An increasingly fraught relationship with digital technology is starting to worry many. Brands such as Google have taken the initiative to promote digital well-being practices. They are meant to reinstate a healthy balance between the real and the virtual.
What Is Digital Well-Being?
As defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED), well-being includes digital health at the community level as well as physiological well-being, safety, education and several other parameters. For the purpose of this article, though, we are going to go with Google’s definition of the digital well-being framework: “We believe technology should improve life, not distract from it. We’re committed to giving everyone the tools they need to develop their own sense of digital wellbeing.”
UX Principles For Digital Well-Being
In 2020, Google came out with this digital well-being handbook. It gives product managers four key UX principles for promoting digital well-being:
Build defaults that support user goals. For example, silent notifications as the default during sleep hours promote uninterrupted rest time. Users still have the agency to change the setting if they need to.
• Data For Self-Awareness
Use data visualization to inform users of their behavioral patterns. For example, dashboards that break down the time spent across activities on a mobile app.
• Transparency In Settings
Make it easier for users to tweak settings at a granular level. For instance, be transparent about data privacy settings. Allow users to easily select what data they are comfortable sharing with you.
• Contextual Experiences
Allow users to personalize their product experiences. For example, not every user wants to sync data across their devices. Build features that allow users to design their unique product experience that supports their goals.
Real-World UX Strategies That Promote Digital Well-Being
Digital well-being isn’t just about reduced screen time. That could be a starting point, but it has to go beyond that. It has to foster a healthier relationship between users and their devices. Picking up from Google’s suggested practices, here are a few ideas you can incorporate into your UX design to promote healthier user behavior:
• Fix the scroll.
Endless scrolling might get you more engagement, but in the long run, it can be very addictive. Utilize UX writing to create pause moments. For example, Instagram has a “you are all caught up” text for its posts. Choosing page-style navigation over an endless scroll is another idea you can play around with.
• Overhaul the notifications.
Build default notification settings that foster healthier user behavior—for example, limiting notifications to a specific number in a day or a specific time of the day. Give people the option to tweak these settings if they need to. Use microcopy to inform users about the reason for the default settings.
• Reward good behavior.
So far, companies have used gamification to increase engagement: complete a set of tasks to unlock new features, rise up a virtual leaderboard by crossing milestones—there are plenty of examples of gamification in the tech world. You can use the same gamification strategies to promote healthier digital habits.
For example, you could assign a pet, plant or any kind of virtual entity to each user. The assigned virtual entity grows as users reach more screen-free time goals. It doesn’t necessarily have to tie in with screen-free time, either. You could allow people to define and set their own digital well-being goals.
• Promote personalization of experience.
Instagram has been in the news lately for its decision to pivot to reels. The move caused a furor among users who lamented the shift away from stills on the photo-sharing app. It directly goes against a key UX design principle as defined in Google’s framework for digital well-being: contextualizing experiences. Not everyone wants to see reels in their feed. Likewise, there will be people who gravitate more toward the video format. Give people the option to choose their experience on your app or website.
A simple way of achieving that is to ask for user preferences in terms of content and design when they are first signing up. Keep the settings bar somewhere accessible so they can tweak the preferences at any time.
Pitch Digital Well-Being UX Strategies As Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
Notification alerts, pop-up messages and endless scrolling are all proven strategies to drive engagement. But if you are serious about championing the cause of digital well-being, you need to reduce these UX strategies drastically, if not do away with them completely.
Don’t let the goodwill get lost on your users. Let them know you care about them. Use microcopies that inform users about healthier digital choices. Blog about your brand philosophy. Employ user surveys to gather feedback. Reach out to your audience and strike a personal dialogue. All of that will help you mitigate the short-term effects of doing away with addictive UX strategies that promote an unhealthy relationship with our devices.