Yurou Zeng

I’d like more friction please!

As designers, I feel that we’re constantly trying to strive for a seamless and frictionless experience in products. That of course, is a noble goal, I mean, what user doesn’t want a smooth and non-disruptive process? We’ve already established that people have much less patience than before, and thus, less accepting of mistakes and interruptions in their flow. But I can’t help but think that sometimes, friction is good.

In the age of digital automation, things have gotten so easy I almost wish we had to work harder. Tech has slowly taken over our unconscious consciousness, making us recognize patterns and allowing us to skip over otherwise time-consuming formalities. We often breeze past fine print, text on red/green colored buttons, and digital elements that are seemingly consistent across web content. With this, users often gloss over important information and risk falling for dark UI patterns (of course, dark patterns are the fault of the company and designers who implement it, but since we know it does exist and have no way of getting rid of it, we must think of methods of prevention). 

In such cases, it might be fitting to include levels of friction in your product, especially in areas you may want your users to pay closer attention to. In a series of experiments done by Daniel Kahneman documented in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, the act of making a text slightly harder to read promotes cognitive thinking, which in turn makes the content more memorable and less prone to misunderstanding (in the content of the experiment, the given text contained a series of questions. People who had to read it in a less legible format answered more questions correctly and made less mistakes).

I’m not advocating that we make it harder for users to interact with the products we make, but I think that integrating pauses and checkpoints is a practice that can enhance digital experiences as well as simply slow down our pace. Due to how used we’ve become to ads and seemingly irrelevant content, we’ve trained ourselves to very easily ignore and skip over anything we don’t care about. We should really get a break from the onslaught of digital content, and maybe with some (positive) friction, we can.

When did coding become a privilege instead of a right?

Coding is hard, no doubt about that. Learning a new programming language can be a long process, but as a skill that’s revered in this new age, should it not be accessible? I had read an article by Jarred Sumner on MySpace and why the internet is no longer as fun and weird as it used to be. The part about users being able to customize their profile on MySpace to their liking using code really stuck out to me. It got me thinking: there was once a time where there wasn’t a graphical interface, and everything ran on code.

As the web developed, we started to hide the complex back-end behind navigable visuals. Of course I’m not advocating for the internet to become a place exclusively for those who can code and navigate it, I’m vouching for the opposite, we as users need to take back control, to start breaking and reinventing our version of the internet.

Why is it that we advertise “no coding necessary” and these “easy-to-use templates” that turn our internet into a fast fashion retailer rather than the one-of-a-kind independently owned boutique that it is? The problem does have to do with a certain kind of distrust of people and aversion of imperfect on the web. We’ve made sure that every website that exists is “well-designed” with these templates, discouraging experimentation and true personalization. When are we going to stop being so afraid of what’s different, of discomfort, of ugly design? When are we going to move towards a more customizable, weird and human web?

This topic, of course, wields a double edged sword. What of accessibility? Of good navigation and working products? Web trends and standards ensure the usability of many websites, making sure that the internet is an open and familiar place for all its users. I can’t say that I have a solution for this issue, but once upon a time we made it work, so let’s bookmark a page on web 1.0, stop being afraid and see where we go from there.

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