HUmX – Humane UX Design

Sitting on a bench lazily watching the pattern of the underground train doors passing as a long train rumbles by.  Gazing out the window for a few moments to watch the shimmer of leaves on a tree as the wind helps them defy gravity.  These are moments when we pause.  During that time, our brain stops taking information in, and searches for connections.  Those connections drive innovation and creativity.  HUmX creates the space for that pause, moments for daydreaming, where invention and ideas live.

Our brain and senses are wired for taking in millions of pieces of information and storing them away, or discarding them.  Without moments of pause, our brains are simply a sorting machine…a database of categorization.  We have incredible chemistry available to our bodies to make us feel good, or to reward us with those “aha” moments, or to recognize that a piece of information is also relevant to others, which makes our brains place this information in a special place because it may prolong our life (i.e. social standing, which was important for survival not that long ago).  Out of this chemistry we have created the world’s human population, spaceships, bread, unicorns, mystery novels, and beautiful architecture.

Enhancing the exchange of ideas must be the way that humans will evolve, as this is what we have naturally been drawn to.  The internet and its offspring have given us close-to-telepathic abilities in that our thoughts can be transmitted around the world instantly.   The emergence of social media has made this possible, and humans have been drawn to this ability by the billions. We want to know about each other, the things that anger us, that make us cry, that make us want to have babies, or fight with our lives. With the internet and social media, we are, finally, all connected.

The most unfortunate part of this connection, is that the funding of the technology that allows us to be connected is provided by highly scientific and refined techniques that capture our attention:  “Attention Capturing For A Fee”, otherwise known as ads.  The response to ads triggers the response-reward mechanism of dopamine, which is released when we tap or click, and which is highly addictive and requires higher and higher doses.   Dopamine is used by the brain to train us to do tasks that it decides are beneficial for us. UX Designers are responsible for this.  We must be the ones to choose a new path.

Had the internet somehow been funded by palm leaves, or ocean water, our experiences on websites, apps, speakers, and IOT devices would be very different.  Engineers and designers would not be competing to sell to their audience using the dopamine reward/response reflex, which is quite literally addictive.  We would instead be competing for the activation of a different chemical in our brains. Perhaps Serotonin activation would have been the goal of websites. Serotonin can create a feeling of well being, happiness, regular sleep patterns, and a balanced appetite. Serotonin is activated by exercise, natural light, and the right foods. None of these are possible with the current design of most interfaces, which require indoor lighting, and sitting down. Mobile phones have freed many of us from the office chair, but there is still so much further to go, even with mobile devices. If we focus on serotonin, which provides long-term happiness not a micro-second of addictive pleasure, we can start to un-do what is emerging as an alarming change in human behavior.

What would serotonin-focused interfaces look like? Or do? Perhaps create those pauses, those moments of “aha’s” where information comes together to allow the creation of something new.  We would be focusing on how to eliminate language and distance as a barrier.  We would be focusing on how to love (or hate) each other more.  We have to start to undo the undeniable evidence that we have become addicts to short-term dopamine releases that can be gained from a click or a tap.

We must not be afraid to provide those moments of pause.  We must create ways to interact and be productive with our interfaces while moving the body or being in natural light. We must not be afraid that the other side will sell more, or that our audience will immediately bounce off to an amazing weight-loss story.  When we look at analytics, we carefully watch bounce rates, and try to keep visitors on our websites or apps longer, yet we also watch “click through rates” and try to get user to keep clicking on various buttons with the hope that they will finally purchase something before they click off into the distance and forget about us instantly. Our interfaces are training our visitors to leave us in order to continue their dopamine fix.

Brutalist web design reaches back to that time when ads and sales were not as important as providing a simple story for the user to experience.  We experienced brands visually, and decided if we liked them before selecting something to click on.  There were less colors, nothing flashing, no interruptions, just a visual experience.  There was space for the viewer to make a connection in their mind, either of pleasure or revulsion, or something in-between.  The re-emergence of this style is going in the right direction.  We must go further.  We must design responsibly, so that we are providing a pause, time for serotonin to be activated, so that there can be the creation of new things, new ideas, new friendships and new generations.

In our designs at Future Bright, we  try to create those pauses.  We want visitors to the sites that we build to have a moment of visual joy, and then to make their way with ease to the information they are looking for, without distraction.  We want visitors to get the information that they need to make an informed decision, not experience an impulsive click.  When we do provide a call to action, we want to be sure that they feel confident that they will be met with another moment of visual joy, and, importantly, the information they were looking for.  When you are making important decisions, you want to know that the business you are researching cares about how you feel, about your senses, about your happiness…not about triggering the desire to click on something enticing.

As UI/UX designers, we must begin to take responsibility for the creativity of future generations, and resist the temptation to create increasingly attraction-oriented interfaces. Our interfaces have nearly matched the speed at which our senses can receive information. Our attention spans are now at nine seconds.  We can only read two words per second.  It takes about a half of a second for a message to get from the brain to the hands.  We can only speak 5 syllables per second.  The human eye cannot see more than 60 frames per second.  If we do not create a change, at some point our attention span will be reduced to the speed at which we can sense information.  It is fascinating and terrifying to imagine what impact that will have on our minds, experiences, and culture.

These are all points to discuss, to examine, to dispute, and to explore.  We have much to learn, and may our curiosity always be faster than the speed at which we discover.