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Calm Technology

Something is changing in our digital worlds. For some time now, we've been bombarded with alerts, notifications and apps that demand our attention. Tech firms have become more and more sophisticated in understanding the psychology behind user engagement.

Their business models and shareholders demand that they unashamedly accelerate user engagement to drive up the usage stats. They have teams of people working out how to deliver dopamine hits to users that keep them coming back and keep them swiping and liking.

But times are changing.

Society as a whole is becoming concerned about the levels of usage and the addictive nature of these apps and services. Users are starting to speak out and object, and the tech world is having to take notice.

These companies are beginning to wake up to their responsibilities and craft experiences that re-establish a ‘healthier’ relationship between user and technology.

In fact, Apple, Google and Facebook have recently introduced new functionality to try and restore some balance. ‘Managing screen-time’, ‘quiet notification’ options, ‘alert snoozing’ are all steps taken of late by the tech world to give users more headspace and the time to mentally ‘re-orientate’.

At the core of this shift is the theory of Calm Technology; a term coined by Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown at Xerox PARC during the 1990s. It describes a relationship between users and technology whereby technology was kept in the periphery, and information was shifted smoothly into the user’s attention.

Weiser stated:

“The limited resource in the 21st Century will not be technology but will be attention.”

Digital experiences should respect users’ attention whilst also cultivating relevance and comfort. Most companies will still demand engagementcentric metrics, but as users increasingly push back, we can expect ‘affinity’ related metrics to be elevated to a level of far-increased importance.

We will watch with interest at how the concepts of Calm Technology cascade down through to a brands’ own visual language too. For example, Uber recently redesigned their homepage to simplify user journeys and mirror some of the intention behind Calm Technology.

The resulting content is unobtrusive, the language simple (respecting users’ time) with the result being a branded site designed for the least amount of cognitive overhead. We anticipate further ingress into this territory by the key Tech players in 2019.