Don’t nag us with notifications, seduce us with your services

Our mobile device are becoming tantrum-ridden toddlers, crying for our attention. Can we design our digital service to seduce not demand?

Over time, noise rises and signal becomes harder to find. That seems to be the big lesson of the past 20 years on the web – as web pages proliferate, how do you find the best ones? As blogs proliferate, how do you find the ones you’re interested in? As more and more people join social network – and brands start marketing to you – how do you find the signal in the noise?

Now, it’s happening on mobile.

When notification were introduced, they seemed like a great idea. A little number, a little update, informing me of what was happening, should I wish to do something about it. A couple of years on, and my phone is a mass of little red numbers and, if I pull down the notification sheet, umpteen notification from over a week ago. Why is this happening? Well, the clue is hidden in the fact that I don’t find notifications on my Mac as annoying. I use a limited set of applications on my laptop – and so the amount of notifications is small and, more often than not, useful. The proliferation of apps on my phone and tablet mean that I’m slowly being drowned by calls for my attention. And that attention is severely limited.

Developers are getting more aggressive in theirĀ use of notifications, as they compete for out attention amongst ever-growing screens of apps. Their signal becomes part of the noise. Some people are starting to take measures to curb this – photographer Luca Sartoni found himself suffering from phantom vibration syndrome, and decided to cut his addition to phone notifications:

I recently decided to give a cut to it. I switched off all the notifications on my phone and I turned off the ringtone and the vibration. My phone is totally asynchronous object and since then I feel so much better.

But the canny developer won’t leave this to the user. As we move beyond product thinking inset service design, we need to start finding ways of making our services seductive companions on users’ daily journeys, rather than demanding attention like a tantrum-throwing toddler. Service needs to seduce the user, to make them want to open the app, because it make their life easier. Notifications are the nagging voice of an over-bearing boss. A truly great service should make the user feel like she’s doing something she loves, because the process is painless and the result pleasing.

So, that’s the digital world’s design challenge: stop nagging us, and start seducing us.

Photo by Garry Knight and used under a Creative Commons licence