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5 min read

These design principles are made to break the internet, in a good way

UX designer Jon Yablonski’s “Humane by Design” is part manifesto, part tangible tips you can use right now to put users first.

A photo illustration of an open laptop on a stool. The screen shows the "Humane by Design" home page.

Image courtesy Jon Yablonski. Illustration by Anita Goldstein.

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Doomscrolling wasn't an accident. It was a UX decision.

As a web designer (and modern-day human), you know what we’re talking about: the practice of endlessly scrolling in search of good news, until your eyes glaze over and you’ve spent more time in front of a screen than you meant to. That practice was enabled by the infinite scroll, and that was enabled by UX design.

Jon Yablonski, a Detroit-based UX designer and senior product designer at MixPanel, recently launched “Humane by Design,” a part manifesto-part online hub of design resources, principles, and guidance to help UX designers counter long standing principles (like infinite scroll) and build a more humane internet.

Here, Yablonski explores what more humane design looks like, how it’s different from the “user-centered” design approaches we see in the industry today, and why the metrics of what qualifies “good design” need to shift.

The seven Humane by Design principles: empowering, finite, inclusive, resilient, respectful, thoughtful, and transparent. Image courtesy Jon Yablonski.

Shaping Design: How did this project come about?

Jon YabIonski: I created a website a while back called “Laws of UX,” and it expanded on this intersection of psychology and user experience design. At the time, a lot of conversation around this was that designers can’t do much. The underlying business model was the problem. It’s ads or data tracking, and all these things that are outside the purview of what designers focus on.

But I disagree with that. Designers can have an impact, and shape how technology affects people and empowers them. So I created a resource that tackled that head on and looked at high level considerations that designers could follow to create more ethically humane digital products and services.

Designers talk a lot about products being “user centered” or “human centered.” How is a focus on “user well-being,” as described within this framework, different?

JY: What you’ve seen happen, specifically in the digital product space, is that at some point we started to conflate human-centered design with business-centered goals. This is a natural evolution that teams go through. Companies start off centered around creating value for human beings. Then, over time, the company or startup grows; it’s acquired, and a shift starts to happen to be more focused on growth and business needs. “Humane by design” is trying to get back to that focus on the user, and designers being the advocate or surrogate for the user on these product teams.

What people want is technology to empower them: amplifying their abilities, making their life easier. The reality is that many products and services out there—even the ones that are renowned for being really well designed—sometimes use exploitative practices that monopolize people’s time and attention, and prioritize business goals over human goals.