Responsibilities of UX professionals in the age of digital addiction

Digital addiction is in the rise. In Australia the statistics on how much screen time adults and children are consuming every day is staggering. The Lonergan Research data shows we spend more time staring at electronic devices than we do on working and exercise.

Digital addiction - do poor web design techniques contribute? What can UX specialists do? | Image: Courtesy Sam Wolff  Flickr

Digital addiction - do poor web design techniques contribute? What can UX specialists do? | Image: Courtesy Sam Wolff Flickr

Some of their alarming figures include:

  • Office workers are spending up to 11.4 hours per day looking at a screen

  • Gen Y spend approximately 3 hours per day on their smartphones

Many people reported feeling concerned about the amount of hours spent in front of a screen and the potential for detrimental effects on our health.

But are there real negative impacts on our physical and mental wellbeing? Some research says that the detrimental effects are limited, but the potential increase in sedentary behaviour and reduced real life human interactions are worrying nevertheless.

As UX specialists do we have a responsibility to avoid contributing to digital addiction? Should we try even harder to avoid wasting user’s time online?

And how do we reconcile this with the marketing and communications team’s desire to maintain “stickyness” of eyeballs on our websites?

One definition of user experience describes:

  • Meeting the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother

  • Simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use

  • Seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.

So what can you do as a website manager, digital marketing professional or product owner to meet these goals?

  • Design content to be scannable

  • Ensure hyperlinks are meaningful

  • Avoid using imagery for visual appeal alone

  • Make navigation meaningful by using well known terms and labels (For example, name your news “News” and not something attempting to be “catchy” like “The Daily Dose”

  • Avoid putting content in carousels unless you give the user complete control over the transitions and the interaction is intuitive

  • If your website is deep have multiple ways to find content such as in-site search

  • Don’t annoy users with poor advertising or marketing hype techniques

  • And avoid anything that flashes. Annoying for everyone and very “Yahoo Geocities”

In fact, by doing all this you may not decrease the amount of time a users spends online at all. The time they save interacting with your website might then be transferred to more time spent on another website. But that’s not such a bad thing. With good user experience, people are less annoyed, less frustrated and will have a lasting positive impression about dealing with your business.

We should look more at science to guide our web designs. If we understand user behaviour and user goals we can create websites and other digital products that help users achieve their goals as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Pat Birgan