Silence is gold

Audio - 00:00

We’re seeing a dramatic escalation in the rate at which people disconnect, unsubscribe and opt out to stem the barrage of content and messages that clutter daily life. As consumers, we’ve come to realize that it’s no longer simply a lifestyle choice, but a serious mental health issue. As we put up more barriers between ourselves and digital technologies, organizations must learn how to offer value to users who crave quiet in a noisy world.

Key sectors:

  • Communications & Technology
  • Banking & Insurance
  • Travel
  • Life sciences
  • Retail & consumer goods
The minimalist Light Phone is designed to be used as little as possible.
The minimalist Light Phone is designed to be used as little as possible.

What’s going on?

In 2018, the rise of alerts, notifications and voice services directed our attention toward fears that digital technologies could have a lasting negative influence on our mental health.

The first ever Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit discussed ways to address the damaging impact of digital technologies. A diverse array of other organizations from around the world also voiced their concern. But perhaps most striking was the backlash within the tech industry.

The Center for Humane Technology (a group of Silicon Valley technologists who were early employees at big tech firms) warned of the ill effects of social networks and smartphones “hijacking our minds and society.”

Some workers in China wear brain monitors for research into stress.
Some workers in China wear brain monitors for research into stress.
The new Palm - smaller and simpler than most phones.
The new Palm - smaller and simpler than most phones.

Apple and Google responded with well-being tools that limit screen time. Meanwhile, Microsoft has increased product features to minimize distraction and backed Mindful Technology, a business focused on developing technology with respect for users’ time, attention and privacy.

Beyond user experiences, companies are designing physical products offering more control over exposure to digital technology. Meanwhile, simpler, less attention-seeking tech is enjoying a resurgence. In 2018, Sony brought back its 25-year-old PlayStation Classic, and PDA pioneer Palm Inc., creator of the iconic PalmPilot, was reborn.

The values users seek from products, services and organizations are shifting. Where once we celebrated novelty, excitement and instant gratification, we now reject organizations that shout to get our attention.

The minimalist Light Phone helps users reduce their screen time — The Light Phone, YouTube.

What's next?

Mindful design is fast rising up on the agenda for big tech firms. Other organizations must follow their lead but, to do so, they’ll need to learn new ways to build relationships and loyalty with users that now respond badly to the shouty approach of old.

Rather than being big, bold and noisy, to avoid being ignored – or worse, abandoned – organizations need to pipe down. It’ll be difficult for many to break long-established behavior, but it’s crucial. Their focus should be on designing products that meet customers’ holistic needs, shaped to sit favorably within the ecosystem of other products competing for attention.

They’ll also need to rethink the metrics they use to measure success, prioritizing long-term value, for example, above usage time.

Organizations must embrace a new design ethos that puts human value back at the center of their innovations. The designers who undertake this work have a responsibility to take a more ethical approach by not making things people don’t need, and putting human value back at the forefront of innovation.

Consideration and respect for individuals’ context will become the pillars of the long-term, value-added, meaningful relationships on which organizations’ futures will depend.

Families are realizing the value of reduced screen time and less digital noise.
Families are realizing the value of reduced screen time and less digital noise.

Evidence update

What you should do

01

Be quieter

Take a lack of responsiveness as a hint to be quieter, not noisier. Rethink your metrics, and find new ways of measuring performance of your services that are not purely engagement-related.

02

Radically simplify your feedback surveys

Listen to the changing needs of your customers and make providing feedback as easy and instant as possible. Pay attention to the online reviews – customers are probably already telling you what you need to know.

03

Invest in content design

When the number of interactions you have with your consumers is minimal, each one of them counts. Change the language of your messaging, and do it frequently. It’s not just about what you say but how you say it.

04

Measure the cognitive effort that you expect from your customers

Recognize the attention and effort your service expects from its users and demand it only when it’s useful to people.