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the good life
the ethics of user
experience design
Sebastian Deter...
the thieves
of time
So I would like to begin by telling you a story.
A story taken from a favourite children’s book of mine, actually.
It takes place in a quiet little town, somewhere in Italy, some time in the 20th century.
One day, at an amphitheatre, the girl Momo appears, seemingly from nowhere, with no recollection of her past, dressed in a...
The peace of the village is disturbed when the Men In Grey appear. They introduce themselves to the villagers as represent...
To each villager, a man in grey calculates how many seconds they will still have in their live, and how many of those prec...
That extended chat with the newspaper man every morning? 3.285 million wasted seconds over the time of your life. That flo...
Appalled, the people promise to immediately start saving time and deposit it with the Timesavings Bank.
But a curious think happens: The more time people save, the less time they seem to have. Instead, they become ever-more he...
In the conceit of the story, it turns out that the Men in Grey are not from a Timesavings Bank, but a supernatural race of...
They store the time people save in a giant underground vault as frozen hour lilies – each petal the physical manifestation...
The Men in Grey then thaw the petals to roll them into cigars.
And by smoking them, they ingest human time. Without us saving our time for them, they would perish. I won’t spoil the end...
john maynard keynes
»Technological unemployment ... means in the long
run that mankind is solving its economic problem. Th...
And yet, to me, – and I would guess for most of you – my work day feels...
And this is not just a subjective impression. According to several studies, despite growing economic prosperity, life sati...
Remember when
e-mail was fun?
Or, asked differently: Remember when e-mail was fun? I just flew in from a conference in Pad...
The media nowadays reports regularly about “digital stress”. This is just one recent cover example from the Italian L’Espr...
There are multiple books talking about our “distraction addiction”.
And if you search the hashtags #ringxiety and #fomo (fear of missing out), you will find many confessions...
Tomi ahonen
The average user checks his or her
smartphone 150 times a waking day.
That’s every 6.5 minutes.
annual mobile ...
Wherever there is a trend, there is a backlash. I encountered the first weak signals of it in this blog post by web design...
He continued to tell the story of screenwriter Robert Long and others, whose only chance to get writing done was to book t...
News media are littered with articles about how the tech elite is struggling with their technology addictions, and is tryi...
There are now campaigns like the No Internet Week.
Or the National Day of Unplugging.
Things like Hibernate, a collective 24 hour “email fasting” pledge.
Companies like Digital Detox sell “disconnect” retreats to recharge your human batteries away ...
Give us
our time back!
Like the children in the novel Momo, we are banding together on the streets, demanding that the Men...
this is us
This is us. We – the web and software industry – are the Men in Grey, making everything evermore connected, fas...
The apps, the networks, the platforms are the parasitic master race we build. For what do they live off of? What is it the...
People typically say it’s data, and that’s true to an extent.
Other say it’s user-generated content. True likewise.
Or if they are really honest, it is money (or eyeballs, or ad impressions). But ultimately, all of these are made of...
Our time. Without us investing the time to share and like and write and buy and watch and click, they would perish.
we are the
thieves of time
And we, user experience designers, are the agents who feed our parasitic masters. We build thes...
our industry has been learning from Las Vegas, though not in terms of (information) architecture.
We have been learning how to produce what anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll has called “addiction by design”. At least the...
Not so us: Since the 2000s, “persuasive design” has been storming our conferences and book shelves.
And not to point any f...
what people wish they had done
Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse, interviewed her patients what the things were they most w...
what people wish they had done
Submit hours
…and what we design for
To me, no recent application epitomises the perversity of what we do more than Hatch. Just watch their promo video.
I am speechless how un-ironic and un-self-aware this application literally states what the effin’ problem is, to then go o...
On the other hand of the spectrum, we build to-do apps to make us ever-more productive, efficient, timesaving.
how might we design for this?
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the
life others expected of me...
technologies of
Now there are quite a number of applications out there today that try to do that kind o...
There are now thousands of health, fitness, and quantified self applications that help you improve your exercising...
