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  • Laurier Cress

Mental Health & UX

Early this week I attended a monthly UX Community meeting at Harvard. One topic that came up was how do we design with mental health in mind. As I reflected on this, I was brought back to an event in my life that had a lasting impact on my mental health. In that moment, it dawned on me that this event was connected to the interface of what was one of the most popular social media platforms at that time.


The year was 2007 and I was in my freshman year of undergrad. After my classes for the day ended I caught the bus home without issue. After putting my backpack down I sat at my computer and logged onto Myspace. Remember Myspace? If you are not familiar with Myspace and its interface, let me give you a brief lay of the land.


Myspace was the most popular social media platform from 2005 to 2008, until Facebook took its place. A user could sign up and create a profile that included information about their age, favorite music, location, general interests, and friends. Users could befriend other users on the platform and share their connection publicly. There is nothing special about this feature as it is found on most social media platforms. However, what makes Myspace's friend sharing feature different from other platforms is its interface. Users could designate other users as part of their "top 8" group of friends and these users would populate on their friend's profile page. Users on the platform who are not selected to be showcased on a friend's top 8 list were relegated to a view all page.


A screenshot of a replicate of the Myspace profile interface.
This is not the original Myspace profile interface but a replica from a social media site called Spacehey. The interface is pretty darn spot on.

Anyway, returning back to my story, I came home from school and immediately logged onto Myspace on my desktop computer as I had done many times before. But something was very different about this time. I sat at my computer staring at my profile, specifically my self identified top 8 friends list. My mind began to wonder into a series of self reflections. I began to panic. I experienced the first of what would be countless panic attacks in my life for years to come.


I was not in the best state during this time in my life. I was a sophomore undergrad student with no direction and no idea about what I wanted out of my college education or life. Looking back on this now as an adult, I realize that I was a kid and that the pressures the adults in my life placed on me to figure everything out at 19 years old was ridiculous.


In that moment when I logged onto my Myspace account, that silly top 8 friends list forced me to look at the people I decided were important to me, even though most of the relationships I had with these now long gone people weren't healthy. There was something about that Myspace UI that triggered an overwhelming sense of panic that I still don't fully understand to this day.


The purpose of this article isn't to place the sole blame on Myspace for the experience I had. I had no understanding of what mental health was at that time and in retrospect, I was probably already aware of the toxic relationships I had with the people in my life at that time. I just hadn't acknowledged them as unhealthy yet. I would say Myspace acted as the spark that lit the fuse.


What was Myspace's purpose behind designing a UI that forced their users to participate in a social ranking system? I have no idea, but they decided it was important enough to include it. I share this experience to say that as designers we should always be aware of what our intentions are when designing any product. The decisions we make can elicit emotions that can have a positive or negative impact on users.



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