Is Your iPhone App Making You Fat?

Kathy Sierra hasn’t blogged in years(1), but she’s written something new this week about willpower, self-control, and cognitive drain. In particular, she posits that many apps that you use on your phone deplete your cognitive resources, which make it easy for you to succumb to unwanted things (like eating more cookies, etc):

An experiment asked one group of dogs to sit, just sit, nothing else, for a few minutes before being released to play with their favorite treat “puzzle” toy (the ones where the dog has to work at getting the treats out of it). The other group of dogs were allowed to just hang out in their crates before getting the treat puzzle.

You know where this goes: the dogs that had to sit — exercising self-control — gave up on the puzzle much earlier than the dogs that were just hanging out in their crate.The dogs that were NOT burning cognitive resources being obedient had more determination and mental/emotional energy for solving the puzzle. Think about that next time you ask Sparky to be patient. His cognitive resources are easily-depleted too.

Now think about what we’re doing to our users.

If your UX asks the user to make choices, for example, even if those choices are both clear and useful, the act of deciding is a cognitive drain. And not just while they’re deciding… even after we choose, an unconscious cognitive background thread is slowly consuming/leaking resources, “Wasthat the right choice?” 

If your app is confusing and your tech support / FAQ isn’t helpful, you’re drawing down my scarce, precious, cognitive resources. If your app behaves counter-intuitively – even just once – I’ll leak cog resources every time I use it, forever, wondering, “wait, did that do what I expected?”. Or let’s say your app is super easy to use, but designed and tuned for persuasive brain hacks (“nudges”, gamification, behavioral tricks, etc.) to keep me “engaged” for your benefit, not mine (lookin’ at you, Zynga)… you’ve still drained my cognitive resources.

And when I back away from the screen and walk to the kitchen…

 Your app makes me fat.

I am not convinced entirely, but it does raise some good questions about the direction of modern-day distractions and our cognitive load.

Worth reading in entirety here.

The Gmail of 2013 is Terrible

This is a very good post explaining what is wrong with the 2013 version of Gmail. Summary: I feel like Gmail went from being Photoshop to Draw Something.

1. I can’t easily delete my signatures. You know when you’re messaging back and forth with people, you sometimes strip out your email signatures to reduce clutter and make it more readable and less formal? Now you have to click on three tiny dots and then do it. And sometimes I forget because it’s hidden from view. This is crappy. It’s not user friendly.

2. I can’t easily change my email subject. Sometimes you’re replying or forwarding an email and you need to modify the subject. For example, you want to modify an email to send to someone else. It takes 3 clicks!! You first click on type of response. Edit subject. And then click into the subject. This is stupid.

Read the rest of the post here. The author’s conclusion:

You’re making something more basic and harder to use in favor of minimal design. This isn’t search. You can’t reduce a full-email platform down to a message box. If I wanted that, I’d use Facebook which supports email now.

For me, the new compose window is poorly designed. I just want to go back to the 2012 version of Gmail, you know?