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8 reasons why wellness needs to be at the heart of user experience

A holistic approach to designing digital experiences empowering user wellbeing


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Varsha Vydyula

3 years ago | 7 min read

Introduction

With constantly evolving technology, product innovations, and changing market conditions, the continued trajectory of global growth is undeniable. Never in our history have humans had more access or been more globally connected. On average, humans with access to smartphones use about 9 apps per day and 30 per month.

Children getting their first smartphone has almost become a coming of age ceremony and this study shows that a child gets their first smartphone at the age of 10. Since experiencing the pandemic our use of digital products has only increased. It’s also important to note that digital experiences don’t stop at the screen.

With devices around us collecting data and talking to each other we also need to take the IoT into account when we talk about digital experiences.

Given our ever-growing connectedness with digital experiences, it is crucial to understand the related challenges we currently face.

User wellness challenges related to digital experience

Digital media consumption fatigue

With people on average spending more than 15 hours consuming media from different digital channels, our culture is reaching digital over-saturation. This includes subscription fatigue that advertisers and marketers direct at consumers. This is affecting the way we consume and respond to content.

This article explains how the internet has become integral to most people’s social life and that businesses need to address this challenge. Digital media fatigue shows that more choices are resulting in higher levels of dissatisfaction — even depression.

Algorithm changes effect

David Pakman’s story showed us how algorithm changes can impact independent media. YouTube abruptly made changes to its automated processes for placing ads across the platform which forced Pakman to crowdfund $20,000 a month just to cover his operating costs.

Instagram is another example where with each algorithm change, users have to pivot how they consume content and businesses have to pivot their marketing strategies.

With their latest algorithm change, 70% of users missed posts in their feed. With 1 billion users and 25 million businesses, it is crucial for Instagram to approach algorithm changes responsibly prioritizing user wellness.

Social media anxiety

When participation in social media affects the mental and physical well-being of an individual it is a form of social media anxiety. There are growing mental health concerns related to social media consumption with adults and children alike suffering related mental health issues.

It is quite frightening that child suicide rates increased by up to 150%, and self-harm by girls ages 10 to 14 nearly tripled. These patterns point to social media consumption.

Physical effects

It comes as no surprise that studies prove prolonged use of devices negatively impacts physical health. From poor posture to deteriorating eye health and hand cramps, we can be sure that everyone reading this article can relate to some form of physical deterioration caused by our dependence on our digital world.

Digital dependency

This relates to our infatuation with all things digital. It is our addiction to digital gadgets, and the lost feeling without them. The average smartphone user touches their device 2,617 times a day, excluding the ones performed when the phone is locked.

Despite wide concerns about cyberattacks and privacy violations, the Internet of Things also continues to expand with serious implications on global wellness.

Financial strain

Our incessant affinity to have the latest and greatest digital devices can cause considerable financial strain. This may especially be true when you have an entire family all wanting the latest technology device. People believe that owning the latest gadget will somehow dramatically improve their quality of life.

Most of the time the product they are replacing is still in working condition and repairs are not even in consideration. It is important for consumers to not confuse these purchases with investments.

Just like with purchasing a new car, a new gadget rapidly deteriorates from the moment it is taken out of the box. Another source of financial strain is the way games entice users to buy add ons and customizations.

Sometimes these are superficial but at other times they give users an edge. Children especially are susceptible to the allure of a new costume or getting a leg up on their friends.

The more they spend the more they are sucked in and the more time they play the more they spend thus forming a cycle that robs these humans of productivity, exercise, money while not contributing to societal or human wellness.

Digital product life cycle

The digital product lifecycle is defined by the phases through which it undergoes from its launch to its decline most of the time affected by the markets changing conditions.

This article explains why it is important to view digital products as organic entities that should constantly evolve and adapt to user needs from the organization’s viewpoint. So it is important when we think of wellness to also take into account business and technology wellness.

