PRODUCT DESIGN || SPRING 2022

Dope

A low-dopamine interface that helps combat tech addiction.
MY ROLE
  • Product Strategy
  • User Research
  • Product Design
  • Usability Testing
TEAM MEMBERS
  • Solo
TOOLS USED
  • Figma
  • After Effects
TIMELINE
  • 3 months

Background

During the beginning of the pandemic, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD is commonly misdiagnosed among young adults, and women especially are known to receive a much later diagnosis than their male counterparts. As I began noticing the ways in which my hyper-fixations and compulsions manifested, I immediately became aware of the unhealthy relationship I had with technology. My personal realizations were two-fold:

  1. Most general productivity and addiction management tools were very disciplinary in nature.
  2. Tech addiction continues to be under-researched and endemic within young adults.

Noticing these gaps, I wanted to conduct research on addiction, dissociation, and ADHD management techniques to explore what a low dopamine interface would be within the context of tech addiction.

READ THE FULL RESEARCH PAPER HERE ↗

Design Values

How might I design a low-dopamine interface that acts as a buffer between a person and their digital screens?
Most tools that exist today employ an overly ascetic, disciplinary approach that strays from successful approaches to other types of compulsion. The following values informed my design practice:

Non-Augmentation

The interface does not track user responses  or save any data. Rather, users can come and go as they please. This isn’t a space to optimize, just to exist and introspect.

Wayfinding

Many people with neuro-divergent conditions need and thrive on repetition, predictability, and clear boundaries to feel safe and in control.

Environments need to make sense, but overly redundant spaces lack inspiration. Having an interface where there is more to it than meets the eye can make people feel more engaged and eager to move through the space, while still keeping it easy to navigate.

Speculative design, not solutioning

This interface does not intend to be a panacea or band-aid solution, but rather a supplement to one's mental health toolbox.


USER RESEARCH

Current Landscape

I began by researching different approaches to addiction and ADHD management with an aim to integrate different solutions into a low-dopamine interface. There are currently three theories/approaches used in various addiction and ADHD therapies: neuro-behaviorist theory, dual systems theory, and phenomenology. From these schools of thought, I created storyboards to envision how a user might engage with these practices within a digital interface and beyond.
APPROACH 01

Neuro-behaviorist theory

Neuro-behaviorist theory views distraction as a biological process. It centers around the idea that compulsive behavior and addiction occur due to a chemical imbalance in the brain and can be regulated through activities that regulate one’s dopamine/serotonin levels. Neuro-behaviorists often cite how the hyper-saturated, slot machine-like nature of various social platforms is an intentional design choice that  lends itself to addiction.

Sketches from a storyboard for neurobehaviorist theory
APPROACH 02

Dual systems theory

Dual systems theory views distraction as a mental process. The theory states that human behavior is guided by two structurally different cognitive systems that operate largely independently of one another and constantly compete for behavioral control:

  1. Reflexive system. Automatic, unconscious, and fast. our habits, impulses, and desires.
  2. Reflective system. Controlled, conscious, and slow. more deliberate and effortful behaviors.

The dual systems approach is integrated in the interface through various mindfulness-based prompts which encourage the user to check in with their reflective system.

Sketches from a storyboard for neurobehaviorist theory
APPROACH 03

Phenomenology

The phenomenological approach views distraction as an embodied entity. When it comes to addressing distraction, phenomenology employs a five-scale model of skill acquisition. The more a person becomes proficient in an activity, the less they have to rely on conscious deliberation. The goal with phenomenology is to eventually reach a state of “egoless agency.” In the case of the interface, this would mean the user no longer requires the prompting of the interface to sustain a healthier, more mindful relationship with their screen.

Sketches from a storyboard for neurobehaviorist theory
RESEARCH

Precedents

I conducted an environmental scan and competitive analysis of other mental health and screen time management tools on the market, such as iOS' Native Screen Time Management System and Headspace. Although these apps exist, they often employ an overly disciplinary tone that disempowers the user. Additionally, they lack the personalization that is needed for sustainable habit-forming to occur.

Competitive analysis of other screen-time management + mental health tools
RESEARCH

Screen Flow

From my research in management approaches and creative precedents, I was then able to create the screen logic for the interface and what a long-term user timeline would look like, beyond the app.

User flow for Dope app
Long-term user timeline: What will their relationship with their screen look like in and beyond the app?
RESEARCH

User Testing

I user tested this screen logic by having a few friends play around with the prototype on a mirroring app. I took note of how they navigate through the interface, as well as asked them to share any thoughts that came up while going through it.

I also polled my peers to understand which oblique strategies *they* would employ to boost their energy: aspirational activities, and other hobbies they engage in when not in the digital space.

Key insights:

  • Reduce the text. The first run experience was a bit text-heavy for users. I worked on simplifying and reducing the amount of copy, and moving some of the more adjacent concepts to the "About" page.
  • Specify options. When outlining goals and motives, I originally had a singular text box for users to write in. I received feedback that writing into a big, blank box seemed daunting. From there, I moved to a multi-select format, and tested out various pre-determined options for users to choose from.
  • Simplify suggestions. For the alternative strategies that would appear, I originally had all the suggestions in a list view. Users preferred looking at one suggestion at a time, and flipping through the content. I changed the design to include cards, with an option to view the entire list if desired.
FINAL DESIGNS

First Run Experience

The in-app experience begins with a brief onboarding questionnaire. Users can identify well-being goals and preferred strictness of app.

FINAL DESIGNS

Reflection Prompts

The app serves as a threshold, reminding users to check-in with themselves before and after mindlessly scrolling. Depending on the level of strictness, the app will cycle through various prompts to encourage users to pause and reflect before entering their digital space.

FINAL DESIGNS

Saved Features

After submitting the questionnaire, the app serves various oblique strategies that match the users' inputed preferences. They’re able to add or delete to customize what options appear when they compulsively reach for their screen. This gives our users agency, rather than being automatically matched with alternative suggestions.

Next Steps

In the vein of phenomenology, I am interested in long-term analog testing this idea of "friction" between ourselves and our digital world. Similar to tech addiction, can tech mindfulness become an embodied habit? I plan on creating physical prototypes out of laser-cut acrylic that serve as an overlay for screens.

Moving forward, I am excited to continue to explore psychology, technology, and culture in a thesis project. I feel I have learned much about the unexplored terrain of technology’s impact on our psyche, and would be interested in pushing other variations of this project further.