When friction is a good thing


Last week I gave a talk at UX Lisbon entitled The Invisible Problem With Fairy Tale Experiences. It is a talk that challenges conventional wisdom within UX, specifically the claim that the role of user experience is to remove obstacles and friction.

I received lots of appreciation for the talk (thank you!) and many also started thinking differently already in the workshops they were attending the following day. I want to share some of the examples that were sent to me on Twitter, by Francois Jordaan and Louie A. Many of these examples were talked about in Giles Colborne’s workshop From Insight to Interaction.

  1. A cash counting machine from Coinstar. When it was working too fast users did not trust its accuracy. A delay was added, using an animated “loader”, and the problem of trust was largely removed.
  2. Airport baggage claim in Austin. When passengers complained about the wait at the carousel the walk to the baggage claim was routed to be five minutes longer. Complaints about waiting for the baggage disappeared.
  3. Online supermarkets. When there is no friction users only buy what they came for. By adding reminders and suggestions (in a sense friction) there is a chance that people will remember to buy more things they actually do need.
  4. Onboarding flow on Yammer/LinkedIn. By increasing the scope of a step-by-step guide for users the conversions went down but the users who did make it through contributed more relevant content.
  5. Create a blog on Blogger. When initially designed, pressing the “Create a Blog” button on Blogger.com set one up instantly for you. This caught users off-guard, with users exclaiming “That’s it? Is something wrong?”. To resolve confusion a loader screen was added with the message “Setting up your blog…”
  6. Onboarding in an app. A more lengthy onboarding guide will lower conversions but set the right expectations for a more complex interface.
  7. Waiting for coffee. How long would you wait? As it turns out, if you wait longer for coffee your perception of the coffee may actually be that it is better. There is, of course, a fine balance to this. Of course Starbucks could figure out how to make a Cappuccino faster… but do they want to?

Could this be true? The perceived value of coffee just in your head?


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Things you can do on your website and apps.

  1. Swipe, don’t tap. By requiring a swipe action instead of just tap you can match this to more important actions where the user needs to exert more energy to perform the action.
  2. Loading screens. Let people wait, but clearly show the website is “working”. As mentioned above, people can have more trust in websites that demonstrate labor (essentially giving a tangible expression of the complexity going on behind the scenes).
  3. Onboarding. In my talk I gave an example of a company that gives out a password one letter per minute in a video of a person explaining the code of conduct. It may sound extreme but it works really well for that organisation.

I would like to stress that the driving force behind my talk is ethics. My role as a designer is for the user to reach her goal and not just enable the completion of a task. If my product won’t assist in this goal alignment this must be obvious to the user. If I can assist in bringing her closer to the goal, but with additional “pain” for the user such as extra costs, this should also be clearly communicated. Design creates win-wins for users and businesses, not just wins for one or the other.

When to add friction

The most common question people had for me after my talk was how they would decide when it is appropriate to add friction. I plan on addressing this challenge more in a longer blog post, but here is the short answer:

Besides the obvious usability tests, by doing regular risk assessments of the different pages and functions in your website you are taking clear responsibility for pinpointing where users could potentially have problems.

The key is to brainstorm as many different unwanted outcomes as possible. In my talk the risk would be for Leeloo to misunderstand delivery time and the unwanted outcome to have her hoodie delivered later than would serve her true goal. In my simplest risk assessment this would be scored on two variables: Probability (of it happening) and Severity (how much of a problem is it really).

By doing a risk assessment you uncover areas where you need to add measures to prevent the unwanted outcomes. More often than not these measures are exactly what we are talking about, adding more now to prevent disappointment later.

The scoring is helpful in assessing how big the problem is and how often you need to return to verify if the risk is eliminated or still present.

I’ll be adding many of these concepts to a Fairy Tale UX workshop.

Until then, what are some more examples you can think of? I would love for you to share them with me in the comments. 

Featured image: UXLx User Experience Lisbon

In line with my passion for visual explaining, I doodle whilst listening to presentations which really helps me focus and remember core messages. Here are all the sketches I made at UXLx: from the two workshops I attended on Wednesday, with Abby Covert and Nicole Fenton, as well as the full day of talks.

I’ll be sharing many more insights from the conference, here on the blog and on UX Podcast. I’m also working on a mindmap to summarize the key learnings and how this will impact my everyday work.

If you like this stuff, a retweet is always appreciated. And if you were at the conference, let’s connect on LinkedIn! Thanks!

Workshop – Abby Covert: how to make sense of any mess


Key take-away: There is no academically correct way to architect your information; but you will fare better with a user-centric approach. The important part is to make sure your team is in agreement about the meaning and purpose of the words and structure you use.


