Product mindlessness

Let’s start with some product trivia.

  • Without looking at your phone, how many items do you typically see in a bottom bar in a mobile app?
  • How many icons do you usually see in a top navigation bar?
  • When is the large title treatment used on iOS?

If you’re like me, these are hard to answer. I use my iPhone every day; why don’t I know these things?

I recently encountered the term mindfulness used in the context of business and organizations in Managing the Unexpected (2001), likely before the current mindfulness wave had begun.

“Mindfulness is focused on learning to switch modes of thinking rather than on meditation, and is also concerned with the process of noticing new things that involves seeing both similarities in things thought different and differences in things thought similar (Langer 2005, p. 16). She advocates interventions that promote discrimination of subtle cues previously unnoticed. When these cues are noticed, routines that had been unfolding mindlessly are interrupted, and when routines are disrupted, the resulting void is similar to the void induced by meditation.”

Although the authors are writing about reducing mindlessness in organizations, it got me thinking about mindfulness in our work.

A common phenomenon among new products designers is that they struggle to design an app that feels at home among other products on their device. We use tens if not hundreds of different apps and products in our daily life, but often miss the standard patterns within these products. Despite using mobile apps regularly, it can be challenging to actually notice what’s typical for the platform. Why is this? Does this really matter?

Part of the ability to creatively assemble new and exciting ideas is having a mindful approach to seeing the world. By paying closer attention to the things we experience, the places we see, the people we meet, and the things we use, we can start to spot patterns more easily. This temperament gives us a better understanding of the world, allowing us to bring new experiences to our clients and work.

Mindful consumption is both easier and harder than it sounds. The first step is just being aware that awareness is important. Meta. On the easy side of things, it’s just a matter of noticing what we experience in our everyday life. Mindfulness doesn’t need to mean taking literal note of something. The next time you are using an app, do a bit of a “mindful teardown” of the experience. What is interesting about it? What is uninteresting about it? Ask yourself if or where you have seen this before. The hard part is knowing what to notice. The short answer is everything. This will change over time as you notice more things and realize what is important to remember.

What have you noticed lately?

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