Misusability update #2

Misusability update #2

Misusability under every rock

When writing a book on misguided digital design you are obviously primed to find content that supports your case. And right now I feel overwhelmed by the many examples out there of people being harmed by digital services and how companies, often consciously, use tactics that persuade with little chance for people to find their footing and consider their options.

The power of defaults describes an effect often associated with a studylooking into organ donation (Johnson & Goldstein, 2003). The study found that donor registration rates were twice as high when potential donors had to opt out versus opt into donor registration.

Simply put: people are less likely to change an option that is already set for them, opting to just accept it – choosing the path of least resistance.

Recently I found reason to criticize the e-mail newsletter platform Mailchimp for misusing the power of defaults. In a recent move the company decided to completely flip their default model for how people subscribe. They moved from a solution where subscribers had to confirm they own the e-mail address (double opt-in) to a solution where anyone can enter any e-mail address to subscribe without a confirmation step (single opt-in).

The most damning issue is perhaps not even the decision to change the recommended default of many years, giving only seven days notice. They really crossed the line when changing the behavior of millions of existing newsletters to single opt-in without asking permission from newsletter owners.

No matter your stance on the right-or-wrong of single opt-in newsletters, the whole chain of events displays a behavior that forces a clear agenda onto inexperienced individuals. It is also dangerously tone-deaf to conflicting laws that may apply in the countries of its users. Six days after the announcement Mailchimp responded to criticism by changing some decisions, but in my mind too little and too late.

I have written more about this on Medium:

» Mailchimp backtracks on all their recommendations, enforcing single opt-in

My 20 year anniversary freebie

20 years ago today I registered axbom.com. It is mind-blowing what has happened with the Internet since then. And it is quite a mind-changing journey I have undertaken, starting as an advocate for usability, moving into business strategy, into UX, discovering coaching and today questioning many of the practices that many in our industry take for granted.

To commemorate this day I wanted to share with you a worksheet I just put together for use in my workshops and when coaching. It asks that you visualize your work situation from various aspects relating to autonomy and ethical thinking, such as “I do what I want to” and “My work is good for other people.” Here is an example.

There are three diagrams like this, with 3 arms that have a scale of 10 steps. By marking on each arm how much you agree (10 is strongly agree) with the statement along the arm, you can then draw lines between these points on each arm and fill in an area representing how much you agree with the assertions.

There is also a space next to each diagram where you optionally can choose to write a few words about how you feel about the result, anything you would like to clarify for yourself or even an action you may want to take based on an insight you got.

Let me know how easy it is to use for you, if you find it valuable and if there is anything you would like to change. The idea is to evaluate regularly to help you monitor changes. Remember, only you know what feels like the right answer.

» Download Task / Job Self-assessment worksheet (PDF)

Upcoming workshops and talks

The interest in misusability is clearly growing.


I will be holding a 4-hour workshop in Lyon, France, on February 5. There may still be som early bird tickets available for Manage misusability: Design for digital with a conscience. Check out the conference website for the full calendar of events during Interaction Week.

Camp Digital

The venue for the 7th Edition of Camp Digital in Manchester, UK, is the beautful Royal Exchange Theatre. I will be presenting my talk Navigating the Ethical Minefield of Digital Design.

The target group for these updates is primarily designers working with digital and who are curious about understanding and managing negative impact and misuse of power in design. If you find my e-mails useful I am deeply thankful when you share them with anyone you think would benefit from the content.

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