How These 2 Books Shaped Me As A Designer

We are officially back for 2017! Since my dissertation was handed in successfully a couple of days ago, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss where my dissertation and honours project intersect.

Here's a brief summary of the two books had a significant influence on me and my practice and used as a base for my dissertation:

Where does my dissertation and honours project intersect? 

My dissertation discusses The Worldwide Screen Obsession. It is quite a paradox how in the era of increased social connectedness through the internet, social media and smartphones, the very same tools that enabled us to break the physical barriers of distance and brought us closer to the people we love, resulted in alienating us from our surroundings. I am sure you have noticed it as well; just a simple glance around any public space shows a startling number of people interacting with their phones. People are constantly using their devices, both in a professional and personal setting i.e. during lectures or important meetings, at the dinner table, in the bedroom, the bathroom and pretty much anywhere one can possibly imagine.

Through my dissertation, I attempted to decode how we found ourselves in the above-described situation. The answer came from Nir Eyal's Hooked: How To Build Habit-Forming TechnologiesEyal draws from behavioural science theories and methods used by companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat etc. to present the Hook Model (Figure 1) a real strategy used by companies to make digital products irresistible and successfully engineer human behaviours.

Figure 1 The Hook Model (Eyal, 2014, p. 6)

I will not elaborate on Eyal's Hook Model as it will take too much time and there is no reason to ruin the read for you; it does resemble though a recipe for mind control, with Eyal himself, openly admitting it was written as a manipulation guide to change people’s behaviour in the most successful and profitable way.

After understanding the Hook Model, it is quite clear that habit-forming products are intentionally constructed to be “addictive”. Hooked  has been an eye-opening experience as it proves that the smart devices and digital media we all use, were designed to be habit-forming, unbeknown to us. It's not as if one day we woke up and we were suddenly hooked on Facebook or another social network. Our behaviour was modified gradually through carefully thought conditioning.

Next on is The Best Interface Is No Interface,  a refreshing take on design and the application of it. The writer, Golden Krishna, a design strategist for Google, places great emphasis on the User Experience (UX) and takes a second look at today’s screen-obsessed world. Being bored with the ubiquitous presence of screens, Krishna wrote this book as a guide to think beyond screens. I found myself nodding along and laughing out loud. This book really makes you think and question whether the future is in making more mobile apps just because they look cool.

Figure 2 A London-based business has reinvented the rubbish bin, sticking LCD screens on each side to tell Londoners about market moves and breaking news. (Jorgic, 2012)

Through his book, Krishna explains that mobile apps were innovative 10 years ago, now they are very much the result of thinking inside the box. The future is not in adding a screen on every object imaginable, like in Figure 2, therefore he suggests a different approach to screen-based thinking.

  1. Embrace Typical Processes Instead of Screens Krishna suggests observing behaviours that are likely to occur naturally and design around them. As he further explains, when faced with a design brief, there is always an automatic response to make an app thus forcing users to look at a screen. What makes a great user experience, however, is understanding what is already happening in the environment of users, with technology embracing that very process and finally,

  2. Leverage Computers Instead of Serving Them There is some incredible progression in technology that allows computers to do a lot more, whether that is sensor or radio based, making them capable of sensing the environment around them. This way of thinking, leveraging computers to serve us, changes the way we interact with our devices.

To put these two principles in context, here is an example Krishna uses in his book. The BMW iPhone App was designed to unlock the user’s car doors. After taking a closer look at the process the user has to go through, from getting his phone out of his pocket to physically opening the car door, the process counts 13 steps which also includes the risk of dropping the fragile device onto the concrete parking lot and getting distracted by 1 text, 3 Facebook notifications and 2 Snaps. So how is this really an improvement upon the car key? It's not.

Good experience design isn’t about screens, it's about good experiences - Golden Krishna.

Same goes for the Viper SmartStart app which allows people to open their cars’ boots with the touch of their iPhone, among other services, and was awarded the “Best of Innovations Honors” award at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show (Directed, 2009). Once again, observing people doing the thing that is of interest in improving is key; if we carefully observe the typical process of a user trying to open a car boot with arms full carrying a heavy object, we will notice that there is no space for putting their smartphone in that process, as it would require the user to place the heavy object on the ground, pull one’s phone, search for the app, open the app, wait for it to load, open the boot and lift the object again to place it inside the car. The Ford Escape design team, however, made an observation during this process; the user’s feet were free. As odd as it may sound they built a solution around the availability of that body part. ‘When the trunk opens from a foot kick, it feels like magic. No buttons to press. No interfaces to learn’ (Krishna, 2015). By embracing a non-screen based manner of thinking, the Ford Escape design team embedded sensors under the bumper, enabling users to open their boots with the simple action of a foot kick (Figure 3).

Figure 3

What Is My Point?

I don't want to be misunderstood. I do not think screens are evil; I am definitely not a technophobe or in this case a screenophobe (?). I just think that the above-described situations are real issues that need to be addressed. To recap, these are the following reasons I do not wanna use a screen-based element in my main concept:

1) Smartphones, social media, applications etc. were designed to be addictive and distracting. When you are trying to focus on your homework, or your workout, or watching a movie or any type of activity that you used to be able to do uninterrupted, is now impossible due to the pervasiveness of our devices.

2) Just like Krishna, I am fed up with the ubiquitous presence of screens in everyday life interactions so I decided to give a more physical aspect to my fourth year project. Reflecting on the Hook Model and inspired by Krishna’s way of thinking, I am attempting to engineer positive user habits, by leveraging Arduino technology and different sensors, to create a fully immersive exercise experience.

At the end of the day, the amazing thing about being in 4th-year is that you are allowed to work on any project and medium you want; and all I want is to work on something I truly believe in.

Thanks for reading and sorry for the long post.

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