This week, we tap into screen time trends. Looking at the success of the Slow Tech movement, it seems that switching off actually turns customers on.

Time out on tech

With the Slow Tech movement building momentum, take note of the lesson it teaches for brand experience and product design.

Russell

Creative

Experience Design

5 minute read

It’s no surprise that eight of the top ten biggest companies across the globe are technology-focussed.1 And the pandemic has created a ‘Perfect storm’ for these companies to accelerate their profits into ‘bonkers’ numbers.2 But there is a growing movement of consumers turning their back on aspects of technology in their lives. I think businesses should take note.
In short
  • Consumers are increasingly aware of the time they spend in the digital world. The Slow Tech movement aims to reduce this time.
  • Designers and product developers should respond to this customer sentiment and behaviour, as it’s a trend that will keep growing.
  • Three elements to consider about Slow Tech when designing a product or experience.
The Slow Tech movement
We’re spending less time disconnected. With more and more products boasting a computer chip and screen, the line between analogue and digital is blurring. There’s no doubt of the negative impact it has on our physical, social and mental wellbeing3; anxiety, loneliness and the fear of missing out are all symptoms of our ever-connected online lives.

It has taken a world pandemic for many consumers to realise the extent of their digital consumerism. The Slow Tech movement has gained increasing popularity over the last year, aiming to tap the brakes on the unstoppable momentum of global tech. Or, at the very least, it aims to take a little bit of the ‘internet’ out of the Internet of Things. Because technology is becoming harder to live without, proponents of the movement search for ways technology can enhance their lives for the better and not just distract them for a moment.

The stats tell the story: sales of record players are booming4 and vinyl recently overtook CDs for the first time since 19865. And even despite the pandemic, the decline of hard-copy books has reversed.6

Now, tech companies are starting to recognise the trend – and take action.
What Big Tech is doing about Slow Tech
In 2018, Apple introduced us to Screen Time7 as part of its iOS 12 update. Screen Time monitors iPhone usage, serving customers easy to digest real-time reports. On the surface it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the update also allows users to set app limits and create downtime periods that block certain functions on the device from bothering you. In short, one of the most valuable companies in the world8 is trying to get its customers to use the most profitable product ever produced9 slightly less.

On the smaller end of town, we have Dispo. It’s a camera and photo sharing app that mimics the function of a disposable camera. The interface is designed so you have to squint to see through the tiny view finder. You can’t access the images until they’re developed (they’re unlocked at 9am the next day). The resulting images are very lo-fi, highly saturated and due to the squinty viewfinder, the framing and focus is a little off. The shots look like they’re from the early 90’s but are cherished that much more because you have to wait until they’re ready for you. It’s nostalgic. It’s fun. And in this fast-paced want-everything-now world, it’s extremely slow. But that’s the point.

Designers are also are coming up with ways to reduce the tech in our everyday lives – not just in the digital space. Consider the beautiful street lanterns10 in the video below that respond to pedestrians by bending towards them like a blooming flower. As a response to light pollution, their warm glow lights only what is necessary before returning to their darkened state once the pedestrian moves away.
Slow Tech in design thinking
I think consumers will continue to grow more aware of the need to balance technology use in their lives. Discussions about it pervade the media, schools, workplaces and even conversations amongst friends. Really, it’s a necessary part of adapting to it all. In response, we should make it a natural consideration of the design process. When creating a new product or experience that requires technology, we should ask ourselves these questions:

Does the user have a chance to take a break?
This may be a ‘pause’ feature so they can leave and come back later, knowing their progress has been saved.

Is there too much emphasis on efficiency?
Speedy responses and transitions are great selling points in some instances (such as bank transactions), but not in others (who actually likes YouTube Auto-play??). Consider efficiency in your product, and whether it actually benefits the customer or just annoys them.

Is there a lot going on?
Think about the visuals and sound. If they don’t serve a purpose other than distraction, consider cutting them out. One example that comes to mind is loading screen entertainment. Maybe that time is better used taking an eye break.

"This fast-paced want-everything-now world, it’s extremely slow. But that’s the point.”

Find stillness in your brand
As I type this out, I feel my smartwatch vibrate and turn immediately to my phone. It’s a ‘Breaking News’ notification from the other side of the world. I tap my wireless headphones to skip through the playlist algorithmically curated for me by my streaming service. The TV is blaring in another room, so I turn up the volume.

Another notification buzzes – this time from Dispo. My photos have been developed and are ready to be viewed. Will they be worth the wait? I switch everything off to take a break and find out.

In that brief moment of stillness, I come to appreciate apps like Dispo all the more. It offers respite from the busyness of life. It’s a reminder that good things come to those who wait… and take a break. I hope more brands realise the potency of this approach to design. It can really make an impact on customers.

on Looking Up
Look Up is an interesting example of a Slow Tech brand initiative. It encourages Aussies to spend less time on phones and more time observing the world around them. The campaign made quite an impression, proving how effective it is to make your brand a point of stillness amidst the city chaos.

Slowing things down
The Slow Movement isn’t just about the tech sector. It’s an established phenomenon in and of itself; a cultural shift to slow down life's pace.

So how can your business jump onto the Slow bandwagon? Here are some areas to explore.

References
  1. Matthew Johnston, 10 Most Profitable Companies in the World (9 September 2020) Investopedia.
  2. Shira Ovide, ‘A Perfect Positive Storm’: Bonkers Dollars for Big Tech (29 April 2021) The New York Times.
  3. Jon Johnson, Negative effects of technology: what to know (25 February 2020) Medical News Today.
  4. Statista, Number of turntables sold in the United States from 2005 to 2020 (April 2021) Statista.
  5. Olivia Tambini, Record players: vinyl sales overtake CDs for the first time since 1986 (3 March 2021) TechRadar.
  6. Alison Flood, Book sales defy pandemic to hit eight-year high (26 January 2021) The Guardian.
  7. Apple, Use Screen Time on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch (Date unknown) Apple.
  8. Jenna Ross, The Biggest Companies in the World in 2021 (10 June 2021) Visual Capitalist.
  9. Oscar Williams-Grut, Apple’s iPhone: The most profitable product in history (29 January 2015) Independent.
  10. VOUW, Bloomlight (Date unknown) VOUW.

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