Dark UX: The Art of Online Addiction

Quartz: “Designing to encourage addictive behavior is a studied skill. Legions of designers are now learning the psychology of persuasion and use these tactics to make sites and apps ‘stickier.’ One of these schools is the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab. Spearheaded by behavior scientist BJ Fogg, the lab teaches students about the tenets of ‘captology’ the study of computers as persuasive technologies.”

“Addictive, well-designed interfaces mean that UX designers are doing their jobs. And micro visual cues like a bigger ‘Buy Now’ button, or flashy testimonials, can be just as much value-neutral tools of the trade as they are tactics in the battle for your attention.”

“Dark UX is an industry term for sly design tricks that benefit the client’s bottom line. It ranges from creating defaults, such as a pre-checked opt-in email subscription or pre-selecting the most expensive options. It can also manifest in the form of interfaces requiring clients to supply their personal information before being allowed to look at the products on a website.”

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Surprise #1: Google+ Is Most-Loved Network

The Washington Post: “Google+ has topped the American Consumer Satisfaction Index’s 2017 list evaluating how users feel about Internet social media companies … For those who don’t remember the social network or didn’t think it was still around, Google+ was Google’s largely failed attempt to answer the rise of Facebook and Twitter … It didn’t take off for many reasons, including: its complexity, the fact that people were pretty set in their social media ways and Google’s somewhat ham-handed attempts to require people to use it to comment on YouTube.”

“But Google+ did find footing with groups looking to make community pages, and now has an estimated 111 million users, according to Forbes — about one-third of Twitter, or 1/6 of Facebook. It’s continued to work on the product for those customers. And that, at least in terms of customer satisfaction, seems to have paid off.”

This “could indicate that, the smaller or more specialized an audience, the more you can do to focus your network to fit. The survey credits Pinterest’s high ranking, for example, to ‘increasing site efficiency and search technology’ as well as moves to make it easier to shop directly from the site … For Facebook, the right path may not be as clear when looking for direction from 2 billion users. The upshot of the report seems to be that if you want people to be happy on the Internet, you should go niche and really listen to your community.”

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Escape Rooms ‘Pop Up’ As Brand Experiences

The Verge: “The SXSW conference has a history of being home to some of the most elaborate marketing events imaginable. Whether it’s a chance to stay over at the Bates Motel, visit the restaurant from Breaking Bad, or see Kanye and Jay Z perform (courtesy of Samsung), it’s as much a part of the show as technology talks and movies. But this year, a new style of tie-in swept the festival: the escape room.”

“Disney launched a pop-up escape experience tied to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Fox took over the ‘Prison Break’ room at The Escape Game Austin to promote the new season of, yes, Prison Break. And HBO had a multi-room installation in place to promote Game of Thrones, Veep, and Silicon Valley … It’s marketing sleight of hand, circumventing audience exhaustion over endless advertising by offering up free experiences that many would pay for if given the option.”

“And with audiences happy to share their own participation, these real-world marketing experiences form a self-sustaining cycle of hype: fans take part and take photos, which they then share on social media, which inspires more people to come, and the entire thing starts all over again.”

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Polaroid Swing: The Hogwarts of Photographs

The Guardian: “The Silicon Valley startup Polaroid Swing will this week offer more than 200 photographers equipment, exhibition space and possible commissions in its new artist support programme … The company, which launched its Polaroid Swing app last summer, has taken the name and spirit of Polaroid and repackaged it into a new enterprise with a mission, it says, to create a ‘living photograph,’ a step toward something you might see in the Harry Potter movies.” Co founder Tommy Stadlen explains: “Photographs should be alive. Every photograph in the digital world and eventually in the physical world, why can’t you move it? Why can’t you have the composition of a still and be able to see it move?”