There are services to improve all aspects of your life, for instance to set yourself financial goals and budgets.
personal aspirations
And applications to help you realise whatever personal aspiration you might have. However, when I loo...
YouPlay(in background)
All these applications want you to be ...
More productive
Not drinking too much
Regular exercise at the gym
Getting out more with your associate employees
Stay in the game.Move on.
They want you to be fitter, happier – in order to be more productive. They want you to self-mana...
instrumentalising well-being
They instrumentalise well-being and well-behaving for the sake of productivity, like Digital ...
The willing quantified slave
For as Foucault noted, any such “technology of self” has a technology of domination as its fl...
What for?
If we want to escape this ever-lurking instrumentalisation, we have to dare ask the big questions again. The ver...
One way of doing so is to pick up the trail of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. In it, he asked a very similar question: Wh...
»If, then, there is some end of the thing we do,
which we desire for its own sake (everything else
being desired for the s...
»Now such a thing happiness,
above all else, is held to be.«
nichomachean ethics (1097b)
Not seeking pleasure & avoiding pain
Now Aristotle was not a hedonist. He was quick to note that happiness does not mean s...
Well-being, flourishing, the good life:
»the exercise of the rational faculties of the soul
in conformity with ...
Eudaimonia we today translate as flourishing, well-being, or the good life.
Flourishing, Aristotle held, is exercising and...
If we see current technologies of well-behaving through this lens, other issues become apparent. First, if we design under...
evan selinger
»Instantaneous access coupled with lower prices
and zero ‘shipping and handling’ costs turns
‘casual’ reader...
we cultivate
what we design for
In short, we cultivate the kind of human we design for. But we could use the very same pri...
…or becoming more than that
We could design under the assumption that the human being is capable of more, but requires tra...
»If we understand the ergon of a human
being as self-concordance, then self-
knowledge and the perfection of the
An ever-increasing number of empirical studies suggest that mindfulness can be trained and has all kinds of positive effec...
»You look especially
lovely tonight.«
Lacking intention and insight
»You look especially
lovely tonight.«
Lacking intention and insight
“just like cattle”
If we act mindlessly, without intention, just prodded by incentives or punishments, pleasure and pain, ...
endorsement from insight
More importantly, reflexive endorsement is how we escape instrumentalisation. Aristotetle recogni...
Implicit theory of social changeresponsibilisation of self
Another issue: Many technologies of well-behaving help...
“when discipline is reinforced,revolution cannot fail!”
This is not a new narrative. You can already find it on Maoist pro...
backgrounding systemic root causes
John Th...
tell convenient lies &
alleviate symptoms
facing reality &
striking at the roots
technologies of
So is there an alternative? I think there is, and I think it again takes us back in time, t...
One of the oldest of these is fasting, be it in Hinduism, Islam, or elsewhere: Clearing your head, training your ability t...
It is cloisters and retreats, spaces and times that shield us from the...
It is spiritual teaching, dialogue, and meditation, where we are invited to ...
It is hour books, daily meditations and prayers that give a reflective counterpar...
It is memento mori’s like Philippe de Champaigne's Vanitas (1671), death masks, gargo...
It is traditions like the Shabbat, a day of rest, community, remembrance, and spiritu...
All of them are fundamentally re-minders, technologies for reinstating and cultivating mindfulness.
speed up slow down
reduce seams interrupt
abundance constraint
behaviours Intentions
habits mindfulness
improve “how” ask ...
Marc Hassenzahl
»With an aesthetic of convenience, you
will never instil change. What you need,
rather, is an aesthetic of...
Take his “Chocolate Machine” – like many of Marc’s works a somewhat whimsical experiment. Every hour or so, this little de...
Another example is “See your folks”: You enter your parents’ home country, their age, and how often on av...
and out comes how often you will see them before you die. Admittedly this memento mori is more of a one-t...
For a more permanent version, take Hans Ruitenberg’s “Tiny Tasks”: A set of disks...
Fred Stutzman’s little application “Freedom” gives you a digital cloister by blocking your n...
But I like this version by the NYC based design studio “The Way We See The World” even bette...
