Friction in experience

Escalators at Big City in Hsinchu, Taiwan

Many years ago I did a design study of the shopping experience at the then new IKEA store in Taipei. Their guided approach to shopping was novel to me at the time and in stark contrast to the undesigned experiences I experienced elsewhere.

Most shopping centers follow a similar strategy when dealing with moving customers through-out their space. The escalators force you to walk through the aisles at each floor, or expose you to different stores, thereby exposing you to more product, and there are few short-cuts or direct routes (for fire safety reasons IKEA has somewhat hidden routes that bypass their experience).

This is fine if you come to spend the day inside and you enjoy browsing through the shops in a mall, Taiwanese shopping behavior is often like this, especially on a hot day.

But this design does not accommodate goal directed behavior. When I visit a shopping center it’s for a very specific reason – go to the book store, or sports shops, or see a movie. I might browse within these areas but customers like myself prefer direct paths and don’t appreciate the friction that many shopping centers purposely design for. A great design would accommodate both behaviors, but would it result in increased sales?

Big City in Hsinchu has direct access to the theatre via a long escalator, but to leave requires you to use the stairs. Many instead walk through the jam packed food area.

I haven’t seen any data, but I would guess that this sub-optimal design does result in increased sales. An example of an in optimal experience being best for business.

Escalators at Thai He in Fuzhou, China


Communication, like conversation, isn’t something that we should be optimizing. Communication, whether it’s from a newspaper, a social media platform, or a search engine, is information that we should be able to explore, interrogate, and spend time with. Something that’s sadly missing today.
Did we do something wrong?

Sometimes adding friction allows for a more thoughtful and useful product.


To design for experience, we must know what an experience is and how it comes to be. Designers need to understand how interpretation takes place when people interact with products. How do people make sense and meaning of the world? How is the intent of a person shaped by an interaction, and how does the subjective interpretation of the interaction become an experience?

From my notes.


Gaining feedback on software

Gaining feedback on use

A prototype for an audio story telling app.

An iPad reading experience prototype

Early last week we had a session at a local classroom modeling future experiences and testing prototypes for software for iOS that we are working on.


The key element of an optimal experience is that it is an end in itself. Even if initially undertaken for other reasons, the activity that consumes us becomes intrinsically rewarding. … the doing is the reward.
Mihaly Csikszentmnihalyi


Modelling children educational activities

Teaching rhythms and pattern matching using popsicle sticks

Using rudimentary analog tools to model digital games

We had a short session this week to model an analog game to see if children respond enough to make it work as a digital experience. A bit like paper prototyping but with popsicle sticks. Teachers are a wealth of knowledge in this domain – they are often tasked to creatively come up with short fun activities without anything more than the basic items they have in their classrooms or homes.


Somehow, we must find again our sense of individual values, lost in this century of enormous technological advance. This very freedom that mechanical aids are giving us has welded us into unmanageable megalopolises, where people are anonymous numbers and where communication with our fellow man seems a minus quantity. We must restore the warmth and spirit we had in the smaller community. I hope that in our leisure time we will once again know our neighbor — and, if everyone knows his neighbor and learns to live with him, the entire world will be at peace.
Henry Dreyfuss, Designing for People [Dreyfuss 1955, p. 261]


Trends in UI, Interaction, & Experience Design


Back when Nokia was publishing research I looked forward to listening to Younghee Jung’s thoughts on design. Nice to see her as a part of this video.

The 18 minute “Connecting” documentary is an exploration of the future of Interaction Design and User Experience from some of the industry’s thought leaders. As the role of software is catapulting forward, Interaction Design is seen to be not only increasing in importance dramatically, but also expected to play a leading role in shaping the coming “Internet of things.” Ultimately, when the digital and physical worlds become one, humans along with technology are potentially on the path to becoming a “super organism” capable of influencing and enabling a broad spectrum of new behaviors in the world.


Or you can think of this another way, all the little details add up to create a great experience.

In an interview for the New York Times, the actor Kevin Bacon was asked about his work as a director. He said:
“To me, directing is telling a story. All day long, that’s all I do—in every single detail. Is she using a pencil, or is she using a pen? And what story do you want to tell with that? You see, you tell all these little stories in the course of a film, and then hopefully it all wraps up into one big story.”
Kevin Bacon, quoted in “As for Directing, It’s Telling a Story” by Dave Kehr, New York Times, December 30, 2003


Stories have the felicitous capacity of capturing exactly those elements that formal decision methods leave out. Logic tries to generalize, to strip the decision making from the specific context, to remove it from subjective emotions. Stories capture the context, capture the emotions. Logic generalizes, stories particularize. Logic allows one to form a detached, global judgement; story- telling allows one to take the personal point of view, to understand the particular impact the decision is apt to have on the people who will be affected by it.
Don Norman, Things That Make Us Smart [1994, p. 129]


I forget where I got this, perhaps from the Experience Economy.

