Cutting through: designing for an overstimulated consumer
Research Manager, New York
What is returning to “normal”? After lives constrained to our four walls, we drown in a sea of attempts to make life more seamless. And amid the largest mental health crisis to date, it’s easy to wonder, are convenience and accessibility actually at the cost of mental peace? In this piece, we explore products intentionally designed to soothe the overstimulated consumer.
How are we shifting biologically for a fast world?
Since 2004, attention spans have decreased by almost a third (at 2 ½ minutes in 2004 and 47 seconds now), according to Dr. Gloria Mark, author of “Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity.” In response, brands try to offer help – from discounts for auto shipping to pings when you’re out of toilet paper. For our minds, there’s a flurry of online mental health platforms and “hacks” designed to ease depression, ADHD, anxiety, etc. But the buzz around striving to calm this overwhelming spiral is creating even more mental fog.
How can brands design with overstimulation in mind?
1. By gamifying meeting our needs
Left: Pokémon Sleep | Right: Human Essentials Deodorant
Pokémon, which has the tendency to keep gamers up all night, is launching Pokémon Sleep. Users’ scores will rise based on how long they sleep and the quality of their sleep, and Pikachu’s voice will wake them up in the morning. Human Essentials’ peel away paper deodorant pack keeps people aware of how much they’ve used. That way when it’s time for a refill, the reminder is less jarring. Keeping up with our basic needs can feel like a job, so adding a bit of fun to the mundane reduces some stress.
2. By relinquishing our control
Source: Left - Google | Right - Spotify
Choice is empowering, but also overwhelming. Instead of staring at endless playlists, Spotify has introduced DJ, an AI powered listening tool. Harnessing the nostalgia of radio curation, Spotify DJ caters music to each user with the advantage of already knowing their taste. Going to a new place holds a similar excitement, with some apprehension. Google Maps’ new Immersive View helps users to explore what a place will be like before they show up – how crowded it is, if there’s parking, even if they can charge their electric vehicle. After making thousands of decisions a day, products that let us sit in the passenger seat feel like a support system.
3. By getting us off our devices
Source: Left - Forest | Right - Be Real
On the Forest app, users grow virtual trees when they’ve completed the amount of screenless time intended for studying, hanging out with friends, working. The organization then plants real trees. In response to excessive posting, TikTok has restricted minors’ screentime while BeReal continues to promote one post per day social networking. While tech is associated with making our lives easier, products that are self aware of this feel more honest.