How tech products misframe our choices, and product managers should do better

Edited excerpt from How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist by Tristan Harris:

If you control the menu, you control the choices. Magicians give people the illusion of free choice while architecting the menu so that they win, no matter what you choose. And this is exactly what product designers do to your mind.

When people are given a menu of choices, they rarely ask: “What’s not on the menu?”, “Why am I being given these options and not others?”, “Do I know the menu provider’s goals?”, and “Is this menu empowering for my original need, or are the choices actually a distraction?”.

The most empowering menu is different than the menu that has the most choices. But when we blindly surrender to the menus we’re given, it’s easy to lose track of the difference.

When we wake up in the morning and turn our phone over to see a list of notifications — it frames the experience of “waking up in the morning” around a menu of “all the things I’ve missed since yesterday.” By shaping the menus we pick from, technology hijacks the way we perceive our choices and replaces them with new ones.

But the closer we pay attention to the options we’re given, the more we’ll notice when they don’t actually align with our true needs.

(1) Perhaps the Job To Be Done framework is the antidote to this, because it insists that products should be driven by genuine user needs. If a product manager asked “When I wake up in the morning, what do I most want to do? What is most important to me? What is most life enriching?”, we’d probably have a different phone experience.
(2) Are tech products becoming a growing obstacle to productivity, relationships, meaning and fulfillment? See: (i) Can you achieve great things if you’re a regular Facebook or Twitter user?, (ii) Is group chat a constant distraction for your employees? and (iii) If you want to get more done, stop doing these things.

3 thoughts on “How tech products misframe our choices, and product managers should do better

  1. Pingback: Provide what your users really want | A Founder's Notebook

  2. Pingback: Metrics that measure consumption vs metrics that measure the satisfaction of real needs | A Founder's Notebook

  3. Pingback: Can digital products leave space for silence? | A Founder's Notebook

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