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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://​www.mc­mas­ter.com/ 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?”.