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Scale is a dirty word.

If it only benefits a few.

I used to handwrite and mail letters to family members in India. It would take a month between sending a letter and getting a response. The internet changed that. I remember the first time I sent an email to my cousin from my brand new account: shahed_cool@hotmail.com 🤦. I got a response within an hour. And technology kept getting better. I can now summon anything I desire with a few hand gestures: knowledge, entertainment, food, clothing. Even a house. I live better than the royalty of the past.

But lately I’ve been feeling uneasy about this ease. This level of comfort is possible because of an unequal system — scale benefits a few people at the cost of many. I am part of that privileged few.

Our society is defined by overconsumption. We all know about it: exploitation of cheap labor and factory farming allows us to enjoy fleeting pleasures at an enormous cost to other humans and animals. But we’re too comfortable and too far away to care. Scale enables passive cruelty.

In a world that prioritizes profitability and disposability, we uphold systems that will destroy us and our environment.

This applies to software as well. Unconstrained by physical space, software demands outsized profitability. As software designers, we’re meant to represent our users. But really, we exploit human psychology to make money. User centered design = profit centered design. The most perverse example of this is manipulative social media algorithms that hold us hostage and make us dumber. Scale is a dark pattern.

I used to think scale was magical. When I designed buildings as an architect, I wouldn’t see the impact of my work for months or even years. Then I switched to UX design. I remember my first software release: an investment portal used by a few hundred fund managers. I was blown away by how fast I could affect people at scale. I was hooked. The stuff I’ve designed throughout my career has been used by millions of people.

Actually, I still think scale is magical. But it must benefit everyone.

In architecture school, we added human figures to our building models. These tiny scale figures helped reviewers understand the human’s relationship to the building. A design without scale was soulless.

Let’s bring that human scale into everything we build. And consume less.

I tweaked this on Wed Apr 03 2024 00:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)