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Lessons in Designing out Failure

👋 Nice to meet you, I’m Ari. I’m a born-and-raised San Jose resident currently spending my days as an agency UX designer working in Silicon Valley.

I am overweight. And I’m not alone, 32.6% of Californian adults are overweight or obese — I guess you could say I am among friends.

It wasn’t always like this, but life happens. Hard times happen. I could blame it on a million and one things, but I’m done re-hashing everything that came before. I want to focus on what I can do now. If you’re ready to do so, too, then let’s jump in.

For UX designers, designing out failure is the first thing that has to be attempted in order to make great products. What’s better than mitigating error? Ensure that it doesn’t happen in the first place, of course.

What’s the solution here? Make the things that you don’t want to do harder to do, and the things that you do want to do, easier, more obvious, and more attractive.

This idea was first introduced to me in James Clear’s smash-hit productivity guide Atomic Habits. From a UX perspective, it seems so obvious — we control the friction and ease with which users experience products, and yet, applying these principles to my personal life felt like a genuine breakthrough. I like how Clear names it — priming the environment.

Here are the things that I am trying to prime my environment:

  • Open the windows. I love going on walks after lunch or after dinner, but sometimes it slips my mind (with research showing that this habit can help lower your blood sugar levels).
  • Intermittent fasting. For creatures of habit, a certain time can prime users for a specific task. As soon as the clock hits noon, my stomach is grumbling away. I do a 16-hour fast period from 12 PM — 8 PM, but if you’re getting into it, you can try a 12-hour fast.
  • Wearing my smartwatch. While this item might not be as easily accessible to those on a budget, I definitely recommend a health tracker of some sort — even if it only tracks your steps, and even if it’s not 100% accurate. I am much more conscious of my health when looking at my daily metrics!

I recently had the pleasure of being able to attend the annual conference by Figma named Config. If you didn’t have a chance to watch it live, I highly recommend it as all the talks are now on youtube for your viewing pleasure.

The talk that I am going to be referencing in this section is called Designing for Modern Dating, presented by the VP of design at Hinge. During the presentation, Lindsay Norman talked about how the design team at Hinge helped the company crack voice prompts for the dating scene: if you think about it, it fits perfectly into our scenario. Norman’s problem is the same as ours: how do you get someone to do something that they are reluctant to do?

For a more in-depth look, go watch the video, but for now: here are the strategies that the Hinge team applied to get people into the habit that they now know and love:

  • Make trying the new thing noncommittal. For the Hinge team, it was employing specific UX writing and UX design tactics to make the user feel as though they had a backdoor at any time. For my purposes, I like the 5-minute rule — start something and commit to only doing it for 5 minutes. You will find that it will be hard to stop once you begin.
  • Make it simple. UX designers know this better than anyone else — everyone says that they want to be able to do everything, but they hate it when they can. The Hinge team accomplished this by simplifying the user interface to its bare minimum, removing all the clutter until it was an anxiety-free big button. For us, this can be as simple as blocking in exercise time into the Calendar — I’ve heard that this can work for people, but I personally don’t employ it. I have a select few alarms which help me remember the things which I want to prioritize.
  • Have an example. For the Hinge team, this meant that Norman herself recorded some answers to the prompts that users could play to get their creative juices flowing — not only that, it showed users that they didn’t have to sound amazing, they just had to sound authentic. I talk more about this point in the next section…

To further support the last point, we have the clinical research from the amazing K. Anders Ericcson. Also known as the father of expertise and the 10,000-hour rule, his research uncovered the secrets to becoming the best of the best — the secret is two-fold:

  1. You have to be actively training — consider what you are doing poorly and what you need to improve upon, and then work on that
  2. AND … have a mentor observe and coach you. Through their expertise, they can more easily see what you need to improve upon and guide you on how to overcome it.

The culmination of all these points came together to form these strategies which I have been employing:

  • I joined Orange Theory, a chain of exercise studios where coaches run High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) exercises in a class format.
  • Make my schedule simple and consistent. I pre-book my classes at the beginning of the month for every Tuesday and Thursday. Sometimes, I go to a different studio on Thursdays with a friend, but it is always on Thursdays.
  • Opting for monthly fees instead of annual fees. It can be hard to know what your preferred type of exercise is when you’re just starting out. Having the option to back out and change what isn’t working is much more productive than diving head-first into a year-long contract with your local gym.
  • I hired a personal trainer. In order to learn compound lifts, because he can observe what I’m doing and offer advice, I can learn how to effectively exercise without injury.
  • Using meal prep kits that I can commit to. I like protein/ meal replacement powder, like the one from Soylent. It’s hard for me to prepare meals when I have to weigh everything, divide them into portions, and cook ahead of time. I prefer to have something I can mix the night before that is calorie consistent for lunch — it’s also much cheaper than some other forms of meal replacement. Another thing I like to do instead of soylent is prepping breakfast sandwiches for the week as I go into the office or go across the street from my office for a bagel sandwich.

It’s hard to stay consistent without some help — here are some of the items that I have bought that help me stay consistent and stay motivated:

  • Lose it! App. I’m currently using the Lose it! App for counting my calories which has helped me to make sure I am following the CICO method (Calories In, Calories Out). I have been using the Lose it! the app, since I was only 5 lbs overweight, and the free version, is perfect for my needs. I love that I can scan barcodes and access the database for foods saved — it saved me a lot of time and energy when tracking food.
  • Orange Theory Heart Tracker. This is expensive and unnecessary, but it motivates me to do my best when I see my stats.
  • Smartwatch. Same idea as the last point.
  • Matching exercise sets. It’s tough to exercise when you don’t feel like you look good, and plus, it cuts down on your cognitive fatigue — I found a set of 3 tanktops and a set of 3 exercise leggings that magically match each other, so I have one each in blue, gray, and black.
  • Shaker bottle and protein powder.
  • Gloves. I started getting these wicked calluses from deadlifting. Again, totally optional, but these have helped.
  • Alarm. I’m pretty bad at remembering when my intermittent fasting time ends, so I set an alarm for 8 PM so that I know when to stop eating. I also have an alarm for 12:30 so I remember to take an afternoon walk.
  • E-bike. You don’t have to do this, but I wanted to incorporate exercise more into my daily routine, so I bought an e-bike to start biking to and from work.

My results are modest, at best. However, It’s progress! And that’s better than nothing — and certainly better than yo-yo dieting back and forth.

My starting weight, and my heaviest, at 240lbs
My current weight, 215 lbs

My current plans are to keep on keeping on! And adjusting the course as I need to in order to sustain and maintain a steady downward weight loss!

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