Over the past year I’ve been thinking about time. My time specifically, and how I spend it. It’s a precious thing, as I only have so much of it, as does everyone else. While everyone’s idea of time and what is important to them will be different, most of us want more time to do whatever it is that we love, and we definitely all need more time to rest and recharge.

Technology has changed the way we interact with the world. Up to this point it has been mostly up to us, not the technology, to make sure we unplug and take the downtime that is so important for our mental health.

The trends are not encouraging. People are using their phones behind the wheel, our quality of sleep is threatened every night by phone or computer or wifi, we are being constantly notified about things that are not critical, and we are slowly losing not only the ability to communicate effectively face to face, but the desire to. These are just a few issues that have become prevalent over the last decade.

So why don’t we make sure we design our products in healthy ways so they promote healthy living?

Over the last few years Designers have been tasked to create endless new ways of engaging audiences. Most of us have fallen into the repetitive cycle of attracting users to use our product, getting them hooked, and then enticing them to come back—repeatedly.

Companies have been so focused on engagement metrics that they have failed to understand that there is a cost for such aggressive tactics. People have started to become tired, and they have started to look more critically at technology they are consuming. Companies are starting to see people retreat from (unhealthy) products that don’t have their best intentions at heart, and researchers are seeing attention and notification fatigue.

Designers have been aware of this on a more subtle scale. We test micro interactions, we interview people, we create user journeys and experience maps, we try to be the voice of the people. To do this even better, we need to step back and look at our product from a wholistic point of view. Any product becomes an extension of the person using it, and we need to be aware of this fact and design by harmony.

Design for calmness. Design for peace of mind. Design by harmony.

A harmoniously designed product will require the least amount of transparent interaction possible, and then fade out of focus. Technology shouldn’t make us stressed, but assist us in things that are important to us.

Calm technology is a theory of design coined by Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown in 1996, and was later expanded upon by * Amber Case with her book Designing Calm Technology. Amber has been an advocate for designing healthy and calm technology and has given a number of inspiring talks and continues to be a champion of the cause.

I think we are at the beginning of a big shift. A shift away from creating technology that extracts our attention and erodes society, and toward technology that protects us and replenishes society.  We can and should incorporate this concept into the fabric of what we create. It is time.

  • * Amber Case. Researcher, author and design leader with a ten year history of user experience and R&D - from calmtech.com