constant communication more satisfying?

As we discussed in Part 1, the constant stream of incoming content and digital distractions have created a huge crisis of attention. By trading in the quality of face-t0-face social interactions for the rush of dopamine that comes with a notification, we have opened ourselves up to addictive behaviors that have a major impact on our social relationships and therefore our health.

One of the main reasons products are designed with this addictive, attention-grabbing quality is because many business models rely on this. In an ad-based business model, the assumption is that more attention means more money. Design for wellbeing requires business models that focus on creating valuable products — instead of relying on the amount of attention they can attract from users.

Respect Our Cognitive Capacity

Paying attention comes at a cost. Attention is a resource — and a person only has so much of it. Everything you look at, from notification pop-ups on your phone to commercial advertisements, requires you to process information and make decisions. Do I need to respond to this email now or can it wait until later? Do I like this post? Do I want this product?

The Cost of Paying Attention” Via NYTimes

Over the course of the day, small decisions take up as much energy as big decisions do. Constantly responding to insignificant distractions strains your neural resources, causing you to lose impulse control and often leaving you feeling too depleted to focus on actually important decisions.

Consider how the process of selecting music has evolved. If there was one radio with only a few stations in your home, the decision was pretty straightforward. Tune into your favorite program, sit back and let it play for the rest of the evening. With vinyl records, tapes and CDs you could choose an album from your assorted personal collection or borrow something special from a friend.

Now we have dozens of streaming services to choose from, millions of songs and endless access through a tiny smartphone screen. The shear amount of consideration that goes into the selection process can be so exhausting that it sometimes feels easier to give up all together and not listen to anything.

Technology for well-being recognizes this problem and tries to find alternative solutions that reduce cognitive load through things like multi-sensory interfaces, automation and reduced complexity.

Adapt to the Situation

People are different. They have different genes, different upbringings, different values and different environments. You can’t assume that a certain hand gesture has the same meaning across cultures. A single individual might also want to interact with technology depending the context.

If you want to turn on a light, there is nothing easier for people than to flip a switch. If the person moves back 5 feet and is outside of the reach of the switch, however, this path changes and using your voice might be the best scenario. If you not only want to turn on the light but set the brightness to a certain level, a screen or dial becomes the path of least resistance. Design for well-being recognizes this and pays attention to the different people using a product and the situation which they are in.

Seamless Interactions rely on Multiple Senses

Reach The 3 Levels of Emotions

Don Norman, one of the god-fathers of emotional designed describes three levels a person goes through when using a product over time:

  1. Visceral Level: These are rapid responses by users and include your perception if something is dangerous, pretty, cool etc. It’s the outer appearance that attracts you.
  2. Behavioral Level: Once you start using the product, the usability and effectiveness of the product become very important. Design for well-being is understandable, usable and accessible through physical attributes, such as the right materials or shape.
  3. Reflective Level: After some time, technology can have a long lasting effect and meaning. Your experience with a product goes beyond your initial experience — you are left with associations and familiarity that directly reflects what values you put on the product and how it makes you think about other products.
Don Norman — “3 Ways Good Design Makes You Happy” via TED

Design for well-being aims to reach all levels of emotions and have a deeper impact on your life than just appearance and usability.

Considers the Effects (and Side Effects)

The idea of creating a social network that connects billions of people is a noble and amazing idea. Design for well-being however must be honest about it’s effects and side-effects. For example, social networks are supposed to promote social relationships but a lot of time they increase depression and the feeling of isolation. The problem might not be the concept itself but the way it is designed. A process designed for well-being recognizes if these sort of problems occur and adapts accordingly.

Stimulates Positive Behavior

You’ve probably heard how a round table has a different effect on a conversation than a rectangular table with a person sitting on the end of the table. Anything we put around us, people, furniture or technology subtly affect us on a subconscious level as well.

Music for example is something that people actively enjoy but it also has shown to bring people closer together and facilitates more conversation between people which is one of the strongest influences on mental health. Design for well-being recognized this unconscious impact and uses it to form positive behaviors and practices.

Conclusion

Studies show that we check our phones up to 150 times a day— the same phone you might currently be holding. At Senic, we love technology but we believe it should be less of a distraction and more like your favorite piece of furniture.

Now, we’re launching a new product that will make the light, sound, textures, objects and conversations in your home a true expression of you. For this we had to do a lot of research together with psychologists, engineers, designers, and developers.

Based on all of the feedback, we’ve created a new object that we think you’re really going to enjoy — and in a few weeks we are excited to introduce it to you for the very first time.

Stay tuned next week for a sneak peak of the next product in Part 3!

Further Reading

Part 1/3: The Problem of Attention

Writing and Sharing AppleScripts for Nuimo