Social media applications with an infinite scrolling design make it difficult for users to keep track of time. There is an opportunity to provide visual and aural cues to help users quit the app before they get sucked in.
Research | Concept Development | Visual Mock-up
In the Experience Design graduate program at Northeastern University, the Notational Systems for Design course includes a speculative project in notational systems. I decided to investigate how a notational system could aid users in the context of infinite scrolling.
Prior-Art Research | Auto-ethnography | Visual Prototyping
Illustrator | Photoshop | iMovie
Our brains love new things, and sitting in our pockets at almost all times is a device that provides a near endless supply of new content. Humans lack reliable internal cues for when to stop consumption, relying on external cues such as the sight of a bowl that has less soup than before. For pages that load content automatically and give the impression of infinite content, people are defenseless to their ability to keep you scrolling. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others present their content to be consumed in this manner for this reason, leading to the amount of time spent on social media to grow to over two hours per day.
When those who design social media apps lead the masses further into the depths of content, the people can find the guidance they need from Infinite Wisdom, an application that provides visual and aural cues for users while they scroll. Once users download the app, they can select the applications for which they would like Infinite Wisdom to provide notation to let the user track the duration of their experience.
How it Works
Infinite Wisdom is an application to be installed on a smartphone and run in the background. On the settings page, users begin by selecting the applications for which Infinite Wisdom will turn on. The application automatically detects installed applications for which Infinite Wisdom can be used and makes them available here. Infinite Wisdom does not interfere with the use of these apps, but turns on when these apps have been opened and infinite scrolling behavior has been detected.
After selecting the applicable apps, the user selects the notation style. There are several different notations to choose from which are presented below, each with its own unique characteristics. Some of the notations have distinct meaning attached to them while others allow for users to create their own meaning. What is important is that users can reliably be presented certain cues in the form of a notation to which they can assign a meaning over repeated use of the notation and as a result, make a decision about whether or not they would like to continue scrolling based on prior experience.
Finally, the user can select the tuning of the notation. Determining duration for scrolling can theoretically be based on several quantitative measures, such as amount of time spent, number of swipes up the screen, number of pieces of content viewed, and distance scrolled (a measurement based on the size of the phone's screen and the number of screen's worth of content viewed). Infinite Wisdom tracks all of these measurements for each user and paces the presentation of the notation based on an aggregate score of these measurements. Users have the ability to adjust the pacing of the notation by sliding the tuning bar to make it more aggressive (meaning the notations would appear at a quicker pace) or more gentle (meaning the notations would appear at a slower pace).
Below are several concepts for notations that could be used for infinite scrolling. Each notation concept is demonstrated for use with Instagram.
Lines of Least Insistence
One way to increase one's awareness of their own scrolling is by animating each of their gestures as they occur. Here, lines radiate out from the point of contact for each gesture. Over the duration of scrolling, the color of the lines changes from blue to red. The boldness of the red attracts the eye, causing the user to become more aware of their scrolling as they get deeper into scrolling. The benefit of this method of notation is the simplicity and seeming non-judgmental tone.
Hit the Ceiling
As the user scrolls, a balloon floats up the side of the screen. When the balloon hits the top of the screen, it pops. The user is encouraged to stop scrolling before the balloon hits the top. This is a fun method of communicating how long an individual is scrolling while also associating the consequence of scrolling longer with the feeling one might have if they continue - the fun goes away.
The two sections of the experience map are symbolically represented as air and water. Users begin by scrolling in the air, which mirrors the weightlessness of discovering new content before plunging into the water where the blue filter and presence of fish makes it difficult to view content, discouraging users from continuing.
Imagine the user has a to-do list app on their phone with icons attached to tasks. While scrolling, once the user has been scrolling for a long enough duration, the icon for a task on the list flashes, encouraging the user to go do that thing. This notation method is unique in that it encourages a new behavior rather than ending the current behavior which might resonate with some users.
Here, when the user has been scrolling for a duration that Infinite Wisdom has measured to be close to when the user might feel like they are wasting their time, emoticons start to flood the screen. This is a fun way to let users know for long they have been scrolling and allow users to attach their emotional experience with the meaning associate with each emoticon.
The following scrolling interventions involve audio.
A very simple concept, a counter appears in the corner of the screen that keeps track of some measure of behavior, be it number of gestures, minutes, or pieces of content viewed. When the user gets to the point where Infinite Wisdom has deemed it is time to quit, the default alarm noise associated with the user's phone plays. Because the user has already established a strong association to stop doing something they enjoy when they hear the alarm, such as sleeping, they are likely to also quit scrolling. Out of anticipation for the alarm, users may also watch the counter in the corner to try to quit the app before the alarm goes off.
With each gesture, a noise is played. As the user scrolls, the noise decays until it is unpleasant to encourage the user to quit the app.
Just to prove that any form of audio can be used for a user to track their experience, this method involves playing a Kanye West ad-lib every time the user scrolls, progressing through the catalogue of ad-libs over the duration of scrolling. Each of the ad-libs has rich emotional texture, allowing the user to attach meanings to the noises and quit scrolling when they hear an ad-lib that they know means they are close to feeling like they are wasting their time.