Can Good Web Design Create Joyful User Experiences? [Is Friction Good for the Soul?]

Can Good Web Design Create Joyful User Experiences? by Daniel O’Neil.

From the post:

The next revolution in web design is Joy.

Karen Holtzblatt, who is one of the creators of modern interaction design, argues that the discussion about interaction design needs to change to focus more on the idea of “Joy,”—for want of a better word—both in life and in use.

What does this look like for users of sites? Well, in short, the fundamental role of website and app designers is to help users avoid doing anything hard at all.

And yet we don’t always want things to be easy; in fact if everything is easy, the sense of accomplishment in life can be lost. Jesse Schell recently gave a talk called “Lessons in Game Design” that explores this idea. In Schell’s talk, he gives a lot of examples of people who seek out—in fact, expect—challenges in their gaming experience, even if they were not easy. Schell argues that many games cannot be good unless such challenges exist, largely because games need to appeal to the core facets of self-determination theory.

I am quite intrigued by the discussion of “friction:”


The first concept is friction. Any effort we take as human beings involves specific steps, be they throwing off the covers when we wake up to browsing a website. The feeling of fulfillment is in the stated goal or objective at that moment in time. When there is friction in the steps to achieve that goal, the effort to accomplish it increases it, but more importantly the steps are a distraction from the specific accomplishment. If, for example, I wanted to drive somewhere but I had to scrape ice off my windshield first, I would be experiencing friction. The step distracts from the objective.

Recalling Steve Newcomb’s metaphor of semantic friction between universes of discourse.

The post goes on to point out that some “friction” may not be viewed as an impediment. Can be an impediment but a particular user may not see it that way.

Makes me wonder if information systems (think large search engines and their equally inept cousins, both electronic and paper) are inefficient and generate friction on purpose?

To give their users a sense of accomplishment by wrangling a sensible answer from a complex (to an outsider) data set.

I haven’t done any due diligence on that notion but it is something I will try to follow up on.

Perhaps topic maps need to reduce “semantic friction” gradually or only in some cases. Make sure that users still feel like they are accomplishing something.

Would enabling users to contribute to a mapping or “tweeting” results to co-workers generate a sense of accomplishment? Hard to say without testing.

Certainly broadens software design parameters beyond not failing and/or becoming a software pestilence like Adobe Flash.

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