Fluid Assemblages

YouTube Reflect

What would happen if we add friction into our video consumption that could trigger a new thought process when streaming online? YouTube Reflect facilitates reflection ad raises awareness of the consequences of streaming, by allowing users to adjust their consumption parameters according to their needs in the moment.

Many of the digital “things” we are designing today are more like fluid assemblages that are changing over time and as a response to collected data and activities and inputs. Many different actors extract different kinds of values from these networks and generated and collected data. Many of these are now optimized for data collection and efficiency which means making users stay at the platform. But how can they be designed to provide meaningful transparency and choice regarding their multiple uses and users?


Streaming video and audio are the biggest drivers of explosive data growth, and our video consumption accounts for 80% of the entire internet’s carbon emission levels. Many video streaming services today are designed for an efficient and seamless user experience, with the aim to keep users on the platform for as long as possible. Dark patterns implemented in the design of these platforms ensure that there is no room provided for users to reflect on what, how and why they are consuming the given content. But what would happen if we added friction into this model that could trigger a different thought process when streaming online?

Project Info

Fall 2019
4 weeks

Partner: Umeå Institute of Design

Team: Selvi Olgac

Method: Method exploration, probing, challenging design practices, ethical design.

Press: Interview from Umeå Institute of Design

Digital footprint

What happens when we add reflection into our video consumption?

Consumption based on reflection

We designed Youtube Reflect as a way to challenge the idea that everything needs to be optimized for efficiency and seamless. While these are parameters are great for the easy user experience where we don’t even have to think about what we are doing. It encouraging us to consume and not reflect. How many times have we not found ourselves realizing hours have passed and all we did

was watching funny cat videos. We wanted to give this reflection back to the user to change the thought model of why, what and how we are consuming the video we are watching. By asking the question “what is the aim with your video consumption today?”, we are making the user taking a stance and reflect upon their consumption.

Where do you want to put your attention?

Sound quality?
Watching time?
Image quality?
Carbon emission?

The parameters are depending on each other and changing one will effect the rest of them. For example changing the carbon emission, the image quality might go down or the time period will become shorter.

Probing and prototyping to a result

Since the concept of designing “fluid assemblages” is so new there are not yet many best practices in terms of process. This led us to experiment with different methods to design something that is constantly changing. We worked with prototypes and probes to start discussions about what is important in these kinds of designs and then build upon this in each iteration.

Aesthetics of friction and negotiation

Just starting to think about what frictions is led us to start building fast. We realized that talking bout words didn’t help us get forward and we built probes that were meant to add friction into video consumption quite literally. Just to get the discussion going. This led to a series of probes and testing of probes

that were based on questions such as on what parameters do we prioritize things and how does it feel to play poker with youtube or negotiate with yourself. It raised questions about who has and who should have the power but also concerns about what is an okay behavior and who decides that?

“I always have youtube on in the background, listening to nature sounds when working. Nothing with too much movement so I won’t get distracted.”

– Wenting, design student

Goal and context decides

An interesting observation we found during our testing was the importance of context. Both from conducting interviews and mapping journeys and from the probes we saw that people changed behavior based on the context they were in. Depending on their goal with their video consumption they could choose a video clip that fitted that situation. For example when eating breakfast one participant

always choose a clip that no longer than 15 min because that was all the time she had in the morning or when cleaning another participant choose a clip with the right lengths and that wasn’t visually distracting so she wouldn’t be distracted before she finished.

Conclusion and my role

Working with things that do not yet exist and that are highly changeable it is difficult to work with a human-centered approach. The problem is, how do we involve the human into a highly abstract context that might not be relatable at the time? We tried to do this in our design project by multiple probes of different fidelity and execution. This has not been a project where the goal has been to make a finished polished product. Instead, the process has been in focus and this has been a process that has led to a change in our thinking and approach to design and perhaps questioning the role of designers and what it should be.

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