Off Brand

When Design Is So Helpful It Drives Your Customers Crazy

An Apple iOS feature proves that sometimes even the most well-intentioned nudge could use a rethink

Rob Walker
Published in
4 min readJan 9, 2020


Illustration: Tom Guilmard

WeWe all appreciate a friendly nudge, don’t we? That’s probably what Apple figured when it introduced a feature in iOS 13 that nudged users to adjust their privacy settings.

Since lots of us claim to be concerned about how technology spies on us and thwarts our privacy, and the privacy settings for apps can be difficult to navigate and keep track of, Apple’s nudge — a pop-up message inviting users to adjust settings on certain apps — seems like a helpful design solution to a genuine problem. (Albeit a problem that originates at least partly with the poor design of the privacy settings, but set that aside.)

And yet, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out the other day, a number of iOS users don’t appreciate these nudges at all. In fact, they resent them. Their gripe? Even if a user agrees to allow, for example, background tracking on a particular app, the pop-up returns in a few days and asks again. “When I say ‘always allow,’ I don’t mean ‘always allow until the next time you ask me,’” one iPhone owner told the Journal. “It’s a little silly that it would ask you repeatedly whether you want…