Are your designs adding value, or are you feeding an addiction?

Photo by Ash Edmonds on Unsplash


Admit it, it’s hard to deny how good you feel when you see a small burst of animation inside an interface, —  Seeing that clap icon animate on Medium, you’re compelled to click it more than once, or what about when the heart icon bounces and turns pink when favoriting a tweet — we get a kick out of it, it just feels good.


Visit Dribble or UI Movement, and they’re littered with examples of animated eye candy — the designer inside us just can’t get enough of it.

Search results for UI animation on


But, why? Why do we like it so much? The answer is dopamine — a chemical that gets released in our brains when we have these experiences… Oh, and by the way, it’s a highly addictive drug.

Dopamine chemical molecule structure

There are chemicals inside our bodies that are designed to work in the interest of our survival. Feelings of happiness, sadness and excitement are all chemically induced reactions in our brain. Most of these feelings are produced by four main chemicals: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.

Dopamine is responsible for that ‘YES!’ feeling, the one of accomplishment, crossing something off a list, or that feeling of reaching a goal, it feels awesome!



Dopamine affects your emotions, movements and your sensations of pleasure and pain.

Its purpose, on a simple level, is to ensure we get stuff done. On a primitive level, it’s what’s responsible for encouraging us to find food. There was no guarantee we would find something to eat, so we had to go out and hunt. We love eating, it spikes our dopamine levels. If we had waited until we just got hungry, we may not have survived. We were inspired to act when reminded of that good feeling, and so we chased after it.

Getting a shot of dopamine helps us focus on the goal, it helps drive action. As visual creatures, we also need to see these goals to maintain focus—writing down a ‘to do’ list and seeing it helps keep us focused on the goal. Visual representations turn goals into something tangible, seeing a tangible goal spikes our dopamine levels, motivating us to achieve that goal, only to be rewarded by another dopamine rush when hitting it.

This highly addictive chemical also gets released when consuming alcohol, nicotine, while gambling and using your phone.

Prescribed viewing:

Most of these feelings are produced by 4 chemicals. Motivational speaker and best selling author Simon Sinek does an excellent job at describing the effects endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocine has on us.

Society is suffering from an addiction

We’ve heard it time and time again, we are addicted to our phones. We compulsively check them, waiting for the next ‘like’, message or social interaction. We keep checking for new emails and constantly refresh our feeds. We’re addicted to pulling down to refresh, we keep doing it, without even questioning why.

Image credit: Dany Arken

All these actions spike our brains with dopamine, and we can’t get enough of it. We’re addicted — it’s no joke, ‘social media addiction’ is a real thing. We just love the dopamine spike it provides.

The problem is, while we feel good in that moment, we’re often left feeling empty shortly thereafter.

Arguably, the reason many of us are not happy with our phone addiction, is that there is no real value delivered with most interactions, we’re chasing a rush, not long-term happiness.

Prescribed viewing

Motivational speaker and best-selling author Simon Sinek talks about millennials and the effects of dopamine.

Don’t trick yourself into thinking you’re adding value.

I’ve heard designers tell clients about how adding micro interactions adds real value. They then show how an icon animates, or how a screen transitions, clients see it, are mesmerized and fall in love.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking this adds value. Have you ever used an app where on first interaction you’re impressed, “it looks so cool”, but with repeated use, the animation gets in the way, it starts to irritate? That’s because no real value was delivered to the user.

Be careful of creating a dopamine rush and thinking you’re adding value. Use animation to convey meaning, to give context, as part of creating a brand language, but don’t animate for animation’s sake. That will soon leave your users feeling empty and frustrated.

Wireframes vs high fidelity



Have you ever watched how clients react when you present well-polished design mock-ups? In my experience, the conversations that result are very different to those when presenting a wireframe.

When presenting a polished, high-fidelity design, conversations become focused on aesthetics. If the client loves how something looks, they feel great. You’ve managed to turn their vision into something beautiful and tangible. Their dopamine levels spike, and everyone is happy.

Showing wireframes on the other hand often leads to questions around usability or user experience. In essence, the conversation is centered more around creating value for users rather than the aesthetic appeal. Aesthetics are quicker at spiking your dopamine as they appeal to us emotionally.



Strategically it might make sense to present polished designs to get client buy-in. But when designing valuable products, the design process often starts with a wireframe or sketch. It’s at this stage when you’re more likely to focus on creating value, you focus more on why or how something works — providing long-term value, something different to the dopamine rush created by beautifully executed UI.

Don’t get me wrong, beautifully constructed UI most certainly adds value, but we need to be careful of chasing a dopamine rush and losing sight of the actual value we’re trying to create—the seduction of beauty versus long-term sustainability.

Using dopamine to enhance, not deceive…

When adding meaning to interactions and animation, you can trigger a dopamine spike that’s linked to value. By doing this, you’ll create a much more meaningful, deeper connection between the user and the product. Why do you think some products manage to thrive in a sea of competition?

Emotion linked to value creates a much stronger bondthis is what we should strive for.

Some reflection

I’ve also fallen victim to the dopamine addiction at times, but as they say, the first step in stopping addiction is admitting to it…

By being aware of the power that dopamine has and how we react to it, you can create more engaging designs and products. Couple this to delivering meaningful value and you’re more likely to deliver longer-term sustainability and a deeper connection between the user and your product.

By Guest blogger – Shane Williams



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