Why Hipster Attitudes Can Ruin Interaction Design


Overwhelmingly, humans avoid challenging their long-standing beliefs, tastes and opinions. We prefer something we know instead of seeking new experiences.

Even in the modern age with constant new stimuli, we like to follow the same well-worn paths and draw the same conclusions regardless of fact.

I dislike pop music.

I’m not the first to say it and I won’t be the last. For me, pop music is the embodiment of all that’s formulaic and lazy. It’s like being spoon-fed slightly different variations of the same mac and cheese recipe every time you sit down to eat. Boring, repetitive, easy.

I’m opinionated. I’m probably a hipster.

That being said, this kind of selfish thinking is something that greatly inhibits a product designer to craft useful and meaningful interactions. Stepping outside of our personal biases to facilitate a truly tailored interaction is what’s known as empathetic design.

The easiest and most common way for a designer to fail to build empathy is by dismissing users’ viewpoints on a moral or intellectual objection.

1. Identify Users’ Motivations

Designer Knows Best

Building empathy is hard. The human brain loves to follow friction-less paths to the easiest answers but simply believing that our personal biases are right all the time is just the easiest way to fail.

Identify Users’ Motivations

Some companies have taken to using the Kano model to help them understand how to build products.

The Kano model allows us to map user needs and weigh those needs by importance

Discovering what users think is, of course, important, “what” is quantitative and allows us to categorize users’ needs into feature sets. That being said, I’d value the qualitative “Why is that important?” as a more useful tool in the quest for great interaction.

Asking “why” allows us access to the behavioral and motivational aspects of our user’s psyche. In turn, we’re able to design solutions laterally as opposed to thinking only in features or having our solutions colored by personal bias.

Designer knows best

The basic model of user motivation

2. Dig Deeper into Context

Step Outside of Your Bias

Humans are an incredibly pragmatic species. We’re able to assess situations and let our emotions color our interactions with the world. The conclusion that our brain draws from these emotionally charged situations is known as context. As computing becomes even more ubiquitous, some UX thinkers have even argued for a move away from task-oriented UX toward contextual UX.

User experiences require context and they are changed by context. — Paul Olyslager

Context Colored Example

It’s rush hour and there’s a huge queue [contextual factor] at the subway ticket machine. This pressurized [emotional factor] situation forces people to make mistakes when interfacing with the machine. The result is a selection that doesn’t satisfy user goals. The designers objective here should be to think about the implementation of context-aware mechanisms to limit the chances of an unsatisfactory interaction.

Context Colored Example

This redesign attempts to humanize ticket vending language in order to obtain which type of ticket to dispense. Peak, Off-peak, Single or Return.

It’s my belief that the best interaction design considers these kinds of contexts. Let’s not just examine the user’s goals, but let’s try to gain insight into the user’s state of mind.

3. Consider the Emotional Effects of Context

Break Down Context to Build Empathy

When designing interactions, consider the inputs and outputs for a user and examine their preconceptions.

Breaking Down Context to Build Empathy

The contextual design model

At what point during the user’s day does this interaction occur?

The persona is a much maligned advertising technique but loose-persona thinking helps us to understand the wider context around the user’s life. Using this technique can help us to understand the user’s hesitations, fears and expected outcomes that surround the interaction.

Airbnb Logo

Scenario One: The Airbnb user has just landed in the host city.

  1. How long has the user spent traveling?
  2. How far is the apartment from airport?
  3. Is the user a native speaker in this host city?

We know the context now how can we design around it?

  1. We know the user has landed should we push Google Maps to their phone with their Airbnb apartment directions pre-loaded?
  2. Should we use local maps data to help our user find an ATM or a Taxi stand?

4. Rewire Interactions to Avoid Unsatisfactory Outcomes

How can we actively avoid interactions that cause unnecessary user anxiety?

What is the effect of outside events on user mentality and how does this change our user behavior?

Uber Logo

Scenario Two: The Uber driver was unable to pick up our user at the specified map marker.

As a result, our user had to walk a couple more blocks to get to the taxi.

Rather than dumping this unsatisfactory outcome on the user at the end of the interaction, let’s make use of the vast amounts of data that Uber posses. Specifically, why don’t we warn the user that the current spot has a lower than average number of pickups.

Let’s go further and suggest the perfect pick-up spot for our user which we can determine through the use of data.

It’s this kind of thinking that doesn’t just allow for better interaction design but also the identification of market and product opportunities.

5. Consider Physical Surroundings

Digital design often lives inside Sketch or Photoshop and we rarely consider the physical surroundings during which interaction takes place. In an increasingly mobile world, it’s now more important than ever to consider the relationship between the use of our product and the tangible world around the user.


In the last 10 years, we’ve seen an increasing trend for technology companies to shoehorn more micro-chips and LCD displays into their products.

As our ambient environments get smarter, maybe in the future we’ll be designing physical and environmental experiences as opposed to the digital experiences that we craft today.

