29 November 2016 - Graham Carroll

User experience – when the experience is too much

Usually, when we talk about user experience at Friday it’s about making content, screens and actions work seamlessly for users. But is our compulsive experience of using of screens, and in particular, smartphones, killing us?

Smartphone addiction is hardly a new phenomenon. I’m sure you’ve seen some stats: the average mobile phone users checks their device 150 times a day and 94% of 18-24 year-olds feel uncomfortable when not carrying their phones with them.

By the technology’s nature, our smartphones alert us, let us share our personal content, they sometimes even ring with a call. We get edgy when other people hold our phones – in many ways they’ve become our conscious and subconscious.

Update July 2017: Nice post by Una Mullally and how she cannot live without her iPhone

We know it’s a problem when:

  • people are spending 3, 4 and 5 hours a day using our phones.
  • panic sets in when users are without their phones or their battery dies.
  • we start to recognise issues and talk about cutting down our usage.

The effects are also well known. We’re more and yet less connected than ever – socially networked, but less social in the ‘real world’. Look around you when you’re next on a bus or train commute – everyone has their head’s bowed.

And device use before and in bed has been proven to lead to poor sleep and insomnia – but yet we still do it.

Danger

Most importantly, we’ve developed the habit of using our phones in situations that are dangerous.

I was walking across the junction of O’Connell Street and Westmoreland street in Dublin as I often do while going for the dart home. It’s a tricky mess of cars and people, and made particularly dangerous recently by the Luas Cross City roadworks.

One day, a young boy was walking across the road, earplugs in, eyes glued to his phone and strolling carefree across the street against a red light. A taxi screeched to halt, inches from the boy and blared its horn. The kid looked up, mouthed an expletive and kept on walking returning to his screen.

Scenes like this play out every day now, but it can go wrong in the blink of an eye, as it did in the heartbreaking case of Nikita Dunne.

Designing for Humans

Insurance companies and car manufacturers are helping by introducing features like Car Mode which takes app features into a safer voice-activated and touch-friendly controls.

Speaking Mind also has a nice app which essentially turns your smartphone into a radio, reading out content so you don’t have to look at it when driving or walking (currently only available in the US).

Ultimately I think we can help make a better user experience through technology but we can all play a part as people by making smarter choices.

I like how Rex Harrison puts it in The UX Book

“the focus should be on designing for the human rather than focussing on technology. ‘Human centred design’ is a good description…”

I leave you with another video, this one is recent from the artist Moby where he looks at the subject of smartphone addiction with music and clever animation.