Control OS — Bland by design
Role: Product Designer
Tools: Sketch, Invision Studio, Illustrator
Duration: Jan - April 2019
Is your phone the first thing you check in the morning?
Do you seem to lose track of time when browsing through social media?
It’s not just you, phones are designed to be addictive.
My relationship with smartphones was never healthy. I would spend at least 3-4 hours on my phone scrolling through Instagram and Reddit. It didn't stop there. I noticed some weird habits I've developed, such as exiting an app and then mindlessly reopening it right away, checking the time on my phone but forgetting it the moment I look away, and even notification light paranoia. And when I realized I'm not the only one having these issues, I knew something was seriously wrong with our smartphone use.
It started to negatively affect my mental and physical health. I would get up late because I spent at least one hour on my phone before sleeping every night. My eyes were getting drier, I developed a mild form of Forward Head Posture, and when I posted something on my Instagram page, I checked my phone every minute to see how many likes I've gotten. And with over 86% of Canadians owning smartphones, this wasn't a problem to be overlooked.
Research —Part 1
First, I wanted to identify how many people are experiencing the same issues. I conducted an online survey asking qualitative questions using Reddit and facebook. In total there were over 200 participants from 8 different countries, 75% of them being in 21-29 age group.
Although using a smartphone has brought negative effects on my interpersonal relationships, the amount of time spent on the internet remains unreduced.
I feel restless and irritable when the smartphone is unavailable
I try to spend less time on my smartphone, but the efforts were in vain.
The idea of using smartphone comes as the first thought on mind when waking up each morning
From these results, I discovered that people spend too much time on their phone even though they know it's negatively affecting their lives.
So why is it so difficult to just stop using it? Surely all 82% of people don't just lack the willpower to do so.
Research —Part 2
It turns out, there is real psychological reasoning behind why smartphones are so addictive.
Colour tells us what’s likely to be important. The vibrant colours of the apps cause us to be under a constant state of attentional recruitment.
Possible solution: Turn screen grayscale/monotone
Just like slot machines, variable reward schedules are present in many apps. If rewards are delivered unpredictably, users will end up keep repeating the behaviour even when rewards aren't being given any more.
Possible solution: Set a specific time to receive all notifications.
Many apps provide endless content for your entertainment. For example, Facebook’s newsfeed scrolls infinitely and YouTube plays the next recommended video automatically.
Possible solution: You decide how long you want to spend on an app.
One of the main reason why we find it difficult to quit apps is that we think we’ll miss out on something important, even if that chance is 1%.
Possible solution: Restrict daily smartphone usage.
Photo by Digital Trends
Light Phone is a credit card-sized phone that only lets you make calls and text or set an alarm. Over $3.5m raised on Indiegogo.
Pros: Soley designed to combat smartphone addiction. It can also replace your phone.
Cons: $150 is steep for what it is. It can only make phone calls and text. It's too forced with no flexibility.
Photo by MobileSyrup
Forest plants a virtual tree every time you don't get distracted by your phone. #1 in productivity apps in App Store.
Pros: Virutal reward system and statistics is very effective and encouraging.
Cons: Not very effective against people with severe smartphone addiction as they can always uninstall the app.
How might I design a product that is affordable, easy to implement and flexible enough to assist people from mild to severe smartphone addiction?
At first, I thought of creating an iOS launcher. However, I realized that iOS does not support custom launchers so I decided to just design a custom Android OS. This would also be easier and cheaper to develop.
During user testing, I received a feedback that pointed out a pain point that I wasn't able to recognize. For the Friend Unlock feature, It was unreliable to soley depend on a third party to unlock certain apps for you.
Although Control OS is just a concept, I've found a way to emulate some of its features on an iPhone, which helped reduce my screen time from 4 hours to less than 2 hours on average.
Step 1: Put all your apps into a single folder, and move it to the very last page from your home screen. (Eliminating distractions)
Step 2: Swipe down from your screen to reveal the search bar. Here, you can type in the app you want to use. (Reinforcing intentions)
Step 3: Turn your phone grayscale (Eliminating colours)
Apple's Screen Time has implemented "One more minute" option which did not exist at the time I was working on this project. I'm glad to see that Apple is constantly improving Screen Time feature to be an effective solution to achieve healthier smartphone-human relationship.