Futurism aside, we should take account of this ambient physical context today too. In 2011, Smartphones were linked to 25 percent of all car crashes in the U.S. In other words, a specific negative effect that was caused by technology.

Car UI

How can we make notifications and attention-grabbing mechanisms that are smart and context aware? As designers, we should feel empowered to respond to environmental contexts to not just create seamless interactions but in some cases save lives.

6. Play to Motivational Drivers of Users

Why do we do what we do?

Motivation is the psychological driver behind the strategic selection of goals and questioning the users motivation helps us to understand the origin and often the cause of specific user behaviors.

When designing for interaction, Designers should ask: Why do users want to undertake the interaction in the first place? and What are the possible set of circumstances that lead the user to exhibit such behavior. Understanding this motivation allows us to unpick user behaviors, craft better interactions and optimize to achieve both user and business goals.

7. Hard-Wire Empathy into Products

Spend the extra effort and resources to proportionally to create delight.

While considering context is key to designing great user interactions, hard-wiring empathy into our design is the holy grail.

Consider the Apple Magic Mouse

Magic Mouse

The Magic Mouse is an elegantly simple product that combines aesthetic value with usability and contains a great example of empathetic design.

Both battery cells are inserted the same way, as opposed to the traditional method where both cells must be placed at opposites in order to complete the circuit. This allows the user to focus less on setup and more on getting value from the device.

If we unpack the design here, it’s clear that Apple designers chose to create custom circuits and engineer a method to step outside of constraints. Whilst it’s important to note the extra resources that may have been used here, the same principles can and should be applied to the digital design medium.


Consider Slack’s on-boarding and the extra development that will have gone into the fine-tuning of this interaction.

It’s a well-known fact that humans respond to stimuli when the source of that stimulus comes from another human. Slack made great use of this by on-boarding users to their product with the lovable Slackbot. While undoubtedly spending development resources, this human characterization automatically makes our users more willing to engage with the product.

Apple’s Magic Mouse and Slack’s Onboarding are perfect examples of incurring extra effort by hard-wiring empathetic solutions into a product that ultimately provide the user with added value.

Injecting Empathy

Take always to create more empathetic experiences

  1. Understand users’ emotional and physical contexts.
  2. Map out the effects of those contexts on users’ abilities to interact with products.
  3. Introduce mechanisms to break down and normalize those contextual effects.
  4. Ensure fallbacks like error messages, validation states and confirmation screens exist.
  5. Go above and beyond by breaking constraints or spending more effort to build empathy.


I can’t understand why people listen to pop music.

It is acutely because of the designers ability to observe, listen and understand the motivations of other humans, that so many exceptional digital products exist. We’re able to understand unique correlations between the mindset of a person and their interactions with products.

Exercising this connection between context and behavior allows us to think more like users and ultimately provide an experience less likely to be colored with bias.

Regardless of our opinions, understanding why people exhibit behavior and stepping out of our espresso drinking, beard-tending designer mindset is the key to designing empathetic experiences.


  1. jake Nov 9, 7:14 pm

    The Apple mouse example is a clear example of sheer human hubris. Every electronic device from remote control cars to to tv remotes uses batteries in series – because that’s the way electricity works and simplifies the engineering and manufacturing process. Breaking that pattern DIRECTLY introduces and contradicts previous learned behaviour. The issue with battery placement is purely related to labeling. Unless the batteries can be inserted in ANY direction whatsoever, there is zero UX benefit.

    • Corin Nov 10, 6:27 am

      > Breaking that pattern DIRECTLY introduces and contradicts previous learned behaviour.

      How is that a bad thing?

      Maintaining a bad pattern in order to conform to a simplified manufacturing process and/or a previously learned behaviour is the antithesis of human centric design.

      To favour the efficiency of a factory over the happiness of the person who uses the product produced by that factory is an entirely dystopian mindset.

      • CJL Nov 10, 12:15 pm

        > Maintaining a bad pattern in order to conform to … a previously learned behaviour is the antithesis of human centric design.

        I’m going do disagree here because…well, I’m in the mood. I’d say that adhering to previously learned behaviour despite it being suboptimal (there is a difference between suboptimal and bad) is the perfect example of true human centric design.

        Imagine you created an text-editing app and forced everyone to use a DVORAK (virtual) keyboard. DVORAK is superior to QWERTY in almost every way (mostly because QWERTY was specifically designed to be suboptimal; making QWERTY in itself bad design). You are adhering to a better standard, but you are ignoring the user, his context, and his previously learned behaviour. This design decision is not human centric, and not in favour of the happiness of the person using it. And adhering to the suboptimal QWERTY is not a dystopian mindset.

