Stop Using This App

“What does the user want to do?”

The scenario: your team’s had a twenty minute conversation about whether Trending Stories should appear on the left or right side of the page, and have formed strong, intricate opinions about HTML5 and font sizes. The developer’s worried they’re going to have to rip out all CSS and rework it, while the product owner is talking about ad placements and mindshare.

Actual footage of your most recent review meeting

Meta-Goals: Why Does Your App Exist?

To understand this situation, we need to go one level beyond user goals, and think about the goal behind the goal. I’m going to call this the meta-goal: it’s a category of goal, a raison d’etre for your site beyond “sell shoes” or “aggregate news” or “maintain a web presence”.

  1. Stop Using This App
  2. Keep Using This App
  3. Live With This App

Meta-Goal 1: Stop Using This App

You might call these transactional applications. The goal of a stop-using is to finish some task, and then go back to whatever you were doing before.

Pull over, hit the ATM, get some cash, get back on the road

Meta-Goal 2: Stay In This App

The stay-here application is the exact opposite. Its goal is to keep you here— to make you want to stay there. These are the ‘lifestyle’ sites, the ones that suck you in all afternoon or until three in the morning.

Meta-Goal 3: Live With This App

There’s a third, interestingly-different category, and it’s on the rise. This is the app or site which you use all day long as a part of something else.

Shenlong and his crew hide behind ruins. Note the perfusion of markers — the small paper chits, dice, round tokens, and the cards on the side. All of these are the “paper” equivalent of a play-with app.


Having bravely asserted that there are precisely three things in a category, I will now mention a bunch that don’t quite fit.

Variant: Go away, but come back

When you order from McDonald’s, the people prepping your burger and fries have a screen they interact with — the order screen. It tells them what to prepare; they push a button to acknowledge the order, turn their attention to the food station, and prep their part of it. Then they return to the screen, press a button to move on, and the cycle repeats.

Variant: The app is the environment

Bin number seven, human. No other bin is allowed.

Variant: Enhancement Apps

One more variant to think about: enhancement apps. These are apps that fade into the background when used, making the user simply feel as if their own capabilities have increased.

Designing Using Meta-Goals

I challenge you to think about this framework the next time you set out to design. If you can figure out how your application fits within the user’s life, you can better figure out how to make it feel seamless, properly engaging, and well-situated.



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Alex Feinman

Alex Feinman

Obligate infovore. All posts made with 100% recycled electrons, sustainably crafted by artisanal artisans. He/him/his.