The design tricks that make smartphones addictive – and how to fight them

How many times do you think you check your phone each day? 10? 20? Try 85 times. That is an incredible number and one that seems unbelievable but think about it. Whether it’s looking for the time, answering a message, or playing a quick game, there are a variety of reasons to get out our cells. But have you ever thought what it is that keeps pulling us back?


Getting a message from a friend makes you feel loved, right? Apps now can send you any notification at any time of the day – known as “non-human notifications”. However, it wasn’t always like this. When smartphones first emerged, we could see emails on our screen as they came through. The idea was to help people stay off their phones as they could see the information without having to unlock the screen. Now, these notifications are designed to pull us in.

Take Facebook for example. Have you had a post pop up that a friend is attending something near you? This is intended to get you to unlock the app and take a look. Boom. You’re on Facebook. Now you’re here; you may as well check what’s happening elsewhere on Facebook. See what they did there? The best way to combat this is to turn off push notifications so you will only see the messages that need answering.

The design tricks that make smartphones addictive – and how to fight them

Gambling designs

Slot machines are known to create more income in America than baseball, theme parks, and movies combined! In fact, they are so addictive that people can become hooked three to four times faster to slot machines than to any other kind of gambling. But how does that translate to our phones? Well, that pull to refresh feature that is common to so many of our apps is designed to replicate pulling down a slot machine lever. It’s subtle, but it’s definitely effective. To help yourself, you have to only scroll down, never up, and set yourself a limit on how long you will be on the app.


Us humans are naturally pulled towards any color. Many color tests have seen that our eyes focus on the brighter, warmer colors on offer – especially red. This is why the logos of our favorite apps are all continually updating. They want to become the brightest, most inviting places to go on our phones, making them our number one choice. This is also why notification bubbles on our phone have been designed as red; our eyes can’t help but drift towards them. However, not all is lost. We can greyscale our phones in the setting meaning we don’t get drawn towards certain apps.

Infinite information

These are the bottomless pits of our phone. Social media pages use a feature known as “infinite scrolling”. They are continually updating new information that means our thumbs just keep going and going as we look through the posts with no hope of an end. This is also the same for auto-play videos. These load up immediately after the first one finishes giving us no hope of breaking free unless we decide enough is enough.

Us humans may be smart, but we need something to tell us when to stop. When we have to click through pages, it makes us much more likely to stop than if we were to be given an endless amount of information. We need willpower to overcome this feature, but it looks as though apps may soon be adding in forced breaks to help stop us getting carried away.

The design tricks that make smartphones addictive – and how to fight them

If you suddenly find it’s 4am and you’re still on your smartphone, it looks as though there could be a good reason. However, after just a few tweaks you could soon find yourself free from the time on the cell and with much more time on your hands to go about your day.