Skip to Content

What do we lose when it's easy to use?

The intentional creation of friction in an experience is an essential way to create experience and communicate values.

Pressman runs a lo­cal de­sign stu­dio called Rumors. In 2015 they launched a new site that got a lot of cri­tique on Designer News about its usability’. Pressman cre­ated an ex­pe­ri­ence when pre­view thumb­nails ex­ist be­hind the text and flee from the cur­sor.

I hate the word us­abil­ity. I hate that it’s squishy, poorly de­fined … all I can come to is ease of use”. Is the in­ter­face easy to use or easy to un­der­stand?

Pressman won­ders who the im­plied for whom” is in the state­ment.

All these sites where all be­ing built on the same frame­work and had the same look and feel.

Pressman ex­plores period styles.’ He ex­am­ines that web de­sign has clear pe­riod styles which are tightly cou­pled to tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments. Early web was fo­cused on ta­bles, due to the cur­rent tech. Then Bootstrap.css be­came a thing, and it moved quickly into its own pe­riod style. Bootstrap as a frame­work caused a de­vel­op­ment of a sig­na­ture prod­uct style.

The more fa­mil­iar the in­ter­face the less cog­ni­tive load … users grow ac­cus­tomed to a set of be­hav­iors … and take the de­sired ac­tion.

Did the user do the thing?

Pressman ex­plores how the fo­cus on con­ver­sions be­came the defin­ing im­pulse to de­sign de­ci­sions.

Homogeneity re­duces fric­tion.

Friction, and the de­sire to re­move fric­tion for the sake of con­ver­sions, drove a uni­for­mity of a pe­riod style.

Pressman of­fers an ex­am­ple from Speikermann who thinks the web should be alike a book — which is a clas­sic Speikermann take.

Pressman in­stead says that the web is a medium that we in­habit” — and avoid­ing any fric­tion reduces the medium to a se­ries of con­sumer ef­fi­cien­cies.” This re­duc­tion has strong sim­i­lar­i­ties to the re­duc­tion of our cur­rent age — the dele­tion and re­moval of any­thing that does­n’t im­me­di­ately and ef­fi­ciently serve the needs of cap­i­tal.

The web is full of ter­ri­ble, frus­trat­ing ex­pe­ri­ences … ease of use can and should be em­pow­er­ing.

There are some places — and func­tions of so­ci­ety — where ease of use is a pow­er­ful tool that should be pri­or­i­tized.

However, frictions and in­ef­fi­cien­cies are the mo­ments that slow us down”. This means that in­ten­tion­ally cre­at­ing fric­tion, erect­ing a bar­rier to slow down the user be­fore hit­ting the end­point allows the user to process an ex­pe­ri­ence rather than just con­sume it.” Pressman quotes Laurel Schwulst ques­tions:

Is it spe­cific? Is it mem­o­rable? Does it turn idea into form?

Usability can­not be the sole cri­te­ria of of good”, and these are a good start­ing place to ex­pand our prac­tice. Pressman adds a fourth:

Does it ben­e­fit the user?

Pressman notes that none of these pre­clude ease of use, but they do fo­cus on ex­pe­ri­ence rather than out­come. Pressman sug­gests that https://​­mas­ is the very best web­site on the in­ter­net. I agree! This is an amaz­ing site.

This re­sponse to the lit­er­acy of its users is what al­lows the site to be us­able.

Pressman talk about the use style, which at its core is a ver­nac­u­lar lan­guage that al­lows you to ef­fi­ciently speak to oth­ers that un­der­stand the same ver­nac­u­lar. This culls, rather than grows, an au­di­ence. Style per­forms the same func­tion as jar­gon here, and acts as a way to at­tune a sig­nal to a re­ceiver. A re­duc­tion of the broad­cast to the nar­row-band com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Brands de­pend on men­tal mod­els of value.

Pressman talks about how the process of learn­ing to use a dif­fi­cult thing cre­ates a sense of own­er­ship. Pressman sees the value in cre­at­ing and re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Pressman gives the ex­am­ple of Printed Matter, and calls out that the de­lib­er­ate in­tro­duc­tion of fric­tion can com­mu­ni­cate a sig­nif­i­cant amount of value and in­ten­tion. By cre­at­ing fric­tion in a cer­tain way, by de­lib­er­ately mov­ing away from the fric­tion­less stan­dard, it in­vites the ques­tion of why did we do this?”. If that ques­tion can be an­swered from a place of mean­ing, your val­ues are com­mu­ni­cated to the au­di­ence, and you can fil­ter down a generic au­di­ence to a spe­cific one that shares those val­ues.

Meaning and form aren’t just seen. Form is the be­hav­ior.

This re­lates back to the fun­da­men­tal stuff-ness of the web.

The fourth point about ben­e­fit is about ethics — and cre­at­ing a base­line eth­i­cal be­hav­ior for the in­ter­ac­tions. This is the ba­sic open­ing of web de­vel­op­ments eth­i­cal com­pass: does it do what the user wants to do?

A dark pat­tern is fric­tion­less de­sign taken to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion.

An ex­am­ple of how the shift­ing rubrics and de­f­i­n­i­tions of good” are fun­da­men­tal to the ex­e­cu­tion and cre­ation of any de­signed work. MetaFilter is a pow­er­ful ex­am­ple of cre­at­ing a lot of fric­tion against rapid growth. This cre­ates a ben­e­fit for the broader com­mu­nity. Against twit­ter, it’s clear where val­ues lie and the eth­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions of sets of de­ci­sions.

The Frustration Threshold: How much fric­tion can we add be­fore it be­comes frus­tra­tion?

This is di­rectly cor­re­lated to the speci­ficity of the users goals. When look­ing for a phone num­ber or ad­dress, the thresh­old is very very low. It’s also cor­re­lated to the scale of the au­di­ence, which maps back to the use of val­ues as a fil­ter­ing mech­a­nism.

The more you un­der­stand of [the users needs] the more dif­fi­cult and com­plex an ex­pe­ri­ence you can build

Pressman ends the talk by fram­ing the cen­tral ques­tion that he wants us to con­sider: Instead of How can I make every­thing easy to use?” ask Just what com­po­nents can be dif­fi­cult?”.