        What IS a dystopian mindset is to ignore better solutions just because the user has to be educated, and has to be taught new ‘tricks’ beyond what they already know (this teaching is a task of the designer, not of the user by the way). And this is also where I agree with the original post: lazy ‘copy-and-paste’ design just because it’s easy can ruin good interaction design. At the same time: everyone reinventing the wheel and coming up with their own ‘standards’ and design language isn’t the way to go either. :)

        (for the record, the DVORAK-example is not a good metaphor for the magic mouse, because DVORAK actually has many (UX) advantages, while being able to put the batteries in in a non-standard way has – as far as I can see – none).

      • Caleb Reece Nov 16, 7:24 pm

        I use the Apple Mouse on a daily basis. That means that I have to change the batteries every couple months at least. I had never really considered the work that went into making it so that the batteries both go the same direction, but I had noticed the ease of changing batteries on it, for three reasons.

        First, the battery cover is totally toolless (no screwdriver, no coin, nothing) and takes about a quarter of a second to remove. That right there eliminates a big source of frustration, especially when you can’t find a screwdriver. Secondly, there are no springs to mess around with. The springs in a normal battery compartment often move from side to side rather than straight in as is intended. Apple designed a tremendously elegant fix to that issue into the Magic Mouse. Thirdly, the fact that both batteries face the same way is huge. Due to the way they designed the compartment, it is extremely obvious which direction the batteries go (the + side of the compartment is indented so you can tell where the + on the battery goes), and you don’t have to peer at a dark surface with a barely visible diagram to figure it out.

        There really is no unlearning a pattern, because battery compartments are so different to begin with. I don’t know of any standard pattern that exists in the first place, so I didn’t have to “unlearn” this nonexistent pattern. In my opinion, Apple has designed a tremendously elegant battery compartment that addresses every single frustration of changing batteries.

        • CJL Nov 17, 10:15 am

          It seems that our experiences with wireless mice are very, very different. :)

          I haven’t had/seen any mouse where I needed any tools to open the backcover (screwdriver or otherwise, including nails) in the last 10-odd years (before that I hand’t used a wireless mouse), and have noticed no problems with the springs moving to a side since the late 80’s (if there are any springs at all, for most of my devices don’t use springs anymore, and those that do don’t have this problem). So two of the main sources of frustration simply – to me – don’t exist (with wireless mice), and haven’t existed in years.

          Now I can fully understand that when you experienced this that it was extremely frustrating, and that the magic mouse is therefore a much better design for you. To me what you’re describing is simply the standard with almost any wireless device from any company I’ve used over the last several years (although there are some home-phones that still have very annoying backcovers, I sadly admit).

          ps. For the record: while I’ve used several wireless mice, I always prefer those with a wire. I don’t know why…it’s a personal taste that I really can’t explain since the cord does get in the way at times.

  2. Reny Nov 9, 9:47 pm

    I think Jake is right, unless you can insert them in any direction there is nothing so great there, if we are talking about a 2 batteries dispositive at least, the time we need to learn how the first batteries go, so we can insert the next 1 in the same way, should be the same if they where using the “old” way.

  3. Nathan James Yates
    Nathan James Yates Nov 10, 12:30 am

    @Jake, @Reny – Excellent points, thanks for the input. :)

    The idea here is less about the UX of battery input and more about how incurring extra work can result in a better experience. I think the Magic Mouse is a tenuous metaphor, however I’d encourage you to think more about the concept as opposed to getting distracted by the specific example.

    • CJL Nov 10, 10:19 am

      While I agree with the general statement that ‘extra work CAN result in a better experience’, I believe that in most cases ‘doing less results in a better experience’. And your example of the magic mouse (as a concept) proves that.

      Jake and Reny made some excellent points that (for me) can be summarized as: unless you have very very good reasons, don’t introduce ‘new’ features that contradict the exectations/behaviour of the user. Or as your own post described it: Understand users’ emotional and physical contexts.

      In your example of the magic mouse, a new user with no experience with the device will expect the battery-loading to adhere to the universal standard. It does not, and as a result it will cause confusion. Now in the case of the mouse you will probably want to figure it out and keep using it once you have…it’s an expensive piece of hardware. But when it’s a website or an app the user will probably give up on you if he can’t get started immediately (but first has to figure out how to get it running/starting).

      While theoretically this might be a better design (though I doubt it is), in light of user experience and interaction design it’s bad/confusing. And they would have been better of sticking to the standard and not adding a confusing features. Time and resources could be spend elsewhere (which is especially important if you have less resources than Apple).

      In short, adding to the user’s language is good, but changing the definition of well defined words – just because your ego tells you it’s better – is being the hipster you shouldn’t be. :)

  4. Jake Carvey Nov 10, 5:15 pm

    My secondary argument about the mouse is that loading the batteries “in series” actually promotes understanding of the inherent nature of electricity, and the way in which batteries function. The primary UI challenge with any battery powered device is to clearly illustrate how the batteries are supposed to be loaded. Loading them in the same direction does literally *nothing* to change that fundamental problem.

  5. JPL Nov 10, 5:38 pm

    How about a Buddhist hipster? Or what ever style without bias. I believe the observation of the ego is a good remedy to opinion-based design.

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