Kindness by Design

Last last December (no that’s not a typo), I went to a talk given by Cynthia Savard, a UX designer at Shopify, about Hostile Design. Ironically, by looking for her name from the event on Facebook, I just burned up a whole 30 minutes of my writing timebox. Thank you universe, your timing couldn’t have been better!

See, I remembered that I heard about the event on Facebook from my friend Liesl, so I looked up my past events on Facebook. Unfortunately, the past events view is polluted by all the events that you never cared about, but were invited to anyway. I didn’t remember when the event had taken place, so it took quite some time going through the list. It wasn’t in that list.

I then try going to the Montreal Girl Geeks page (they hosted it), and Liesl’s page, and I discover that you can’t browse the events that other people or pages have went to, or hosted. I was running out of options, so I tried the search bar at the top of the page. I type in “Liesl design,” and discover a bunch of recent design related posts from the Liesl I know, followed by tons of other random ones. With a bit of refining and the use of the advanced search tools, I eventually found it, but it took much longer than it should have.

Facebook is the king of hostile design.

This isn’t meant to be a rant about Facebook, but I do want to bring awareness to the issue. Facebook employs some of the best talent in the world, and if they wanted to, they could make the site very easy to use.

But they don’t.

If you look at it, especially the web version, you’ll see a ton of different interface items. The amount of information is just massive, and there’s a lot more of it that’s hidden behind menus. Did you know that “pokes” still exist? Can you even find them? And then, there’s the newsfeed.

Since Facebook’s IPO, the newsfeed has been rendered almost completely useless. If you really look at it, you’ll see ads (1 in 10 posts on average), stuff that your friends have “liked” or commented on, and actual content that your friends are posting, or more likely sharing. I don’t know about you, but there’s only one of these things that I actually care about. I would love to see my newsfeed chronologically again, or see it unfiltered so I can actually see what all my friends are posting (I just checked out the profiles of a few friends I haven’t heard from in a while, and despite the fact that they’ve posted recently, I haven’t seen any of it in my feed.)

Facebook’s design is meant to keep you on the site as long as possible at any cost… and it works.

But is this type of design ethical?

Their goal is to get as many ad dollars as possible out of the platform, and they’re very good at it. Using that metric alone, they easily have the best design in the world, but if you look at other metrics, like kindness, in many areas they fail miserably. I think that as people who make things, we have a responsibility to strive for something better.

This extends beyond software as well. We’ve all heard the stories of school cafeterias that throw out good food as the poorest kids in the school get denied meals. People made those policies, and though they may accomplish some purpose, it certainly isn’t kindness.

At Cynthia’s presentation, she told a story about how the EpiPen’s bad instructional design almost led to the death of her friend. While you probably won’t personally face a situation like this, our designs and ideas cover a broad range of outcomes, regardless of our intentions.

All this to say, next time you’re bringing some great idea to life, take a moment to think about what could go wrong, then go back to launching the creative fireworks! 🎆

See you next week!


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