Ever since the emergence of the personal computer, the world has seen a slew of uniquely different digital products that connect us to technology in their own way. It is no secret that we are heavily connected to the digital world and through it with each other. However, as we continue to find new ways to bond ourselves to the digital world, we must also be aware of the negative impacts that can have on us and start to think about how we can design with digital
well-being in mind.
What is digital well-being?
Digital well-being is a term that is shared by both the health and technology industries and refers to the creation of experiences for digital products that are considered to be both physically and mentally healthy. Digital well-being has been a growing movement in design and is a direct response to some of the digital products that have been created in the past that have unethically leveraged human behavioral psychology to keep users engaged and interacting with their products for an exceedingly unhealthy amount of time.
In some extreme cases, these digitally unhealthy experiences have even contributed to the development of addictive behaviors that negatively impacted people’s lives. This is why it is so important to ensure that the products we design using our preferred app design software are
built with digital well-being in mind to avoid even unintentional unhealthy habits that may come as a result of our designs.
Ways you can incorporate elements of design that promote digital well-being for users.
There are many ways to begin thinking about how to design a product that encourages digital well-being. Some of these ways include developing designs that avoid information overload, providing the user with notifications options, encouraging a healthy scroll design, and considering awards that reward healthy behavior rather than unhealthy behavior. Let’s dig into
each of these concepts a bit further.
Avoid information overload: In a world that is full of information everywhere you look, it is important to consider how that overstimulating experience can negatively affect the user. Instead, consider only the information that the user needs and providing that in a summary or overview at the top of the web page to allow the user to quickly identify if they are on the right page, instead of having to comb through the entire page to find out. Help simplify the user’s workflow by providing them with useful headings and adopting a minimalist design when assembling the components from your design system to create a new screen for your digital product. Let the user know beforehand what to expect. This saves time, avoids frustration, and can help the user get off of the platform quickly.
Notification Options: Nothing can be more frustrating than getting an endless number of notifications on your phone when you are desperately trying to complete a task like sending an email or message. This is why it is vital to give your users notification options, by giving them more control over how they receive notifications from your digital product it will become less obstructive while preventing any unwanted interruptions.
Notification options are also important because it helps users be mindful and aware of their surroundings instead of continuously checking their phones or other devices. Provide your users with notification hours or a do not disturb option to give them the ability to step away from their device. Lastly, try to find ways to create productive notifications instead of interruptive, prioritize the possible notifications and identify which ones are important to the user and which can be read when they open the app. Create a notification center, so the user only sees alerts when they are using the app.
The scroll: One of the most addictive behaviors for an app is the unlimited scroll, by not providing an end to your scroll you are encouraging users to endless scan through the content on your app. Although this kind of design may be great for engagement, it is also incredibly unhealthy and addictive for the user. Try to think about how many times has it been hard for you to stop scrolling when using a site or app? Sometimes it’s hard to find the right time to put a device down and get back to life. Creating navigation and pause and stop moments prompt the user to take a second to log off.
Awards: One of the negative consequences of gaming has been awards and achievements that encourage unhealthy and addictive behavior rather than a healthy one. However with this kind of design being adopted by so many apps that both adults and children use there has been a push to create awards that reward healthy behaviors.
Many designs currently include tracking and controlling screen time but a new emerging trend provides an award for screen-free time. This is done through visual techniques, whether that be growing a plant by saving screen time or logging water intake or a checklist for bedtime, to ensure users are being mindful and helping them have the best rest possible. By adding a sense of achievement to the apps for well-being, the platform and the designers foster a healthy relationship with the digital world.
How to maintain a product that promotes digital well-being
The first step is creating a culture of design that encourages the development of products that promote digital well-being. To do this you have to understand how your users are using your app or website and how your designs affect their physical and mental health. Schedule regular workshops and user tests that allow your users to talk through the tasks they are doing using your digital product and how they are feeling during those experiences.
The second step is creating design audits for digital well-being that can quickly identify and flag improper use of behavioral psychology to make your app or website more addictive. Considering creating a schedule to monitor ongoing usage of your products, while creating guidelines and standards that your designs must adhere to.
Remember, digital well-being means creating designs that support a healthy experience with an interface or product physically and mentally. It is the responsibility of designers to be aware of how our apps and websites are being used and to ensure that the designs we are developing aren’t encouraging behaviors that can negatively impact the physical and mental health of our users.
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Dan Silveira is a UX designer, foresight strategist, and writer based out of Toronto, Canada where he works for a major enterprise technology company. He is passionate about design and sharing his experience with others in the field.