Many product designs emphasize the need of providing feedback instantly after a user’s action. For example, the like button changes into a vivid color a millisecond after you press it, or a tab turns green as soon as you check it off. While I acknowledge the impressive user experience those feedback gadgets bring, I’d like to explore how an “anti-feedback” product could look like, why it would exist, and what benefits it could bring.
People want feedback because they desire meaning. They want to be assured that their action is meaningful, and their existence is meaningful. However, the constant assurance of meaning also brings a by-product, the fear of the lack of meaning. This is a result of conditioning. The Hook Model shows the iteration from the trigger, action, variable reward, and investment, which leads to another trigger and another round of chain reactions. When people don’t get feedback, they panic. They ask for impact, instead of the reason, trying to confirm that what they did had an impact. An “anti-feedback” product significantly lowers the frequency of trigger but aims to evoke action of another level, perhaps action that involves reflection, which ultimately leads to a more impactful increase in investment and far-reaching behavioral change.
I am not proposing that products should not provide feedback. It is essential and beneficial in that it reduces errors and increases efficiency by adding confirmation and short-term reachable goals. I’m saying that the absence of feedback can also be beneficial in some situations. A product without any feedback is impossible as it does not provide any value to the user. I am opposing instant feedback in this case. For example, a Fitbit that doesn’t tell you “Good Job walking all those steps today” every night, but rather every week or even month and triggers a moment of reflection on how much prioritization have you given your health in the past month, and what reasons are there.
Feedback is not everything. Sometimes, it doesn’t mean anything at all. Many companies and organizations are prioritizing managing social media accounts over traditional websites, especially in regions that are more developed in terms of mobile usage. They look at stats about how many people their posts reach and the conversion rates, if trackable. However, proactive social media marketing does not apply to every industry. While this indicates the company is using the wrong metrics to measure its performance, it is not too different when people rely on the feedback they get (from software, too!) to evaluate themselves.
I always like to look back to the old ages for inspiration for solving problems. While some think problems had not existed then, I somehow believe that the solution existed together, but got separated, later on, leaving the problem to be solved. I once received a compliment: “How you manage your tasks is unbelievable, you seem to have everything in your head! I just have to check my Google calendar to see what’s up next.” I was surprised. My response was “Well, I guess that’s just how people lived before the Google calendar existed.” (shrug) Undoubtedly, the Google calendar provides an effective way to manage the overly complicated and fragmented lifestyle, but it should not be forgotten that this kind of lifestyle is also a product of the Information era. The push notifications can be astonishingly similar to a colleague hustling everyone into a meeting room in the office and save the last-minute hastiness.
A product that does not provide this kind of instant feedback or intrusive notifications that competes for your attention, also should not require deliberate input. Users have already learned to expect when they give input.
Apart from the Fitbit example mentioned above, another “anti-feedback” product could look like this.
- A bank-account observer that highlights suspiciously unnecessary purchases you make. Without asking you to confirm before payment and stop you in the middle of the urge of acquisition, it prompts you to reflect on how you have been treating consumerism in your recent month in the last week of the month.
- A screen spy that catches you every time you switch from your work to entertainment during work time. It does not ask you to continue working on the spot, but rather emails you your stats every two months and leave you thinking whether you should take on more meaningful work, change your job, or work on your health. (Some may watch a short video to keep awake.)
- A fridge butler that keeps track of all your consumption. Do you buy vegetables but leave them to go bad? Do you make a week’s lunch and then eat out? Do you buy frozen food and eat them as soon as possible? There’s no changing on-the-spot as you may already have your taste buds ready for what you have in mind, but next time you shop, it could be a good chance to rethink.
In the track of habit-changing, “anti-feedback” products can bring about self-reflection that alters how the user perceives his/her desires and needs and can be more profound in the long term. The users may change how they prioritize or form decisions. These products give users complete ownership of their life and do not dream to change any decisions. For me, with a strong (or perhaps stubborn is a better word) character, it is impossible to change my mind. I need to be fully convinced and voluntarily make the change, which takes time.
I hope that such products also have a role to play.