Getting over Feeling Entitled to Good Design

A lot of people have patterns in their relationships (particularly romantic or familial) that cause them to get upset, bizarrely intensely. These patterns have built up over years of experience pushing each others’ buttons. I’ve done a lot of work on these kinds of patterns over the last few years and have made substantial progress, to the point where I’m no longer particularly worried about getting angry at my parents or partners. Even my younger sister, for the most part. (If she’s reading this, she’s probably saying “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED”)

But I still have a massive class of relationships that need serious work: my relationships with technology.

Most things are poorly designed

I have an eye for design—it’s part of why I went into Systems Design Engineering for undergrad. Being a designer is a great skill to have, for the most part. But it comes with a big drawback: you notice bad design.

And most things, it turns out, are badly designed.

There are reasons for this, of course. Big organizations are hard to coordinate. Points of failure are often hard to foresee.

Entitlement to well-designed products

I came to the realization a few weeks ago that some of my biggest potential growth in the dimension of againstness-y responses is in this domain. I noticed that my defensiveness in social situations is fading broadly—though not gone, not yet—and I was switching more and more to curiosity as a default mode of interaction. My patterns around poorly-designed products, however, seemed as strong as ever.

I found myself realizing that I felt entitled to well-designed products. Honestly, even as I write this, it feels hard to let go of the idea that I am. But I’m not. I’m not entitled to well-designed products. Even when I’ve paid money for them. (Although hopefully in those cases I can at least get a refund. Assuming, of course, that the alternative product is going to be any better.)

My progress towards design curiosity

I’m writing this blog post to share my growth process in medias res. I’ve been wary of doing that, since in a lot of cases it has come out like I’ve found a panacea. But I feel this frame is different, as I’m not really talking about the future, but the events of the recent past and the kind of thinking I’m using in the present.

I haven’t made a lot of progress here yet, but I’ve made a bit. I was trying to read an old conversation in the android facebook messenger app, and it kept jumping back down to the most recent messages, causing me to scroll up again. The first few times, I did it with exasperation, and perhaps even a bit of anger. Does this sound like someone who feels they’re entitled to well-designed technology?

But after round 4 or 5, I took a deep breath, and decide I would use this as an opportunity to train. The next time it happened, I tried to laugh. It was a forced laugh, but it was progress. The next time, I could see a bit of the humor in the futility of it. By the time I reached the end of the conversation I was trying to read, I was calmly and pleasantly smiling as I scrolled back up to the top.

Accept the things you cannot change, yadda yadda

I want to take a moment to point out that if I really needed to read a long conversation (and especially if I didn’t need/want to do some training here) then there are other approaches I could have taken. I endorse these!

The point is not to become blindly tolerant of bad design. I still intend to:

  • pay attention to which designs I enjoy
  • give feedback to designers/developers about their products
  • choose products based on their quality
  • modify existing systems so that they are more functional
  • be curious as to why things are designed the way things are

But none of those benefit from cortisol. In fact, some of them are totally hampered by it. So what I’m not going to do is get angry.


I just realized that this post is conceptually related to one I wrote in 2012: Emotional Intelligence of a Smartphone, in which I ask how it is that we come to understand our devices as being “mean” or “friendly”.

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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Complice, a system for achieving your important goals.

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2 Comments

hamnox » 31 Aug 2014 » Reply

Your good idea is acknowledged as good!

Nicolas » 1 Dec 2014 » Reply

Awesome post! I love it! I’ll defintely better recognize this pattern (entitlement to well-designed product) now that I have a word to describe it. Thanks for sharing

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