I like it because, as the group describes the concept in its own words: “The manual act of w...
Fine and good, you say, but how do I bring this to my everyday practice? We cannot all only spend time desig...
The truth is: Like Momo, I cannot give you any answers. Because we life in a...
So here’s the interface that greeted me at Padua airport on my iPhone when I tried to log into the 45 minutes ...
What are the
of your design?
Which brings me to my first, a very simple question: What are your intentions when...
For my next question, I’d like to turn to a news story that has made the rounds partially thanks to Mike Monte...
adam greenfield
»The Achilles’ Heel of the Internet Era is the
needless churn in components our daily
And we are wasting other resources as well. By one estimate, when Apple switched from their 30 plug adapter to the new Lig...
If you are interested in this kind of underbelly of your work, the Designer’s Accord and other organi...
Or take the case of Ultrinsic, which uses monetary incentives - bets - to motivate students to learn. On the outset, it se...
Richard Buchanan
»Products ... are vivid
arguments about how we
should lead our lives.«
design and the new rhetoric (2001)...
In the Good Life …
one person teaches, the others listen.
you learn while sitting.
you learn by taking notes.
you learn fo...
In the Good Life …
people compete.
it is important to be judgmental.
it is important to be liked.
there can only be one wi...
What are the
of your design?
* also unintended, long-term, rhetorical
So here’s my second question to you: What a...
Returning to my example at the beginning, often when we are talking about the ethics of design, we are asking:...
From a virtue ethical view, everything is ethical, because everything realises, approaches (or falls short of) living life...
What vision of
The Good Life
doesyour design aspire to?
So this is my third question to you: What vision of the good life ...
Now if there is one industry that is not in want of aspiration, it is the te...
»your life’s work«
What is the “life’s work” you get to do? An annual incremental innovation to keep the cycle of planned ...
»something big«
A company with the highest market cap and biggest cash coffers ...
»something that couldn’t happen anywhere else«
… thanks to clever ways of evading taxes? Now you may say: Well, big compan...
ben horowitz
»Technology means ‘a better way of doing things.’ Making
a better way of storing information, a better curren...
»imagine the impossible«
So what is the impossible that our startup world is inventing r...
»imagine the impossible«
Apparel data
Social shopping Money tra...
Jeff Hammerbacher
»The best minds of my
generation are thinking about
how to make people click ads.
That sucks.«
founder &...
victor papanek
»For design is the most powerful tool
yet given man with which to shape his
products, his environments, and...
everything is becoming a networked interface
The Internet has linked all information processing to digital networked techn...
The designer’s share
The world
Yet, as Papanek put it in this little diagram, much too often, as designers, we only focus ...
Your client
Your users
We focus on the requirements of our clients more than our users.
Your user’s demands
Their actual needs
We focus more on their demands and wants and impulses than their actual, lasting hu...
Your user base
Your country’s
We focus on a small, white, educated, affluent etc. user base, rather than the to...
Your 1st world problems
Our global crises
We focus on the problems and needs of our first world, rather than the global cr...
Your solution
The root cause
And often, we alleviate symptoms instead of addressing the root cause. So here’s my next ques...
what do you want
to use your time for?
Peter-Paul Verbeek
»Things carry morality because they shape the
way in which people experience their world and
organize t...
The Good Life?
you often get the shivers – because of how little we apparent...
The Good Life?
Every piece of design, every time we interact with it, also m...
Michel Foucault
»Why should the lamp or
the house be an art object
but not our life?«
ethics: subjectivity and truth (1997...
This photo shows a colleague of mine, B...
When they created Habit Labs, they also created these axioms for how they wanted to live ...
I started with a story, and I want to end with one. Game designer Chris Crawford owns 29,216 glass beads, in eight colours...
What vision of
The Good Life
do you want to live?
Thank you.
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»You look especially
lovely tonight.«
Lacking intention and insight
»Now I feel like
you’re just doing it
for the points.«
To which she replied: “Now I feel like you’re only doing it for the points.” It makes a difference whether we do something because of a rule or incentive, or because we
mean it.

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