Jack-Edward Oliver

Senior Creative Technologist, Design Systems @ CloudBees.
Find me on LinkedIn / Twitter / Github. Or you can email me.
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Digital Products and ADHD – The problem isn't us, it's you.

Each and every day, digital products and experiences are launched around the world. As a person who loves to build things, I am constantly amazed by the ingenuity of talented groups of individuals, creating something where there once stood nothing.

But as people who build products, that often have far-reaching (and unintended) consequences, we also have a moral obligation. An obligation that serves to improve the lives of others. Not to steal their time and attention, but to give them tangible, meaningful, value.

I have more than once voiced an opinion that people who build things that reach across the world, through our devices and into our brains, should have their own version of a ‘Hippocratic Oath’ — “First, do no harm.” There are stirrings, but product ethics and the responsible deployment of technology have to become important tenets in the art of building products. We must work harder to build that into workplaces and educational ecosystems that guide people who make products.

For example: products like Tinder, have the ability to make people with ADHD feel actual emotional pain through rejection (RSD). A platform where people are scored based purely on appearances and a few lines of text wreaks havoc on the mind of a person with ADHD.

Products like Facebook, and Instagram, steal all of our attention. They are designed to. Hell, even YouTube. That rabbit hole is deep. And we literally can’t help but be available.

You might think that notifying me every time anything happens in your app is a great idea. You might destroy my entire day.

People with ADHD are often only capable of getting ‘freelancer’ or ‘gig app’ jobs because we need flexibility, but in return, we get no security.

Today, the digital landscape is a minefield for people like me. I am lucky enough to have an understanding of the impact of these products to know to avoid them where possible, but others are not so fortunate.

I will admit, some companies seem to be taking steps in the right direction. For a person whose entire life is run on reminders, calendars and alarms, the recent efforts of Apple in the release of iOS13 — specifically the Reminders overhaul, and the screen time features, are a true blessing. Thank you, thank you. And thank you again. You have made my life easier, and for that, you have won my hard-earned pennies for a little while longer.

But we need more products designed with us in mind. Your product has the power to change our lives, for better or worse. Is ‘engagement’ good for us, too? Sticky products? Being ‘Hooked’?

As makers of things that impact people across the world, we have an ethical responsibility to accommodate all. It is due time to add ADHD to that conversation.

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© 2022 Jack-Edward Oliver
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