Mindful design practices that help us live by our values


Category: Mindfulness

Read: 6 min

Author: Daniel Zeitler

In this episode, I want to give three mindful design examples that help to create technology that is on our team. We will be looking into aspects of human values, time, and attention.

I think this is now more important than ever. Every mindful design conference has at least one talk about empathy. About not calling users a user. Rather calling them Human. We all need to get user-centered, be more empathetic. But I think what we really need is compassion. Let me explain.

Empathy means that you feel what the other person is feeling, for example, we all have mirror neurons, when we see someone get punched or cut in a movie, we feel that pain too somehow.

Sympathy means you can understand what the other person is feeling e.g when someone passed away you’re not able to feel the same pain but you can employ sympathy by understanding that your friend is sad.

Compassion takes this to another level. When you’re compassionate you feel the pain of another like in empathy or you recognize the person is in pain with sympathy, and then you do your best to alleviate the person suffering from that situation. This is also why I believe in practicing mindfulness. You need to be in the present moment to notice other people's suffering. We need to truly listen when someones share a problem with us without trying to fix the problem and relating them back to our own lives and emotions. We need to listen without judgment. But don’t take that from me though. The Dalai Lama famously said in the book The Art of Happiness.

„If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion“. DALAI LAMA

I believe that specifically in the technology field, compassion can affect our overall well-being. So I want to share with you 3 mindful design solutions that would help us live by our values.

Respecting Time

Imagine you’re looking for the directions to go from point a to point b. So if you put it in your phone will tell you either to go by train, bus, car or walk. Basically, it is predicting to let you go from point a to point b efficiently. But what if you had a menu option that lets you tell the app that you’ve been wanting to exercise. With that, the app is able to put a new choice on the menu and tell you that you could walk, because you had this one fitness goal that you want to achieve.

With that, the app is able to put a new choice on the menu and tell you that you could walk, because you had this one fitness goal that you want to achieve. Or maybe, if you’re like me, you value productivity. So the app could offer you now, that you can finish that one podcast you started. It’s a 30-minute walk and there are 28 minutes left on the podcast. Suddenly, technology is on your team. It can empower you by knowing what matters to you. Now we are upgrading the goal from getting from point a to point b efficiently to getting from point a to point b well. And no one decides what means well to you, but you.

Respecting Attention

We need to understand our relationship with modern technology and to understand that we can look at a groundbreaking study about a bottomless bowl of soup. We all think that we are completely in control of how much we eat. In the experiment, one part of the participants are given a regular bowl of soup while the other participants get a bowl that constantly refills. The group with the bottomless bowl ate two thirds more than the ones with the regular bowls. So, the researchers conclude that the amount of food in front of us has a big effect on how much we eat.

A lot of technology feels like these bottomless bowls of soup. These never-ending newsfeeds have no stopping queue. So how can we fix this?

We can restore choice by asking people how big of a bowl they want. By opening an app, a website with a web browser, or by marking certain e-mails we could get asked how much time we want to spend. When we re-visit the website and exceeded the time we could get asked again if we are sure to spend more time than planned.

Another solution could be displaying the top 10 posts for you on that day in a tinder-like card system. This would serve as a stopping queue. After viewing all 10 you could get asked again if you want to see the regular timeline. In the past, we consumed newspapers that had a defined start and endpoint and we know that there won’t be new information until tomorrow. With that filter system, we could create a similar choice.

These examples shape the menus we pick from. Therefore we need to pay close attention to the options we are given but also the options we are giving when thinking about mindful design or developing a product. If you control the menu you control the choice. Are those choice aligning with our true needs?