Workshop – Nicole Fenton: Interface Writing


Key take-away: Content can come neither first or last, as it will change over time. Work with content must be iterative and we need to experiment with content just as we experiment with visual design.

1. Lisa Welchman: Architecting the Information Age


Key take-away: In our work we are defining the future of information design and our work has an impact on humanity as a whole. We should be able to stand up for the work we do, and assert that to the best of our knowledge we are doing the right thing.

2. Josh Seiden: Innovation in Realtime


Key take-away: Go live as soon as possible, faking the completeness of your product or service. Real use will bring real insights that let you focus on features that bring the outcomes you want.

3. Stephen Hay: The Art of Deception


Key take-away: People don’t need to understand how it works and the complexity should never be visible to them. We need less steps between the user and the user’s end-goal.

4. Nicole Fenton: Words as Material


Key take-away: Writing is the fastest way of designing. Sketch with words before you start sketching visually.

(Bonus link: I recently read this article by Steph Hay which aligns very well with what Nicole Fenton was describing, despite its title: Content-First Design )

5. Brad Frost: Atomic Design


Key take-away: Content does not live on specific screen sizes or in pages. We need to start with smaller blocks of content, not only enabling device-independent content but also a design process where developers and designers work much more in parallell.

6. Abby Covert: IA for Everybody


Key take-away: People will always attach meaning to your words and structure, even if it is not articulated or written down. By deliberately talking and agreeing on the meaning of words, phrases and structure you are better equipped to fend off confusion and deliver better quality. Yes, your organization has an information architecture today, even if you have never hired an information architect or consciously decided on it; The big question is: are you happy with it?

7. Mike Atherton: Designing with Linked Data


Key take-away: By opening up our data, making it available to the world and enabling the linking of different data sources, we will open up new knowledge, create more awareness and cultivate a better understanding of the world we live in. Other people can do with our data what we have not yet imagined ourselves.

8. Stephen Wendel: 3 Strategies for Behavior Change


Key take-away: In our quest to influence our users into creating habits of using our products and services we may need to disrupt habits already in place, but also: we need to help the user take action, ensuring that people do not fall out of any of the steps in the CREATE funnel, as they pass through it over and over again.

9. Josh Clark: Magical UX and the Internet of Things


Key take-away: The interface you are creating is not real. The interface is an illusion used to trick the user into not realizing that digital services are just composed of ones and zeros. We need to embrace this concept of illusions and note that we are using the illusions to alleviate cognitive load, allowing people to be more human and care less about the technology. As we create and make digital solutions in a world where anything can be an interface, thinking about how we can let the technology support people in being more human will help us combat the negative social effects of tiring and obsessive technology.

Here are also Josh’s slides from his talk:

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Big thanks to Bruno (the amazing curator of UXLx!), his team, all the speakers and all the amazing participants of UXLx who all made this yet another unforgettable UX experience in Lisbon.



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Eliminate Design — #UXLx lightning talk

Here is a an iPhone-video of the lightning talk I gave at User Experience Lisbon (UXLx) in May 2013. All of the Q and A session didn’t make it, but the full talk is in the clip.


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Also: check out the slides for this talk.

Here are the slides for my Lightning Talk Eliminate Design at the UXLx conference in Lisbon, presented at 14:30 in Auditorium II.

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My agenda for #uxlx 2013

There’s a great deal of preparations that go into getting the most out of a business conference. Here’s my agenda for this week at User Experience Lisbon, complete with Twitter handles for all the speakers.

» Contacts: @uxlx on Twitter
» Hotel: Tryp Oriente (street view)
Hotel Trype Oriente - conference hotel for UXLx
» Venue: FIL Meeting Centre
FIL Meeting Centre, venue for UXLx conference

» Programme on Lanyrd

» Programme on UXLx

Tuesday May 14

  • 18:00 Wine-tasting event (welcome party). Just drop in!
    Starts at 18:00 at the Tivoli Oriente Caffe (Parque das Nações, next to Gare do Oriente).

Wednesday May 15

  • 08.00 Registration starts at 8.
    Bring your PDF ticket or if you use the Eventbrite app, you can bring up your QR-code ticket on your phone.
  • 09.00 Lean Ethography, Kelly Goto @go2girl – Room 1.
    Rapid contextual research methods and integration into lean UX processes.
  • 10.30 30-minute break
    (Buy dinner tokens between 10-13.)
  • 12.30 Lunch
  • 14.00 Lightning Talk 1 (undecided)
  • 14.30 Lightning Talk 2 (undecided)
  • 15.00-18.30 Transform Your Work Through Visual Thinking, James Macanufo @mcgeo – Auditorium II.
    Simple and quick visual-thinking methods that can have a dramatic impact on how you feel when you work and on what you produce when you work. (16.30 30-minute break)
  • 20.00 Barbecue Meats dinner at “Buffalo Grill”
    South of the venue, overlooking the dock, a barbecued meats restaurant with a pleasant terrace.

