The role design plays in increasing phone addiction

Smartphones are really hard to put down. The buzzing of push notifications, the nagging red bubbles on apps, and endless feeds create the perfect storm of distractions. They keep us constantly engaged with the device. And that’s kind of the point. Our apps and devices have been carefully designed to hook our attention for as long as possible. But are those designs making our lives better?

Phone Addiction

It’s obvious that the geniuses of silicon valley heavily relied on design to ensure their products are as widely used as possible. It could not have been possible without design. Simply put, design is the reason millions are hooked to their phones.

So how has design been used to make smartphones so addictive?



  1. Color

The easiest way to attract a human beings’ attention is through color. We are drawn and sensitive to warm colors, particularly to bright red. This is the reason so many apps have redesigned the look to have bright & warm colors. Take a look at your phone and look at the colors of the apps & you’ll quickly realize this. Furthermore, this is also why notification bubbles are red. 


All this is not by accident, every designer is taught about the impact of color & how to use it effectively when designing. For example, an icon that is fading grey does not have the same impact compared to one that is bright red. If you remove all the color on your phone & have a black and white screen you’ll be less compelled to keep looking at it.

Check out Vox’s amazing video on this here.



The growth of content design has greatly changed how we consume information. One thing you always have to keep in mind every time you’re consuming content, ALL apps & websites are designed to hook your attention & jam as much content to you as possible. 

Ask any designer alive and they’ll tell you for you to achieve that goal you need a seamless layout design that is friendly to the user. That’s where User Interface & User Experience design comes in. These designers are experts in jamming content in your face in the “friendliest” way possible keeping users hooked to their phones for hours. Infinite scrolling on apps like Instagram, Facebook etc is a perfect example.

It’s our attention these developers are after. And they know exactly how to get it.

“It’s not designed to help us, it’s just designed to keep us hooked.” — Tristan Harris, Google’s former design ethicist and current Executive Director of the Center for Humane Technology

Research shows that people rely on visual cues rather than internal cues to stop consuming something. Adding a simple thing like pagination on a site that shows an endpoint greatly reduces the time spent on your phone.


So, are we really being conditioned with design to develop a phone addiction?

Generally speaking, most objects in our lives are designed to give us the illusion of choice (even this article is structured to keep you flowing through it). What we have to realize is that the apps & sites on our phones have different goals from ours when engaging with it. For example, you go online to buy a gift for a friend but on the other side, the site is designed to nudge you to spend more money than you initially intended with clever design features.

Addiction is worth billions to these companies. The more time you spend on your phone the more that engagement can be converted to value.

Technology is awesome. At its core, it’s created to help us do more in our lives. The original intention was never to suck up all of our time. But now we all know a lot more about how their design is impacting us! And going forward with this in mind, we can use that same design to create a way out of this.

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