“The concept is based on humans seeing the world in ‘short moments, not photos or videos,’ he said. So with a Swing photo you will see the wave crash or the eye blink. The motion is triggered by dragging your mouse pointer across the image, or your finger across it in the case of a touchscreen … The idea is that applicants will use the Polaroid Swing app to take pictures which they then submit through social media. The best submissions will be whittled down to a shortlist judged by a diverse panel which will include the photographer Paolo Roversi, the Tate chairman, Lord Browne, and the supermodel Natalia Vodianova.”

“Around 100 people in the UK, 100 in the US and more around the world will then be invited on to the programme which will mean getting a free iPhone, being part of digital and physical exhibitions and having the possibility of brand commission work … Stadlen said they were new and different, and that the company’s ambitions were not restricted to the digital world. It eventually hopes to create hardware that allows moving photographs in the physical world.”

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Cassette Comeback: Blame it on Bieber

The Wall Street Journal: “Sales figures for streaming music and even vinyl may dwarf those of cassettes, but the format still thrives: An estimated 129,000 tapes sold last year, up from 74,000 the year before, according to Nielsen Music.Blame the resurgence, in part, on Justin Bieber. So says Gigi Johnson, director of UCLA’s Center for Music Innovation. When the heartthrob released a cassette version of his Grammy-nominated album “Purpose” in 2016, more than 1,000 copies of the retro iteration sold (a relatively significant sum).”

“Among the labels duping new releases to tape will be Anticon Records … Its manager Shaun Koplow has long appreciated cassettes, despite their demise in the ’90s. He said he finds that vinyl offers the best sound quality and that streaming is the most convenient—but when he gets home after a long day, he often reaches for cassette.” He explains: “Cassette tapes demand that you’re patient. You’re not going to be skipping tracks as you would on your phone. It’s nice to have something to force you to relax.”

“Indeed, anyone can create and share a playlist with a few clicks on Spotify. But the instantly shareable, streamed compilation will never be as meaningful as a handmade mixtape … Although audiophiles have never embraced the cassette for its audio quality the way they have vinyl records, the format does imbue music with a subtle hiss and other audio vestiges that appeal to the discerning.” And: “Getting into cassettes, unlike vinyl, is relatively inexpensive: Even high-end players cost less than $150.”

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Are Smartphones Worse Than Drugs?

The New York Times: “Researchers are starting to ponder an intriguing question: Are teenagers using drugs less in part because they are constantly stimulated and entertained by their computers and phones? The possibility is worth exploring, they say, because use of smartphones and tablets has exploded over the same period that drug use has declined. This correlation does not mean that one phenomenon is causing the other, but scientists say interactive media appears to play to similar impulses as drug experimentation, including sensation-seeking and the desire for independence.”

“Or it might be that gadgets simply absorb a lot of time that could be used for other pursuits, including partying … Though smartphones seem ubiquitous in daily life, they are actually so new that researchers are just beginning to understand what the devices may do to the brain. Researchers say phones and social media not only serve a primitive need for connection but can also create powerful feedback loops Alexandra Elliott, 17, a senior at George Washington High School in San Francisco, said using her phone for social media ‘really feels good’ in a way consistent with a ‘chemical release.’ A heavy phone user who smokes marijuana occasionally, Alexandra said she didn’t think the two were mutually exclusive.”

“However, she said, the phone provides a valuable tool for people at parties who don’t want to do drugs because ‘you can sit around and look like you’re doing something, even if you’re not doing something, like just surfing the web’.” Eric Elliott, “who has counseled young people for 19 years, said he had seen a decrease in drug and alcohol use among students in recent years. He said he was ‘more likely to have a challenge with a student who has a video game addiction than I am a student who is addicted to drugs’ … In the case of his own daughter, he worried more about the device than the drugs.” He explains: “I see her at this point and time as not being a person who is controlled in any way by smoking pot, but her phone is something she sleeps with.”

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Why is Snapchat So Confusing?