Thursday May 16

  • 09.00 Design Synthesis Methods, Jon Kolko @jkolko – Auditorium II.
    Translate research into meaningful insights, by applying various synthesis methods to elicit hidden meaning in gathered data.
  • 10.30 30-minute break
  • 12.30 Lunch
  • 14.00 Lightning Talk 1 (undecided)
  • 14.30 My Lightning Talk: Eliminate Design – see slides – @axbom
  • 15.00-18.30 From UX to service design, Andy Polaine @apolaine – Auditorium III.
    A flexible and powerful approach useful for everything from mapping out and making sense of insights research, through brainstorming and ideation to design specification and measurement. (16.30 30-minute break)
  • 20.00 Conference dinner at the “República da Cerveja”.
    A typical brewery style restaurant (east of the venue, by the riverfront). My food choice: Roasted Cod 

Friday May 17

Första utkast till Eliminate Design

Som vanligt med kort om tid och på målsnöret skickade jag in mitt första utkast med slides till min presentation på UXLx precis. Det är fortfarande en hel del kvar att göra. Bilderna i sig innehåller inte så jättemycket information, så ta det för vad det är, en första struktur och ett idéutkast.

Presentationen kommer vara helt klar den sista april. Och bli inte förvånad om den då ser helt annorlunda ut, förmodligen med mer skissade bidler. Det roligaste med att sätta ihop detta var faktiskt att testa iPad-appen Haiku Deck – helt enormt bra för att snabbt slänga ihop något som ser vidunderligt ut!

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Om det spontant är något som du reagerar positivt eller negativt på i dessa bilder så är det förstås toppenkul om du vill dela med dig!

Jag föreläser på UXLx i maj

I januari skickade jag ut en fråga på Twitter om vilken rubrik, av fyra, jag borde välja till en presentation. En av rubrikerna, Eliminate Design, var medvetet ganska provocerande och jag ville känna av hur den potentiellt skulle tas emot.  Det visade sig att den gillades och förmodligen skulle få den effekt jag eftersträvade, en vilja att veta mer.

Denna presentation, Eliminate Design, var sedan en av två presentationer jag valde ut att skicka in som förslag till User Experience Lisbon (UXLx). För ett par veckor sedan fick jag veta att just denna var en av de som fått flest röster av deltagarna. Jag kommer alltså få chansen att föreläsa på UXLx, vilket känns fantastiskt roligt.

Senast 29 mars måste jag ha mitt första utkast med presentationsbilder klara, och hela materialet ska levereras den 30 april. Självklart tänkte jag låta den processen vara helt öppen, och så fort jag har bilder klara så lägger jag upp dem här på bloggen.


Eliminate Design?

Ja, jag vet, vad menar jag egentligen med det? Lite förenklat kan man säga att jag vill problematisera två fenomen:

  • Det finns en alltför frekvent sedvänja att börja digital problemlösning med skissande av gränssnitt för platta skärmar. Jag anser att vi måste balansera ut den vanan med ett utökat fokus på både beteendevetenskap och ekonomi. Skärmen är inte alltid lösningen.
  • Begreppet “design” används på tusen olika sätt och skapar lika många olika förväntningar. Jag anser det bättre att vi pratar om det vi faktiskt gör eller skapar, vare sig det är problemlösning, beslutsstöd, underhållning, handel eller samhällsinformation. Det kommer i sin tur hjälpa oss att ta bättre designbeslut.

Det här kommer också leda in mig på en resonemang kring Calm Technology, ett begrepp som myntades av Mark Weisner. Tanken bakom lugn teknik är att den ska informera en människa utan att kräva odelad fokus eller uppmärksamhet.

Mitt syfte med presentationen är att ifrågasätta valda delar av vårt arbetssätt i UX-branschen samt uppmana och uppmuntra till ett mer holistiskt sätt att se på problemlösning och design. Jag vill gärna visa effekterna av att göra just det.

Nyfiken? Håll utkik på bloggen så kommer det mer. Just nu njuter jag bara av att ha blivit tilldelad en av de större föreläsningssalarna på UXLx. För det här vill jag göra bra. Riktigt bra.


Sketchnotes from #uxlx 2012

My sketchnotes from the UX-Lx conference in Lisbon seemed quite popular so I’ve put them all in one set of slides that I’ve put up on Slideshare. Enjoy 🙂

Note: this was my first time using the Paper app on the iPad 2 to take notes. I use the Bamboo stylus.

[Update October 2012: More than 33,000 views! I’m blown away!]

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