This is the default of the “new tab page” on Google Chrome for Android:
What you can see is that next to the necessity of a search bar it also provides frequently visited sites and news articles below. And this type of design, at least in my opionion, is deeply flawed. Chrome is not the only browser doing this, though. Why?, you might ask. Let me elaborate a little:
If you want to open your browser, chances are that you already know what you want to do: You want to access one particular website. Let’s say, we want to research for a paper. What we want: Open the local university-library website. What we get present before being able to do this: Instagram, Facebook, Youtube and news (a.k.a. things that are way more fun than doing what we initially wanted to do). So BEFORE we do ANYTHING, we are presented with possible distractions. Even if we don’t go to any of these sites, our brain is primed with the information that what we do can easily be replaced with something more (seemingly) fun. This is really worrying, if you ask me. Especially since it’s not like your browser is likely to forget anything: You can create bookmarks, or simply go search your history. The new-tab-“features” are not only huge distractions, they are also completely redundant.
This is how my firefox used to look like (I took that picture from Mozilla’s website):
Basically every browser needs to compete with Chrome and thus they deliver the same (flawed) design. Funky colours, huge exciting thumbnails. Everything distracting is basically shouting at you: “DON’T DO THAT BORING STUFF, COME HERE!”
And the problem is solvable, if YOU put the effort into it. For example, there’s a great add-on called Tabliss which allows you to change your new-tab into this:
But shifting the responsibilty to good design onto users is neither ethical nor helpful, because people are lazy. That’s the underlying problem to it all. Anyone would prefer to eat healthy and feeling great all the time. But a chocolate bar tastes better and releases more dopamine, because of how our bodies want us to survive out in the wild. And with how we design browsers, we give our minds the equivalent of the chocolate bar everytime we just want to do something on the internet.
Browsers are not the only digital spaces with fundamentally flawed interfaces. Let’s take our phones. We grab it. But before we can do ANYTHING, we see notifications of messages and stuff like that. This is ridicoulous. We grabbed the phone to look at the weather, or do some calculations or listening to music. But it is greeting us with notifications instead. Even worse, if we don’t put the phone on do-not-distract all the time, it actually interrupts our daily lives just to tell us something that can easily wait another hour or two.
Also, phone homescreens come with shiny icons that look so pleasing that we start to think about the services. While I do acknowledge the artistic creation process, what do they help me? The only thing I can do about it is change the launcher to something like “Simple Launcher” with just text or a search-based launcher like “KISS-Launcher” If you’re on iOS, you’re screwed, because the only thing you can do about it is throw everything into one folder, hide it in the second screen and hope that you’re too lazy to even swipe to the next home screen, which is unacceptable.
If we want our devices to be useful again, we need to start designing them as tools, not as pretty, shiny objects that throw stuff in our way to distract us, because 4 internet companies wanna earn more advertisement-money.
Thank you for reading and have a nice and distraction-free day!