E-waste

This article examines how AirPods for example cause a great stress on earths resources. Apart from the resources it takes to engineer new products there are also severe implications caused by how old products are discarded.

E-waste is a global challenge. Lawmakers in some parts of the western world have passed so-called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws, which require manufacturers to establish and fund systems to recycle or collect obsolete products. However, this global threat needs to be the responsibility of all countries and organizations.

Responsible design

The internet was supposed to be the greatest equalizer. With wellness being left out of the equation, however, this idea is close to becoming a myth.

Organizations have the power and capabilities to design products and services that affect how we continue to evolve. With this power of course comes the responsibility to design with intention.

With great power comes great responsibility and the internet is power. It is time innovators, businesses and countries take this responsibility seriously.

For the first time in history, people from different socio-economic backgrounds have access and exposure to the same knowledge and information.

The richness of the global citizen is in the diversity of individuals. While engineering digital experiences it is important to design for human wellbeing while paying attention to the diverse nature of different cultural contexts and individual well-being.

Global well-being lighting the way for digital evolution

Pioneers like IDEO having paved the way for human-centered design, the concept of engineering experiences around people is not new to us. Companies are less focused on pushing products out and are prioritizing user research. User research is now a habitual process within product development.

It is crucial to pull back before we go further down this habit hole.

With the roots of design thinking starting in the 1950s why are people still experiencing challenges to their digital wellness?

Especially with the knowledge we have today about mental and physical health it is crucial to make sure people don’t suffer the consequences of progress.

We started with design thinking which was about human-centered design. Now are entire focus seems to have shifted to users' wants related to business goals.

We are leaving a lot of gaps in this process. With all the advances in research methods, we are able to easily conduct primary research involving focus group studies, interviews, and surveys. However, it is hard to determine if we are actually asking all the right questions.

While this research is extremely important to align business goals, market metrics with the context in which users will use the products, we are missing out on some crucial steps.

Humans first. Users next.

While targeting users of a particular product or business is important, we cannot focus all our effort on designing for them without keeping in mind that users are still humans with human requirements.

Human-centered design, user-centered design, and user experience are terms we often use interchangeably but they are in fact different. As this article simply puts it, all users are humans, but not all humans will be your users.

User-centered design requires a deep analysis of users specifically the target audience of a business. The focus here is to come up with the right solutions for specific problems based on characteristics of individuals; demographics, particular habits, preferences of target users.

It helps to understand users’ needs and preferences regarding features of a product, task, goals, user flows, etc.

User-centered design informs and improves the user experience. Every “touchpoint” that the user has with the product needs to be analyzed. The most important user experience requirement is that it is user-centered.

Wellness at the heart of user experience

User Wellness

To get a better understanding of what user wellness is and how it relates to user experience, check out my previous article in this series.

To summarize, the term user experience is simply one's experience with a digital product or service. This experience is informed by research from the end-users perspective. User wellness goes beyond users perspective keeping the user's wellness at the heart of product innovation.

Organizational Wellness

Peter Senge's systems thinking and organizational learning is a great approach to organizational wellness. It is the ability of an organization to learn more rapidly and increase flexibility in a world of growing complexity and change.

For example, reducing hierarchy, increasing local decision-making responsibility, and individual incentives and rewarding innovation are ways to improve organizational wellness.

Digital wellness

This article examines how we can improve our relationship with technology and learn how to enhance human relationships through the intentional use and development of technology.

“User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-users interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”
— Don Norman, Cognitive Scientist & User Experience Architect

It is important now more than ever to put wellness in the heart of engineering our digital ecosystem. In the next part of this series, we can take a deeper dive into how we can seamlessly integrate the wellness lens into engineering-empowered user experiences.

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Varsha Vydyula

Hello! I am a UI/UX designer with a background in visual design, business, wellness, and UX. I am passionate about designing user wellness-focused digital experiences. When I'm not designing, I enjoy learning new things, writing, making artisanal teas, and running around with my pets.


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