Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New work directions: smartphone tensions

This is a question I've been interested in for a long time, and feel like maybe I'm finally assembling the tools, people, and mental energy to tackle it. To begin to attempt to tackle it.

What is it about smartphones that stresses people out, and what can we do about it?

Okay, a lot of things stress people out. Your friend's using his phone while you're talking to him. Your boss is calling you at night. Your family expects you to text them when your plane lands, and you forget. That lady in the car next to you is texting while she's driving. You keep feeling an itch to check on your Facebook. You keep feeling a literal itch, because your Facebook is buzzing you until you check it. You don't know what it is, but you feel a little scatterbrained.

A lot of issues! Ways we could approach them:
- pick a problem that is well-defined (like texting-while-driving) and develop targeted solutions to that. (like SafeCell, which stops you from texting while driving).
- pick a measurable dimension to address a slightly less well-defined problem.
- just start from the top and tackle the whole thing.

I think the last is most interesting. And I guess it leads to a multi-step approach:
1. understand the problem. What are the tensions involved here? Why do people want to use their phones so much? What about this becomes problematic?
2. address the problem.

For part 1, I'm thinking interview people and review log data to get at what people are actually doing and why. For #2, it's more prototypes/probes than actually functional ideas. Build apps that get at the causes of these stresses, not apps that change their behavior.

Because the goal here is not to build another app that helps you slow down/de-stress/be more present. If we build a thing you've got to use, we've already lost. But it'd be great if we could uncover some of the underlying design guidelines that should be built into phones and apps. Tell developers something like: "infinite scrolls are technically cool, but will cause users the following stresses: ..." or "if you notify people more than once a day, they'll start to get antsy about it" or whatever. Instead of building an app to help you de-stress, make your phone not stress you in the first place.

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