Design and platform evolution


In an era where digital platforms are integral to our daily lives, the concept of “enshittification” — a term coined by Cory Doctorow to describe the gradual degradation of these platforms — presents a grim reality. This decay, as outlined in his original article, not only compromises the integrity and usability of digital services but also reflects a broader challenge facing the design community.

Similarly, a sense of disillusionment is growing in the design community, pointing to redundant discussions and a disconnect from the realities of business and user needs. These perspectives shed light on the parallel challenges of maintaining relevance and integrity in design practices amidst the evolving landscape of technology and business.

The decay of platforms and its impact on design

“Enshittification” describes the transformation of user-centric platforms into entities that exploit their user base for profit. This process mirrors the struggles within the design community to uphold user-centric values in an environment increasingly dominated by profit motives.

As platforms evolve, designers are often forced to adapt, sometimes compromising on quality and ethics to meet new platform policies and business objectives. This situation raises questions about the role of design in navigating platform changes without losing sight of its core principles.

The growing discontent among designers underscores a quest for relevance. The emphasis on specific tools and trends, rather than solving real problems and enhancing user experience, reveals a misalignment with design’s fundamental goals. This disconnection from the practical realities of business and the impact on user experience highlights the need for a more integrated approach, where design and business objectives complement rather than conflict with each other.

How designers have failed to prevent enshittification

  1. Overemphasis on aesthetics over functionality: By focusing more on the visual aspects of design rather than on creating meaningful, functional, and sustainable user experiences, designers can contribute to a superficially appealing but ultimately less valuable user experience.
  2. Lack of influence on strategic decisions: Often, designers are not included in strategic business decisions, limiting their ability to advocate for user-centric approaches that could counteract the forces driving “enshittification.”
  3. Compromising on ethical standards: Designers may inadvertently contribute to “enshittification” by compromising on ethical standards, prioritizing business goals over user needs, and ignoring long-term impacts on user trust and satisfaction.
  4. Failure to push back on harmful features: Designers might not sufficiently push back against features or policies that compromise user privacy, security, or overall experience, due to pressure to align with business objectives that prioritize profit over ethics.

What designers can do about it

Charlie Munger famously said, “Show me the incentives and I’ll show you the outcomes.” This principle is crucial for designers to understand and incorporate into their practice, especially when aiming to combat the forces of “enshittification.” The design of digital platforms often unintentionally prioritizes incentives that lead to undesirable outcomes, such as diminished user experience, privacy breaches, or unethical behavior. By adopting a systemic approach to understand existing incentive structures, designers can begin to reimagine and redesign these frameworks to prioritize long-term value for users and sustainable business growth.

  1. Understand current incentives: Start by thoroughly understanding the existing incentive structures within their platforms or products. This involves analyzing how various stakeholders (users, businesses, advertisers, etc.) are motivated and rewarded, and how these incentives influence behavior within the platform ecosystem.
  2. Identify misalignments: Often, incentives are not aligned with the long-term interests of users or the broader society. For example, a platform that rewards user engagement with addictive features may compromise privacy or mental health.
  3. Design for positive outcomes: Once misalignments are identified, work towards creating incentive structures that encourage positive outcomes. This could mean rewarding content creators for producing high-quality, informative content rather than clickbait, or designing algorithms that prioritize user well-being over maximum screen time.
  4. Prototype and test: Redesigning incentive structures is a complex process that requires experimentation. Prototype different incentive models and rigorously test them with real users. This iterative process helps in understanding the impacts of different incentives and refining them based on user feedback and behavior.
  5. Collaborate Across Disciplines: Stop navel gazing. Designing better incentive structures is not solely a design challenge but involves business strategy, psychology, and ethics. Always collaborate with experts across disciplines to ensure that redesigned incentives are viable, ethical, and effectively promote desired behaviors.
  6. Leverage your communication skills and advocate for ethical incentives: Designers also have a role to play in advocating for ethical incentives within their organizations. By demonstrating how well-designed incentive structures can lead to better outcomes for both users and the business, designers can influence decision-makers and champion changes at the strategic level.

Case studies and examples

There are instances of platforms and companies that have successfully balanced maintaining a high-quality user experience with achieving business goals. These success stories often involve designers who have broadened their roles to include a deeper understanding of business strategies, contributing to outcomes that benefit both users and the digital ecosystem as a whole. Such examples serve as inspiration for how design can influence and even reverse negative trends in platform evolution.


Duolingo has mastered the balance between educational value and user engagement through design. By gamifying the learning process, Duolingo keeps users coming back for more, turning the daunting task of learning a new language into a fun and addictive game. This focus on user experience has not only helped millions learn languages but also turned Duolingo into a profitable business. Their success illustrates how design can create value for users in ways that directly support business goals.


Signal provides an example of a platform prioritizing user privacy and security through design, maintaining high ethical standards while growing its user base. Unlike many other messaging apps that monetize user data, Signal’s non-profit status and business model are built around the idea of privacy as a fundamental right. Their user interface is simple and intuitive, ensuring that encrypted communication is accessible to everyone. This commitment to user privacy and a straightforward, effective design has won Signal a loyal following, showcasing that it’s possible to achieve growth without compromising on core user-centric values.

Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla Firefox, developed by the non-profit Mozilla Foundation, stands as a testament to how design and open-source principles can foster a healthier internet. By focusing on user privacy, speed, and customization, Firefox has consistently positioned itself as a browser that works for the user, not for advertiser interests. Their transparent business practices and the emphasis on community involvement in development have helped Firefox maintain a strong position in the browser market, demonstrating that aligning design with user interests can lead to sustained success.


Basecamp tackles the challenges of workplace communication and project management by offering a streamlined platform designed to reduce, not increase, the noise. By focusing on essentials and resisting the temptation to add complexity, Basecamp supports productivity and teamwork without overwhelming users. Their business model, which eschews the typical per-user pricing in favor of a flat rate, reflects their commitment to providing value for all types of teams, further emphasizing their user-centric approach in both design and business strategy.


While designers alone cannot prevent “enshittification”, they hold a critical position from which to influence the direction and policies of digital platforms. By advocating for ethical design, involving themselves in strategic decisions, and leveraging their unique insights into user needs, designers have the potential to make significant contributions to stemming the tide of “enshittification” and steering digital platforms towards a more user-centric and sustainable path.

The interconnected challenges of platform “enshittification” and design discontent reflect the critical role of designers in shaping the evolution of digital environments. By embracing a broader perspective that incorporates business acumen, designers can advocate for and implement solutions that genuinely benefit users without compromising business objectives.

The future of digital platforms and design lies in the ability to adapt, integrate, and prioritize genuine value over short-term gains, ensuring a sustainable and user-focused digital landscape.


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