Business Insider: “The reason Snapchat can feel hard to understand happens to be the same reason it’s popular with younger people, according to Snapchat’s first investor, Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Ventures.” Liew says Snapchat “is confusing to some because it breaks traditional metaphors and conventions for app design. Hence it is confusing to those who are expecting those conventions.”

He continues: “But to those who do not come in with any expectations about ‘how an app should work’, it isn’t confusing at all. In fact, it is more intuitive because it takes a fresh look at UI from first principles, rather than starting with established metaphor. And because it is more intuitive, it rewards those who use the app heavily … This is why Snapchat found an initial user base with teens; those with the least expectation for what UI ‘should’ look like, and those who use it the most.”

“Snapchat’s ‘unfolded cube’ design, as Liew put it, is a different take on how to navigate an app. Instead of using a menu button or drop-down, you simply swipe in any direction to move between different parts of the app.”

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De Stijl & Digital Design, Dutch-Style

Backchannel: “2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of a Dutch art movement that has had a worldwide impact: De Stijl. Right up to the present day, De Stijl has influenced art, architecture, and product design. But the impact of De Stijl is particularly apparent in contemporary design—more specifically, in digital design.”

“The key principles of De Stijl still resonate. In the 1990s and early aughts digital design was an explosion of designs, colors, and patterns. But in these times of digital overstimulation, design has shifted. Now we look for something to hold onto, and we often find it in functional, minimalist designs: abstract and elegant, stripped of any frills.”

“Today’s digital design shows a clear preference for horizontally oriented shapes, and a grid-based layout. Naturally, this results in a visual vocabulary that is strongly reminiscent of the characteristic De Stijl compositions, as is evident in the grid-based interface of Pinterest, for example. Other examples include Google’s Material Design, a design theory that explains how every manifestation of Google is constructed. Windows 10, the most geometric looking operating system so far, also invokes De Stijl.”

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What Makes ‘Snap’ Crackle & Pop?

The New York Times: “When Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy were undergraduates at Stanford University, they made an unconventional observation about what makes a social network valuable. Thanks to the rise of Facebook, most everyone believed that networks became exponentially more valuable by amassing more users. But Mr. Spiegel noticed that in real life, even people with thousands of acquaintances spent most of their time with just a few friends whose value outweighed a large number of looser ties.”

“So when Mr. Spiegel and Mr. Murphy created Snapchat in 2011, they inverted the social networking dynamic. Out of their Stanford dorm rooms, they made Snapchat as an app that would send disappearing messages and photos in a way that more closely mimicked the dynamics of a real world conversation. That would increase the appeal of Snapchat as a service that people used with a small number of good friends, they figured.”

“While online identity previously emphasized everything anyone has ever done, with Snapchat ‘my identity is who I am right now,’ Mr. Spiegel said in a 2015 video to describe the app:”

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Lather Rinse Repeat: Netflix Finds Its ‘Tipping Point’

Wired: “In 2016, Netflix spent $5 billion on original programming. Five of the 10 shows people searched for most often last year are Netflix originals … Eager to build on that, Netflix plans to spend $6 billion creating 1000 hours of new content this year, more than doubling its 2016 lineup. At this point, it’s clear Netflix isn’t just a streaming service anymore. ‘For many millions of consumers around the world, Netflix has already become television,’ says Tony Gunnarsson, a television analyst with Ovum.”

“Tony Wible, a Drexel Hamilton analyst, argues that Netflix has a sound business model, one best described as, Spend so aggressively that you dominate, making it impossible for anyone to compete … He expects Netflix to monetize existing subscriptions by doing things like adopting higher pricing tiers for 4K content. And you can bet it will keep cranking out premium original content. After all, it isn’t a single show that hooks new subscribers all over the world. It’s a solid lineup of remarkable programming like The Crown and Gilmore Girls and Black Mirror.”

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings comments: “Very few people will join Netflix for just one title. But there’s a tipping point, one more title you’re hearing about, that causes you to join.” In other words, as Hastings says: “Lather, rinse, repeat.”

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