Screens of Good
“While notifications enhance the convenience of our life, we need to better understand the impact their obsessive use has on our well-being.”
–Dr. Eiman Kanjo (Nottingham Trent University)
Phase 1: Define the Problem
Technology has been an incredible feat for humankind, giving us all opportunities to create and communicate. While this invention has done good for users, it there are problems that surface. An article highlighted in Forbes describes research involved with screen-addicted children, reporting that, “cells in one of the reward areas of the brain, the nucleus accumbens, are activates when participants view Instagram pictures with ‘more likes,’ which again suggests that social media can tap into addiction pathways.” (Walton) These facts aren’t shocking to developers who have even, “admitted guilt about their creations, and confessed that they don’t even let their kids use them,” facilitating the idea that media is messing with cognitive processing, especially in children (Walton). Searching deeper into the issue, another study conducted by Nottingham Trent University, “found that mobile notifications can affect the user’s mood,” (Anderson). Notifications are seemingly minuscule in the overarching features of one’s device, but specific language and the way notifications are presented can make the biggest difference in a user’s experience.
“A recent study proves that the mobile phone modification can drive the user’s mood depending upon the type of notification.”
– Joshua Anderson
The Problem: Notifications
The major problem that we want to highlight is the toxic reward process involved with notifications. Numeric value and certain language is used to persuade users to continue scrolling on certain interfaces, spending hours swiping and tapping to find a sense of reward. In the Nottingham Trent University study, it was described how, “while notifications enhance the convenience of our life, we need to better understand the impact their obsessive use has on our well-being. The concept of “likes” and “comments” creates a very distinctive language for internet usage, and this rhetoric is subliminally hindering the developing minds of the youth because the specific words used are satisfying to read.
Together as a team, we want to figure out a language that will help slow the traffic of social media usage and cause users to feel less satisfaction from interactions with their devices. Reinventing rhetoric used to describe media interactions could be a small step in creating momentum for shortening screen usage.
Phase 2: Research
User Research: Observations
Starting this project with daily observation, Juliette took time during Thanksgiving to observe her cousin, Kealohi. She seemed to constantly be checking her phone; sometimes for longer periods of time, sometimes just for a split second, but it seems constant. Even at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Juliette remembers not getting her first phone until she was 13.5 years old, yet her other cousin, currently 13 years old, owns an iPhone. Her parents on the other hand have a different relationship with social media. Juliette’s mother owns a flip phone and couldn’t be happier with it. She usually keeps the device off unless she is out of the house running errands or driving to and from places, utilizing the basic communication tools her phone allows. Juliette’s father owns a smart phone, and while he is slightly technologically challenge, he still knows how to use the basic functions. In regards to notifications, he struggles. Sometimes he will miss a text/message when she asks if he received it, and in some cases when he misses something he responds back with, “Oh, you called?”
User Research: Survey
Beginning our research, our team created a survey to gain information regarding current media habits. Our survey pool of 47 participants ranged from 17–58 years old and included 36 students and 11 non-students. Here are the following questions and responses:
Analyzing Survey Results
Through our survey results, it’s interesting to see the relationship that users have with their devices. Majority of users admitted to the interference that media has on their daily life along with the guesstimated amount of time they spent on their phones ranging in the higher numbers.
Looking at the questions regarding notifications, it seems that in our survey most notifications are enabled in applications that involve human interaction. Snapchat being the leading application with notifications enables, followed by Instagram. Snapchat differs from the other applications we included in our survey because it is the app that more directly involves human interaction. Instagram is slowly updating their interface to include more personal connections with private messaging and other similar features such as the most updated feature where you can create a “friend” group, being able to send things to your closest friends on the app. These results are harmonious to the results of the Nottingham Trent University study concluding that notifications involving friends and other human-to-human interactions helps brighten screen-users moods. (Anderson)
Analyzing Research: Affinity Diagram
Stephanie is a 6th grade girl who is entering the digital world after receiving her first phone — a smartphone. She has found herself addicted to social media, especially through instagram. She has her notifications turned on for every like that shows up on her phone’s lock-screen. She spends hours a day checking up on her posts and her parents are worried about her “social” habits because of her new device.
Tim is a 45 year old who is always on the lookout for important updates regarding his job as a social media developer. He has many different applications on his phone that push notifications to him, but he is getting lost in the sheer amount of notifications that pop up. He wants to find an easy way to view notifications that are important, almost creating a hierarchy.
Phase 3: Design/Evaluate Round 1
We decided that for our paper prototype, we would focus on redesigning the language and display of notifications. Being able to better the notification process so that it is necessary for communication but not enabling to users is important, and we studied the process of presenting minimalistic notifications on a phone lock-screen to determine the impact that language has on users. Ranging from just symbols and colors to full length messages, we wanted to cover all bases for phone lock-screen notifications.
We tested our paper prototype on University students aging between 19–21 years old since that age group responded the most in our original survey. With three different representative users, we were able to determine that the notification banners presented to the left of the phone (in the above image) was the best option to pursue later in a second round. The users tested explained that the banner describing the message was too specific of a notification, and that the banner that only included “notification” was too broad. The minimalism of the icon banners were more pleasing to the eye yet didn’t cause the users to want to click on it.
In figuring out these results, we decided to take the idea of the icons into account but still wanted to find a way to incorporate better language. We learned what draws the eyes of the user and took that into consideration to create a more neutral approach to notification language.
Phase 4: Design/Evaluate Round 2
We decided for our second round of paper prototypes to focus on rhetoric and the messages that pop up for lock-screen notifications. We wanted to make them clear but not enabling so that it doesn’t invoke any mindless scrolling and tapping in users. Using synonyms to the words “like,” we experimented with other language that is less exciting.
Once again, we tested our paper prototype on University students aging between 19–21 years old since that age group responded the most in our original survey. With the results of the three same representative users as the our first attempt at a prototype, we were able to determine that the banner in the center of the phone (in the above image of the prototype) was the most successful form of notification because it doesn’t include personal names and is the most neutral in describing the messages.
The results of this user testing round helped us learn how important recognition is in the ability for users to read messages. The colors of each notification are important in differentiating, but in our studies, we discovered that the colors do not have to be a large portion of the message display. We took this newfound knowledge into account and worked forward in minimizing the use of color, only using it when necessary.
Phase 5: Reflect
In our final piece, we decided to create a two-step process to notifications to really demonstrate hierarchy in each message’s importance to the user. The notifications appear as icons, and once they are tapped, the messages are described as the banners in the outside bubble. The icons would only appear if there is a notification for a certain app, so the screen wouldn’t be cluttered with unnecessary sights that would distract.
If our prototype were to be produced, it would be usable because it is only a small adjustment to a feature that is already present in mobile devices and it hold a clear design language for users. During this process, we were able to learn what triggers emotion when it comes to iconography and wording, pinpointing ways to create neutral phrasing and language to distance the users from constantly checking their device. If out group were to be graded, we would probably receive an 8 on a 1–10 scale. This would be due to the fact that this is a very specific problem that we looked into and not many radical options could have been created without redesigning the entire interface of the phone. For this small project, however, it is successful in that it is able to clearly demonstrate notifications without changing too much regarding the original design.