Moving Beyond FOMO
App Design in the Age of Anxiety
In the world of app design, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the race for higher engagement rates and more daily active users. These are the metrics that investors care about, the numbers that we, as app developers, are told to focus on. But in our pursuit of these figures, are we losing sight of what truly matters?
The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) has become a widely exploited phenomenon in the realm of app design. Apps like Homescapes and Gardenscapes, among others, have leveraged this human tendency to keep users coming back, sometimes compulsively so. While it’s true that these tactics can drive up engagement metrics, they also raise serious ethical and psychological concerns.
As we continue to innovate and evolve in our app designs, it’s crucial that we remain mindful of the impact our decisions can have on our users. Our job is not just to create apps that people use, but to create apps that enhance people’s lives in meaningful ways.
This blog post aims to explore the implications of FOMO-based design, reassess our approach to success metrics, and discuss a potential new direction for app development. A direction focused not just on business success, but on the satisfaction, joy, and well-being of our users. It’s time to return to our roots, to the reason we started creating apps in the first place, and envision a better way forward.
The Downside of FOMO
FOMO isn’t merely an internet slang or a passing trend. It’s a powerful psychological trigger deeply rooted in our primal fear of being left out from the group – a fear that once upon a time could mean the difference between life and death. Today, it’s a tool that, when used unethically, can lead to compulsive behavior, increased anxiety, and even addiction.
Consider some of the most popular apps and games in the market. Many of them make extensive use of limited-time events, flash sales, and exclusive content. They bombard users with push notifications reminding them of what they’re missing out on if they don’t log in right now. The goal? To keep users coming back, to keep them engaged, to keep them spending.
For instance, mobile games like Homescapes and Gardenscapes often run time-limited events, offering unique bonuses that can only be won within a specific timeframe. This strategy creates a sense of urgency among players, encouraging them to return regularly to the game. It’s not just about playing the game; it’s about playing the game now.
But while this might drive engagement and increase session lengths in the short term, the long-term impacts on users are concerning. The sense of urgency can lead to stress and anxiety, particularly among younger users. It can result in compulsive checking behavior, where users feel an irresistible urge to open the app just to make sure they’re not missing out on something. Over time, this can lead to burnout, disengagement, or even worse, mental health issues.
But FOMO isn’t just limited to gaming apps. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have their own versions of FOMO. The infinite scroll of news feeds, the red notification badges, the trending topics – all are designed to make you fear missing out on important updates or discussions. The result? Users spend hours scrolling, liking, commenting, and sharing, often without realizing how much time they’ve lost.
As developers, we need to ask ourselves: is this the kind of experience we want to create for our users? Is this the kind of impact we want our apps to have on their lives?
The Pressure from Investors
As app developers, we often find ourselves in a challenging position. On one hand, we have a responsibility towards our users, to provide them with an experience that is not only enjoyable but also respectful of their time and mental health. On the other hand, we are held accountable by investors, who understandably expect a return on their investment.
Traditionally, success in the app industry is measured by metrics like session frequency, push notification open rate, and time-sensitive action completion. The higher these numbers, the more successful the app is considered to be. Investors look at these metrics to gauge the potential profitability of an app, influencing their decisions on where to put their money.
This focus on these quantitative metrics can often lead to a pressure to design for engagement at all costs. After all, more engagement means more ad views, more in-app purchases, and ultimately, more revenue. It’s easy to see how FOMO, with its power to drive compulsive usage, can become an attractive tool under these circumstances.
However, this approach is not without its drawbacks. While FOMO can indeed increase engagement in the short term, it can also lead to user burnout and disengagement in the long term. Users who feel manipulated or overwhelmed by an app are more likely to uninstall it, leading to a decline in active users and a negative impact on the app’s reputation.
Moreover, designing for FOMO can also lead to ethical concerns. Are we, as app developers, comfortable with the idea of exploiting our users’ fears to drive engagement? Is it right to contribute to a culture of anxiety and compulsive usage, all in the name of profit?
Personally, I believe there’s a better way. A way to balance the needs of business with the wellbeing of our users. A way to measure success not just in terms of numbers, but also in terms of the value we bring to our users’ lives.
A Better Way Forward
As we continue to navigate the complex landscape of app development, it’s crucial that we remain mindful of the impact our decisions can have on our users. While FOMO can indeed be a powerful tool for driving engagement, we must also consider the long-term implications. There’s a growing concern that certain design practices may be contributing to increased anxiety and compulsive behaviors, particularly among younger generations. Recent data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reveal a marked increase in anxiety among those aged 18-25 years old, jumping from 7.97% to 14.66%.. This alarming trend underscores the imperative for app designers to align with mental health professionals and legislators in prioritizing the safety of adolescents in our designs.
It’s worth reconsidering how we measure success. Instead of focusing solely on traditional metrics like daily active users or session lengths, we could also track qualitative metrics like user satisfaction, the perceived value of our app, and the positive impact we have on users’ lives. These metrics are not traditionally quantified, but app designers should create new innovations around measuring beyond the status quo to address this important nationwide health issue.
Often, we default to assessing human factors such as satisfaction with the same quantitative methods we’d use for machines—a byproduct of our penchant for easy measurement. However, given the significant advancements we’ve made in machine learning and other technologies, it’s time to reevaluate this approach.
Humans are not machines, and their satisfaction cannot be fully captured by a set of numbers or a linear scale. It’s a complex, multifaceted phenomenon that encompasses a variety of emotional and cognitive factors, many of which are subjective and difficult to quantify. Yet, we’ve seen that with machine learning, we can analyze and interpret complex data in ways we never thought possible.
Shouldn’t we apply the same level of innovation and sophistication to our understanding of human satisfaction? Imagine if we could harness the power of machine learning, not to reduce human satisfaction to a number, but to better understand its complexity. To identify the many different factors that contribute to it, to understand how they interact, and to tailor our apps to better meet these diverse needs.
By pushing the boundaries of how we measure and understand user satisfaction, we can create more meaningful experiences for our users and more accurately assess the impact we’re having on their lives.
Live App Reaction from Art Scene App
Returning to My Roots
In this digression, I was reminded of why many of us started creating apps in the first place. For most, it was never solely about profits or engagement metrics. It was about crafting something useful, engaging, and delightful for our users. It was about the joy we derived from seeing our users benefit from our creations.
In our pursuit of success, it’s easy to lose sight of these initial intentions. However, as we reassess our approach to metrics and our use of FOMO, it’s essential to return to our roots and remind ourselves of why we do what we do.
App design is not merely a business; it’s an exploration of what technology can do to enhance our lives. As explorers, our focus should be on pushing the limits of technology to improve the lives of users.
The metrics that matter most are those that reflect the genuine value we’re creating for our users – their satisfaction, their enjoyment, and the positive impact our app has on their lives.
Our responsibility as app designers is to create, innovate, and enhance. The duty of measuring business success can be left to our colleagues in business development. Our role is to ensure that what they are measuring is genuinely valuable.
By returning to our roots and refocusing on our original intentions, we can create apps that users love and trust. We can enhance their lives, not just momentarily, but in a sustained way. This, I believe, is the true measure of success in app design. It’s not about exploiting our users’ FOMO; it’s about creating meaningful, enjoyable experiences that keep them coming back because they want to, not because they feel they have to.
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