Design for Anonymity, Participation, & Surprise

My colleague Andrew just pointed me toward a new app named Rando (Which he found through this Fast Company article.)

A couple of years ago, I wrote about data being Designed to Disappear, (years before SnapChat, people.) So I’m going to try and start to note the (rare) moments that technology shows a glint of a new direction. For me this is less about keeping score, and more about paying attention. So…with that, here’s why I’m sort of inspired by this seemingly insignificant app. 

The idea behind the app is quite simple; you send a photo, and you’ll receive a random photo in return. No friend lists, no ratings, no social graph, no klout points; it’s incredibly simple. BUT there are a couple of really powerfully design principles behind the app that I have a feeling we’ll see more of (even if Rando only has a brief moment in the spotlight.)

Design for Participation
Quite simply, Rando holds to a quid pro quo interaction. You will not experience the app unless you provide a photo of your own. This pulls the user into the experience; gawking is not allowed. Demanding user engagement is hard, but if the ‘reward’ is right you change the paradigm.

Design for Surprise
This app isn’t going for delight, it’s swinging for full-on surprise. We’re quickly becoming so jaded as a connected culture…we’re forgetting how amazing our lives can be because of technology, (which is sad, really…television boyed our parent’s generation for decades). The fact that this app is stepping up to serve up the randomness of humanity is sort of commendable. It’s like getting a message in a bottle and trying to decode what’s going on in the sender’s mind. (I’m sure this will devolve into full-on Chat Roullet foulness before this is all over, it is the Internet after all.)

Design for Anonymity
As I mentioned, there is no social graph. There isn’t a username. This app could care less who you are, it only wants you to participate. (This isn’t a new idea…but it’s really on my mind lately.) One of my big take aways from SxSW this year was how selfish social media has made the web. We’re editing and preening, always making sure we have the most enviable Instagram’d existence. The superficial acknowledgment of our online social circles has us trapped like rats in a skinner box.  This app has a different point of view. It doesn’t need to be your portal of everything, it just needs to be 5 seconds of fun. 

Rando is an excellent example of a strong, simple design point of view. It’s also a great example of what we owe each other as we collectively wade deeper into technology. If technology isn’t underlining the human experience, it’s failing us. (Which is our fault, but that’s another rant.) Not everything has to be a life solving app, sometimes a little hit of dopamine is a enough. 

(BTW, my prediction is that Facebook will add some sort of random content feature in the next 6 months…their hyper-focused content feeds are choking the life out of the service, the pendulum will have to swing.


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