Maysoon El-Ahmad on Dec, 2017


By definition, UX, or User Experience, is design tailored to enhance user accessibility and engagement. To do so, designers need to be intimately attuned to the behaviour and psychology of the user.

We are already used to ‘stopping cues’ or ‘active decision-making’; for example when we read a book and get to the end of the chapter, we decide whether to continue or not. However many technologies remove the interval between passive consumption and active decision-making – and the result is an increase in addictive behaviours.

An addictive product releases dopamine; a neurotransmitter which controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centres, regulates movement and manages our emotional responses. When an activity or a behaviour is deemed rewarding, dopamine fires rapidly and we fixate on that activity.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram adopt the principles of addictive UX design. The numerous notifications and interactions that demand our attention are based on the principle of ‘intermittent variable rewards’ which sees user actions followed by a reward such as a like or a message leaving one spending hours on them without realising it.

Companies such as ‘Dopamine Labs’ use AI and neuroscience to assist app developers to turn their apps into addictive behaviours. Their website states: “Your users will crave it. And they’ll crave you”

Ironically, Dopamine Labs have also created an app called ‘Space’, which helps you recognise your addiction and take control of your iPhone. As they explain, “the smartphone has morphed from a productivity tool to an addiction”.


  • Governments have a history of taking action to control the consumption of products that are deemed harmful and addictive – like tobacco.
  • It may not be quick, but we predict a not too distant future with increased levels of regulation imposed on technology companies forcing greater levels of accountability and responsibility, particularly on the consumption of technology by young people.
  • Tech products (including apps) will soon come with disclaimers and warnings outlining the impact of the product on our lives before we use it.
  • As new research pointing to the detrimental impact of addictive technologies on people and society starts to surface, we will see the field of ethical UX rise. Finding the right balance between what is good for a company and what is ethically right for people will become increasing issues to consider as a UX designer.
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