The 3 design elements that make smartphones so hard to put down, explained by Google’s former design ethicist.

You might think that you’re addicted to looking at your phone screen, checking social media, checking your messages… but you are not alone. And in actuality, we are not the problem. Our phones are. 

Over 2.5 billion people own smartphones now, and each individual person has set up their phone the way they want it. For example, we have different ringtones, text tones, and our notification settings are all set to what we think is important. However, it is not designed to help us, it is coordinating just to entertain us or engage us.

When you get a text, call or message, it’s usually because another person is trying to communicate with you. But a lot of apps imitate the feeling of social interaction to get you to spend time scrolling. An example is push notifications on Facebook. You will be notified if a friend is interested in an event near you, or if it’s someones birthday. This is leveraging your desire for social connections so that you are using the app more.

Back when we had blackberries, notifications were actually designed in a way that you would check your phone less. You would be notified if a new email/message came in, without having to refresh your inbox or go on to app. But today you can get notifications from all the apps on your phone. Tristan Harris, Google’s design ethicist, says, “if it wasn’t random, if it was predictably bad, or predictably good, then you would not get addicted. The predictability would take out the addictivness.”

It’s the same with idea with slot machines, and it’s effective. Even the slot machine lever can be imitated on an app with the pull-to-refresh feature. This gives the user an addicting illusion of control, while also continuously updating content.

It’s scientifically proven that human eyes are sensitive to warm colours, in particular, bright reds or oranges, which is why a lot of apps have upgraded their icons to be brighter and bolder, as well as notification bubbles being red to catch the eye.

Watch this clip from Vox to see how you can reduce your addictive habits by changing the settings on your phone.

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