Trail that disappears into the woods

UX Design: The trouble with easy

UX Design is centered around understanding how and why people are making certain choices, and then helping them achieve their goal. Often, this ends up being distilled down into a maxim of "make things easier for your customers."

However, this isn't always what we should do.

We always want to set expectations for our visitors, make important information accessible and findable, and prioritize consent in our design. But that doesn't mean the entire experience should be free from any challenge at all. So we're going to talk about using friction to help people feel good and accomplished.

In UX Design we talk a lot about the customer journey. Think about the word "journey". What does it mean to you?

When I think of a journey I picture someone walking through a wild natural landscape over hills and mountains. I think of difficult passages, beautiful views, pride at overcoming challenges, and relief at completing their journey.

A journey is a great way to think about how people interact with our products. They are trying to complete a task, yes, but how can we make them feel like they're a hero in that journey? How do we make it an experience that is memorable for all of its good points?

A great way to do this is to insert a little bit of challenge into the journey. Not insurmountable, but just a tiny bit of friction that they need to overcome. Imagine it as a small hill that has a pretty view of the land around it, once you reach the top.

The hill didn't wear you out, it just required a tiny bit more effort and now you feel accomplished at having gone up it and excited about what you're able to see from the viewpoint.

These small challenges make us feel proud, accomplished, and excited. When things are too easy, we breeze through them without even paying attention to what's happened. And that can be just as deterimental as someone struggling to accomplish a goal within a product.

A good example of this is Betty Crocker. When the company first started selling baking mixes, the only thing customers had to do was add water, stir, and bake. It was so easy! And yet, the product didn't sell. In talking to customers, the company found that people felt it was too easy to make the cakes. They didn't feel as if they had actually baked anything! So even though they got to their goal: they got a cake, they didn't feel any sense of accomplishment.

Betty Crocker ended up with a three step mix, where you added eggs, oil, and water. That little bit of extra work made all the difference. And that's why I think having our customers do tiny bits of extra work can also make all the difference in their joy.

Friction can also have another added benefit because when we're designing we also need to consider bad actors. Let's go back to our journey metaphor. Let's say that someone is trying to get to a specific place in the forest so that they can start cutting down trees and wreak havoc.

Do we want to make it easy for people to do that? No! We want them to encounter harder hills, and rushing rivers they can't cross. We want them to turn back.

We must consider people who intend to use the platform to harm others. You can learn more about designing for your worst user in this post. By placing friction in the right points of the journey, we can also deter users who intend to do harm.

Is there a way that we can use friction to stop a bad actor from harming someone on our platform? How can we deter that behavior and make it harder for them to do something hurtful?

So as you're doing research and designing your product, think about the points of friction people are already encountering. Is there a way to make that friction enjoyable so they can get that dopamine release from completing a small task? Is there a way to use friction to help them learn? Creating a little bit of friction in your design can help your user feel like a champion. They've climbed the mountain. They deserve this view; and you're helping them get there.