Subverted Design(

over 5 years ago from Joel Califa, Senior Product Designer at GitHub

  • Jimmy HookerJimmy Hooker, over 5 years ago

    I agree with parts of this, but others just seem like standard sales and customer retention tactics, especially in some of the examples. They aren't dark patterns, they're not loot boxes (which, honestly, are much more evil than the examples given). The examples given are extremely mild ways to steer user behavior to serve the business. Of course we should make efforts to hang on to customers and to get them to purchase! That's the whole point!

    Designers and developers too often look at the business side of a company as the evil empire. This is often not the case. Building a business is enormously difficult even in good times. We can serve the user while also serving the business, they're not mutually exclusive. This isn't a zero sum game.

    There are definitely businesses that have the equation messed up, and the negotiation between serving user needs vs business is out of wack. But man, this doesn't even feel close to the mark. Look at Oracle bilking Oregon out of half a billion for their health care exchange. Look at the Skinner boxes that many modern games have become.

    Don't show me a little notice from AirBnB that tries to get me to commit to the place I'm already interested in but maybe on the fence about. If anything, I appreciate their nudge.

    4 points
    • Joel CalifaJoel Califa, over 5 years ago

      I mean, you might appreciate it, but many others don't. These examples were picked on purpose as stuff that isn't all out user-hostile, but is a ways away from user-friendly.

      Unfortunately going into more depth on this stuff felt like it diluted the point. I actually agree with you 100% about business and user needs not being mutually exclusive, and that's part of what got cut from the article for the newsletter. Here's an excerpt:

      Business needs and user needs aren’t always in opposition. My favorite companies are those where these needs align. 

      That’s one of the main reasons I love working at GitHub. Our approach is fairly simple: make things that are valuable to users. We don’t need to manipulate users into paying for their accounts or engaging for the sake of engagement. They either need those features or they don’t. This is fantastic because I get to focus on what I’m best at: maximizing user value.

      This model isn’t unique to GitHub or even that rare, but it’s entirely dependent on where the money comes from. If it comes from providing user value, decisions will likely be easier. If it comes from ads, your business goals will inherently be at odds with your users’ needs.

      That’s not to say you won’t find variation at ad-driven companies. A solution to a business need can be user friendly or user hostile. Some companies are comfortable with design patterns that could be considered hostile, others aren’t. Avoid the latter. The Ubers of this world do not deserve us.```

      It's hard to put every thought into a relatively scoped article. I definitely think this conversation is nuanced. I just wanted to start it.

      3 points
      • Jimmy HookerJimmy Hooker, over 5 years ago

        The problem with the way you frame this whole article is that it comes down to the silicon valley ideal of "If we build it, and it's good, they will come, and they will purchase". This is true for a lucky few, and only up to a point. You've clearly worked for some companies where you've been lucky enough for this to be true fairly often.

        Too often in our industry, sales and marketing is looked at as some sort of manipulative evil. "If we have to sell it, then it must not be good, because the customer recognizes and purchases only greatness".

        With any of these things, the dose is the poison. If you ratchet up 'growth hacking' to a crazy degree, you get LinkedIn style contact scraping, or Uber level competitiveness with its now obvious downsides. But plenty of people implement these tactics without going overboard, and without harming or offending their users. I love the one-click buy button on Amazon. Does this button make me more likely to purchase something I might've hemmed and hawed about? Of course! Is that bad? Occasionally maybe? But overall I certainly enjoy it.

        Everything in moderation.

        I agree that it's hard to put every thought into a scoped article, but I feel like there's too much of an 'us vs them' mentality here. Why is the little hint that this AirBnB is being looked at by multiple people not user friendly? What if they don't get it, then come back two days later and realize it's been booked? Is that a good result or a bad result for the user?

        Every business is a balancing act between competing interests, constantly prioritizing. I don't think it's healthy to turn it into warring factions. I'd avoid it if I could. Just like we empathize with our users, we can empathize with the business side. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

        3 points
        • Joel CalifaJoel Califa, over 5 years ago

          Look, on the one hand you say that "if we build it they will come" doesn't necessarily work (and you're right), but on the other hand you're defending a sketchy tactic used by Airbnb, who already has what, a hundred million users and the accompanied momentum? Where does the optimization stop? When is enough enough?

          To be clear, I don't think marketing and sales are evil. I agree that they are necessary to grow a business. I also agree with "everything in moderation." I don't actually think we're on different sides of this.

          The article isn't about warring factions and I regret that it's being read that way. It's about a system in tech that consistently prioritizes money over user health. The first step is for us to break out of it—because I'm a Designer and I write what I know—the next is for the rest of the industry to break out of it. That can't happen overnight and honestly it's unlikely that it'll happen at all without a serious reckoning, but I have to try. The article is about being better, not about who's wrong and who's right.

          2 points
          • Jimmy HookerJimmy Hooker, over 5 years ago

            I appreciate the intention, I just feel like it’s overly sensitive and ignores problems that are far worse.

            The Airbnb thing to me is not sketchy, I’d like to understand you’re thinking on this more. I also think Facebook’s efforts to retain someone who is deactivating an account are pretty mild. They do far more shadey things with your data than they do with design based retention. Gamifying your attention with Skinner-box-like dopamine hits is far worse.

            In general, in an article like this I’d really want to understand what we’re fighting against, and why it’s bad. Your article is too high level, and instead of exploring the business vs design perspectives, it mostly focuses on a “badness” that has pervaded the design sanctuary.

            Rereading my responses, they’re definitely overly confrontational. However, I knew everyone in here would golf clap this and say “here here!”, and I feel like these ideas need to be challenged.

            I respect you, a lot of your writing is very good. I just disagree with some of your points here, and I think that nuance and detailed examples are pretty important in an opinion piece like this, especially from someone with influence.

            2 points
            • Samantha S, over 5 years ago

              Airbnb didn't start the whole 'x viewers looking at page' urgency pattern, it was in the hotel booking industry... so you can't really blame them for implementing this as they are competing with these travel booking sites.

              For the record, I think it is a shady tactic cause the false sense of urgency really messes with people and their rational decision making process.

              0 points