A unified theory of Bitmoji psychology

An investigation of the hidden social norms and etiquette that dictate how we use Bitmoji.

Imagine your friend just texted you with some bad news—their grandfather recently passed away. Would you feel comfortable responding with a Bitmoji? Now imagine your friend just texted you to tell you that they scored their dream job. How would you feel about replying with a Bitmoji? If you’re anything like me, you’d steer clear of Bitmoji after hearing bad news, but wouldn’t hesitate to send a congratulatory Bitmoji (or several).

Why can Bitmoji be used to convey genuine positive emotions, but not genuine negative ones?

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Sean Hannity vs. Tristan Harris: Debating the dangers of social media

Tristan Harris is the founder of the Center for Humane Technology—an organization that is trying to get technology platforms to stop hijacking our minds. His message is spreading like wildfire, but it hasn’t yet caught the attention of conservative media. What fault lines will emerge when this movement goes mainstream?

Tristan Harris: Sean—I’m having trouble sleeping at night. A handful of tech companies are controlling billions of minds every single day, and no one seems to give a damn.

Sean Hannity: Why should I?

Harris: Social media platforms are taking advantage of our psychological weaknesses—our discomfort with boredom, our attraction to negativity—in order to maximize the amount of time we spend in their apps.

Hannity: And?

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Empathy with blinders

A brief warning about the corporatization of human-centered design.

Last week, I went to a screening of “City Rising”—a brutal, eye-opening documentary about the Bay Area’s housing crisis. The long and short of the problem is that low-income locals are being displaced in large numbers by the tech boom. When a community experiences a big influx of high-income workers, landlords are incentivized to evict poor tenants and raise rent prices. In many parts of California, tenants can be evicted without much warning—even if they have done nothing wrong. Real estate developers are incentivized to build fancy new high-rises and charge way more for rent than working-class people could ever afford. And so, they often have nowhere to go but the streets.

The morning after the film screening, I went to work at my comfortable job as a user experience designer at a large tech company. Designers at companies like mine are empathy evangelists. They’ll tell you that empathy is both a tool and a mindset—an indispensable part of the design process. They’ll preach about the importance of imagining yourself in the users’ shoes. These tech industry designers bow down at the altar of empathy, and it’s really starting to piss me off.

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Growth mindset gone astray

This is a story about why “coming out” is such a terrible misnomer, and also a story about stories, game theory, changing minds, and how we humans might unravel the mess we’ve made.

Here in Silicon Valley, people live and die by the “growth mindset.” For the unacquainted, growth mindset is the belief that you can become better at anything with enough hard work and effort. (This is in contrast to “fixed mindset,” which implies that your abilities are innate and static). Growth mindset often escapes critical examination because it feels self-evident to its cheerleaders. When I began to think more about it, I discovered a can of worms that has quite literally made me question the nature of my reality. Let’s open it up and explore.

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Art on the BART: My Snapchat finger painting experiment

Last month, I challenged myself to create one drawing per day during my 15-minute commute. I turned to an unlikely medium: Snapchat. There’s something inspiring about its constraints. A drawing tool. A color picker. 4.7 inches of screen. A few emojis and stickers. It’s the anti-Photoshop. What could go wrong?

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Keeping in touch: 8 thought experiments on communication

№ 1

Alice and Bob are two friends who have never met in person. They live on planet Xorab, where there is a very strict law re: communication. They are only allowed to talk via videophone. The law forbids them from meeting face-to-face. Now, and forever more. Meanwhile on planet Ploxtar, there live two friends, Cindy and Dave, who also have never met in person. Their communication is subject to a different rule: they are only allowed to talk via asynchronous video messages. A video walkie-talkie. They can never, ever converse in real-time. To what extent is C and D’s friendship different than A and B’s?

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What I learned as an intern at Uber

No class could have prepared me for what it’s like to be a designer at a multi-billion dollar startup. The Uber Design team taught me a lot about why the company is so successful and how to create great products for a global audience.

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What’s really going on at Yale

This article was originally published on Huffington Post.

By now, you’ve probably seen the video of a Yale student yelling at a professor, the Facebook post about a “white girls only” party, or the email about offensive Halloween costumes. Unfortunately, the short YouTube clips and articles I’ve seen don’t even come close to painting an accurate picture of what’s happening at Yale. I’m a senior here, and I’ve experienced the controversy firsthand over the past week (and years). I want to tell a more complete story and set a few facts straight.

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Two questions on the future of design

Can a web design be as timeless as a book design or a piece of artwork? We revere the centuries-old Gutenberg Bible and the Mona Lisa. But we laugh at web designs that are only a few years old. Will the craft of web design be subject to the whims of ever-changing trends and fashion and style? What would it take to make a web design timeless? The foundational principles of graphic design certainly haven’t changed in the last twenty years, so why are there so few websites that have stood the test of time, aesthetically?

What will mobile OS designers steal from wearable OS designers? Many of the latest developments in Mac OS X were clearly inspired by iOS. New form factors free designers from established ways of thinking. The shift to mobile spawned interesting new interaction ideas, which were then brought to the desktop. It will be fascinating to see how wearable OS design informs the next generation of mobile OS design.