Evolving the User Experience to Curb Digital Addiction

March 18, 2024

Over the last decade, the ways in which we experience technology have undergone significant changes. We’ve progressed from checking our email messages in a computer’s Web browser to receiving email notifications on our smartphone. Instant-messaging communication has transitioned from chatting on the desktop application Yahoo Messenger to conversing with family and friends in WhatsApp groups. Social-media apps on smartphones have transformed to become instantaneous broadcasts of our life experiences. Marking an important paradigm shift, technology has influenced every aspect of our communications, from shopping to education to gaming.

The rapid growth of smartphones and advancements in their operating systems have resulted in a surge in mobile-app usage and our increasing dependency on these apps. However, some app-development companies have misused UX design principles and even our understanding of human psychology to boost their profits—particularly major organizations and especially those in the social-media industry.

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Social-media platforms—on which people spend a significant portion of their time online—have predominantly been responsible for fueling this issue. They have studied how people’s minds work extensively, with the intention of making their apps addictive. These platforms leverage persuasive-design strategies to keep users hooked, using features such as likes on posts, pictures, images, comments, stickers, and rewards to make users feel good.

Digital addiction is on the rise globally, especially among teenagers. In this article, I’ll delve into the changing landscape of UX design and its role in promoting the healthier, more balanced use of digital technology.

Overcoming the Ills of Digital Addiction

The misuse of psychology in UX design is an unhealthy practice that has driven the problem of digital addiction. I want to shed some light on how UX design is adapting to create more balanced digital experiences and explore how UX designers are actively working to make apps and Web sites less addictive and fostering greater mindfulness of users’ well-being. With the aim of contributing to a better digital future, this evolution of design practice is particularly relevant for both college students and daily digital-device users.

The primary goal of this evolution of the user experience is to strike a balance between the usefulness of technology and its impact on people’s mental health. Thus, users can enjoy the benefits of digital products without falling into the trap of compulsive use. The current, pressing necessity of curbing digital addiction is highly pertinent to and aligns with the interests of those whose concern is the impact of technology on people’s mental health. Our aim is to address the challenges that addictive design poses and drive the evolution of UX design. Breaking the chains of digital addiction is crucial to reimagining the user experience. The consequences of not overcoming digital addiction include becoming less intentional and deliberate in our digital interactions, leading to concerns such as the creation of a more divided, or polarized, society. A plethora of issues with social-media apps and persuasive algorithm designs have permeated our society.

For example, people may either favor or disregard others based on their social-media likes and posts relating to political, religious, and other interests. Friends and family in a person’s social-media network are aware of the person’s favored political party. This sometimes results in groups that are either pro or against others, which can lead to cyberbullying and eventually to polarization in our society. [1] Instagram has changed the world in some unexpected ways. [2]

Algorithms push content based on factors such as age, gender, preferences, and interests, leading individuals to develop biases toward specific products and services. So-called influencers and content creators often produce content without referring to reliable and trusted sources, causing people to fall into their misinformation trap—or perhaps an algorithm trap.

For example, an app could push homosexual content to check an individual’s interest. Then, if the person engages with that content by watching a video for some time or by liking a post, the app would subsequently show more similar content to further assess their interest in homosexuality. If the individual continues to engage with the content, the app would then regularly display related content, along with related advertisements and products. [3]

In the past, tech-media giants have demonstrated their influence on and power over political parties by helping them win or causing them to lose elections. [4]

When using social-media apps, content apps, or even Google search, users encounter numerous examples of such influence, including the widespread distribution of fake or nonsense stories, posts, video reels, and other viral content. [5] Users often make judgments about people based on their social-media posts and their numbers of likes and followers. We even receive advertisements based on our Google searches. These algorithms are everywhere.

These apps are designed to be highly addictive to users. They manipulate the user’s brain and even hormones such as dopamine. Dopamine acts on areas of the brain to evoke feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. It also plays a role in controlling memory, mood, sleep, learning, concentration, movement, and other bodily functions. [6]

The design of notifications is another aspect contributing to digital addiction. Interactive elements such as vibration, buzzing, irregular notifications, flashing lights, and always-on displays on phones and smartwatches, lure users back into apps for further interactions. The more people use their phone, the more they’ll use apps. We should reevaluate notification design to promote healthier digital habits.

Designing for Freedom: Breaking the Chains of Digital Addiction

To create a better digital future, UX design must evolve to meet the changing needs of users. While tech giants often believe their role is solely to fulfill user requirements, it might be time for a change in perspective. We need a world in which UX design evolves to shape a better digital future.

UX design is evolving to assist people in using digital technology in a healthier, more balanced manner. We need to further explore how UX designers can make apps and Web sites less addictive and be more mindful of users’ well-being.

Instagram posts without counts of likes and comments do not create a sense of competition or cause users to compare themselves with others on their social networks. Instagram has already tested this pilot feature in multiple geographies. [7] The option of limiting or disabling comments on YouTube can prevent cyberbullying and social-media hate, particularly in response to popular and trending videos.

WhatsApp Channels with private audiences let users follow their interests, celebrities, and political parties in private mode, in contrast to Twitter—now X—where social-media posts can ignite trend wars and polarization. In private mode, there is no online abuse, representing a positive shift in our online environment. [8] Steps in the right direction include features such as YouTube’s Dislike button and Instagram’s not displaying the number of followers for a particular profile, fostering a less addictive digital environment.

Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning could transform the distribution of push notifications to consumers by tailoring notifications to individual user preferences—thus, minimizing the phone’s buzzing at irregular intervals.

By understanding the necessity of evolving the user experience to curb digital addiction, we can pave the way for a more mindful, better balanced digital future. In conclusion, as we navigate the evolving digital landscape, it is crucial that we prioritize creating a healthy user experience and breaking the chains of digital addiction. 


[1] Damon Centola. “Why Social Media Makes Us More Polarized and How to Fix It.” Scientific American, October 15, 2020. Retrieved March 14, 2024.

[2] Aaron Brooks. “7 Unexpected Ways Instagram Has Changed the World.” Social Media Today, October 7, 2018. Retrieved March 14, 2024.

[3] Emma Turetsky. “TikTok Made Me Gay.” The Cut, August 27, 2021. Retrieved March 14, 2024.

[4] Reuters. “Facebook Says Russian Influence Campaign Targeted Left-Wing Voters in US, UK.” The Hindu, September 02, 2020. Retrieved March 14, 2024.

[5] Lauren Frayer. “Viral WhatsApp Messages Are Triggering Mob Killings in India.” NPR, July 18, 2018. Retrieved March 14, 2024.

[6] Mobterest Studio. “Designing a Dopamine-Inducing Mobile App.” Medium, October 19, 2023. Retrieved March 14, 2024.

[7] Greg Kumparak. “Instagram Will Now Hide Likes in 6 More Countries.” TechCrunch, July 18, 2019. Retrieved March 14, 2024.

[8] WhatsApp. “Introducing WhatsApp Channels: A Private Way to Follow What Matters.” WhatsApp Blog, June 8, 2023. Retrieved March 14, 2024.

Product Owner at Accenture

Gurugram, Haryana, India

Nitin KumarNitin is a UX-oriented product owner with a strong passion for digital products. He has been working in product management and business analysis for more than ten years.  Read More

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