Our current technology success metrics are broken: a call for healthier design habits

Leading UX thinkers publish a manifesto of sorts, urging less clutter and a more minimalist approach to technology. 'Discussions around our unhealthy relationship with technology are becoming mainstream.'

Isn't it time we had some sort of a "manifesto" defining what it is we need and value in user experience (UX) design in technology?  Some UX and design proponents have done exactly that.

steps-hannover-germany-photo-by-joe-mckendrick.jpg

Photo: Joe McKendrick

"The world needs a tech diet," according to a very thoughtful -- and extremely well-designed -- work by Fabricio Teixeira, founder of UX Collective, and Caio Braga, product design lead at 99designs and editor at UX Collective. Many developers and designers have become too focused on gaining clicks, views, and session duration as an end-all and be-all of application success, they write. 

Companies have pursued metrics to the point in which they seek to "design for addiction, always devising new ways to keep people coming back for more." In the process, the actual business value of KPIs gets lost. "More page views per visit to an e-commerce website do not necessarily mean more sales. Likewise, the number of opens per week for a mobile banking app tells us little about customer loyalty and satisfaction - when it comes to their financial life, aren't people looking for peace of mind instead?" 

The result: technology teams have only "helped build a corporate culture that systematically prioritizes short-term gains over longer-term product health," Teixeira and Braga state. "Although we are aware that our design tactics can be misleading, we give them positive names - like 'growth hacking,' 'gamification,' and 'engagement loops '- and try not to dwell on their possibly pernicious effects."

This is leading to the current pushback now being seen against the technology industry. "Discussions around our unhealthy relationship with technology are becoming mainstream," they state. What can technology developers and designers do to put applications and engagements on a healthier path? Here are some of Teixeira and Braga's thoughtful recommendations:

Set solid design principles. Simplicity is the goal, they urge. Strive for reduction and simplification. Rethink and streamline, to promote "sleek, clean lines" and eliminate decorative additions that are "purely for the sake of embellishment. This includes choosing respectful design patterns, which call for rethinking features such as endless scroll, cutting down on notifications, and providing users more control.

Challenge default metrics. There are two common scenarios when it comes to metrics, Teixeira and Braga point out: either the business is obsessed with them, or it is clueless. Neither scenario is healthy, of course. The authors quote Kim Goodwin: "Until we measure what we value, we will over-value what we measure." They add that "if improving people's relationships with tech is something you value, you should measure it - and make people accountable for it."

Convince your top executives: Create actionable fear and show positive results, the authors advise. Make business leaders fully aware of the consequences of bad behaviors in their platforms, and propose ways to avoid such issues through higher-quality software design. 

Spread healthier habits at work: Be mindful of peoples' time, and make sure meetings are well planned. Interestingly, they advise against bringing computers -- and smartphones -- to meetings, as they are only distractions. "If you work in an environment where people don't respect each other's use of tech, chances are you are not going to advocate being respectful of the tech habits of your own users," Teixeira and Braga state.

Design your own life. Understand your own use cases and design your own KPIs, the authors urge. "Identify parts of your day where you could be spending less time or making less decisions. Define what is important to you. 'What are the personal metrics you should design against?' 'What are the tasks you repeat every day that can be optimized or automated to save you time?' 'How can you reduce the number of decisions you have to make throughout the day?'"