A goods business charges for distinctive, tangible things.
A service business charges for the activities you perform.
An experience business charges for the feeling customers get by engaging it.


This bit of futurism from 2008 can be seen in much of the software I use.

We are going to soon carry out sports activities with our friends even when they are not in the same physical place as we are. More generally, computers will be increasingly used to persuade us to physically exercise and to make exercise more fun. At CHI 2008, Florian ‘Floyd’ Mueller and Stefan Agamanolis have organized the workshop on Exertion Interfaces which is taking place today, and I asked them four quick questions before the workshop start. Luca Chittaro: EXERTION INTERFACES. An interview with Florian ‘Floyd’ Mueller and Stefan Agamanolis


It’s not strategy

Michael Bierut, a respected visual designer, said this about luck during an interview with Adaptive Path founder Peter Merholz:

“It’s a dirty secret that much of what we admire in the design world is a byproduct not of ‘strategy’ but of common sense, taste, and luck. Some clients are too unnerved by ambiguity to accept this and create gargantuan superstructures of bullshit to provide a sense of security.”

From Mental Models by Indi Young


Experience Design is a team sport

Anyone can design experiences, the difficulty lies in designing and creating great user experiences – the latter requires a variety of disciplines and skills. This can prove difficult as we see departments and disciplines fighting over ownership of the ‘customer experience’ from design and IT through to marketing and branding. But designing great experiences is a team sport requiring responsive rugby squads rather than process driven relay teams. In this presentation Leslie will discuss why UX teams should look beyond the obvious UX players and create cross-departmental rugby teams.


Paper vs. Pixels: Print and Digital Experiences are Complementary

The spatial memories seem to translate into more immersive reading and stronger comprehension. A recent experiment conducted with young readers in Norway found that, with both expository and narrative works, people who read from a printed page understand a text better than those who read the same material on a screen. The findings are consistent with a series of other studies on the process of reading. “We know from empirical and theoretical research that having a good spatial mental representation of the physical layout of the text supports reading comprehension,” wrote the Norwegian researchers. They suggested that the ability of print readers to “see as well as tactilely feel the spatial extension and physical dimensions” of an entire text likely played a role in their superior comprehension.

Paper vs. Pixel.


A Chiang Mai massage as a narrative for experience design

I was in Chiang Mai on vacation and had planned on visiting my favourite spa in the evening after a day of walking. I called the spa at about 1pm and was greeted with a friendly voice who spoke great English. I enquired about having an appointment that night and she said that it would be no problem and that she would have someone pick me up at my guest house and take me to the spa. That way I would save the trouble of finding a tuk-tuk or taxi.
A driver arrived at the guest house at about 8pm and drove me to the spa which was about a 10 minute drive away. I opened the door and entered the spa where I was greeted by a beautiful young lady wearing traditional Thai costume, who invited me to have a seat and served me tea. All the while making small talk and continuously showing the smile which Thailand is so famous for.
At this point I began to notice the environment of the waiting area. The furniture was comfortable, the room temperature was cool ( a contrast to the night air), the lighting was dimmed, the decore itself could be described as Thai. modern with warm earthen colours. The environment was designed to put you at ease.
My masseuse came out about 5 minutes later and greeted me with a ‘wai’ and asked me to please follow her to where she was going to give me the massage. At this point we were walking through a small secluded garden, it was dark outside and because the sky was cloudy there were not a lot of stars. Along the pathway there were lit candles guiding the way and you could smell the subtle scent of jasmine in the air. At the end of the pathway was a small, covered area, quite secluded and quiet and lit only by candlelight.
My masseuse asked me to please have a seat while she poured me a fresh cup of tea and turned on some very light relaxing music. Always speaking in very soft, soothing tones she preceded to give me a wonderful massage. During this massage, a very light rain started to fall, creating an interesting cascade of sound on the leaves in the garden further enhancing the overall experience.
At the end of the massage, the greeter came out to the massage area with an umbrella and took the masseuse and I back into the small building that housed the waiting area. I then paid a very reasonable fee and was given a drive back to my guest house where I preceded to have the best sleep of my life.
I like to use longer versions of this story to help illustrate how we can create wonderful experiences for our customers and though a leap this can translate to both online and offline interactions.
Creating a quality experience is conscious, not accidental. It can be designed, architected, engineered, crafted. Attention to detail is essential, as is empathy to your customer.
Experiences have an attraction, engagement, and a conclusion. They have a beginning, middle, and an end much like the experience I related above.
The spa in this story has long since closed. Great experience design unfortunately doesn’t always translate into long term business success. I met the proprietor, Khun Kitima, by chance at a Bangkok restaurant years ago and she stated that she was opening a ‘eco-friendly’ range of guest houses in the North. I haven’t looked them up yet but if they are anything like her spa, which was frequented by Angelina Jolie no less, it would be a worthwhile place to stay.