Make life difficult, intentionally.

This week’s article, I wrote with a lot of excitement!! Why? Because of what it is based upon. So, sometime back, the internet showed me an awesome post at wired about designing products with a little bit of “difficulty of use” in them; yea you read that right! It was not a typo or a mistake.

Implementing “Difficulty of use”; this phrase goes against everything I’ve learnt and have been taught about designing products till date.

“How could that make sense? Why would someone do that? What rationale could it possibly have?”

I wondered about it for a few seconds, prepped my inner designer to be overwhelmed by some form of radical thought and fortunately, I WAS NOT DISAPPOINTED. This article gave me a whole new perspective on product design.

Without prolonging the suspense any further, I’ll give you the link to the article. Click here. It is aptly titled “WHY WE SHOULD DESIGN SOME THINGS TO BE DIFFICULT TO USE”.

Please read that article and then get back to reading the rest of this post. Well, for those people who don’t have the time (or patience) to read that article now, I’ll try to condense it to a few lines. Here goes: People like challenges, at-least sub-consciously. As designers, it is up to us to incorporate some amount of difficulty in products to make it challenging to use. If not, it gets boring soon. It is the challenge in learning to use a product combined with a fitting reward upon using it successfully that makes a product dear to heart. It is this class of products that we try to retain and cherish.

To sum it up, here are a couple of quotes from that article which I found extremely useful, and I now regard the first of these two quotes much as a design philosophy.

“When you design the possibility of mastery into an object, you’re designing a happier life for your users.”

“If you make an activity safer, people push the limits of that activity to bring the risk back up to a level they find accessible. Take driving. Put ABS brakes in a car, and people just tend to brake later, and less. Traction control just makes us less careful in slippery conditions.”

Analysis and reflection

Everything the article said, I whole-heartedly agree with. It does make a lot of sense, especially that I’ve taken the time to think about it and a few example cases where it has been true. I’d like to discuss three successful implementations of “Difficulty of use”. These examples are from personal experience and so, are subjective. You might think differently, but I think the following examples do prove that the article holds some truth and is worth keeping in mind while designing the next greatest thing.

Example #1

Driving a Hyundai i20 Vs driving a VW Passat.

                               i20      passat

Hyundai i20: 1.2L, Turbocharged Diesel, 5 speed manual, top speed reached : 125 kmph

VW Passat:    2.0L, Turbocharged Diesel, 6 speed DSG, top speed reached : 185 kmph

(If you were wondering, the i20 is no where close in power or smoothness to the Passat!)

The car I’ve enjoyed driving more is, surprisingly, the smaller, less powerful i20. Why? Because of the manual transmission. I’ve always enjoyed using a manual transmission so much more than an automatic, but never understood the reason. That is, until I read this article; then it all made sense. The challenge of mastering a manual transmission, the scope for mastery and the feeling of exclusivity, being one of the few people who could shift that stick at THE optimum time without revving the engine or without braking the engine when the clutch is released. Not everyone can do this correctly and this made me love manual transmissions even more.

Well, I have to admit that I did derive some pleasure with releasing the clutch all of a sudden, simultaneously flooring the accelerator which resulted in that sudden acceleration and sometimes, the un-intended wheel-spin!

Example #2

android     ios

Using Android Vs using iOS.

I have never liked iOS, especially iOS 6 and before. iOS 7 and up, after the flatter UI make-over, are better. At the same time, I’ve always been a fan of android, right from android 2.X. There was something in Android that attracted me from back then, and I did not know why.

Well, now I do. iOS is extremely simple to use. In-fact, it is so simple that I could begin using it like a pro in the matter of a few minutes. There is no provision to customize anything apart from the wallpaper, ringtone and app icon arrangement. No themes, icon packs, font changes, LED color customizations, in-built sensor’s application customization etc. All of the above are possible in an android device, and android is easy to use as well, though not as easy as iOS. This makes it pretty accessible, while maintaining a large scope for mastering the Operating System. Android has nothing to complain about in its appearance either. If you don’t like something, there is nearly always a way to change it. This flexibility and the need to learn to change it is what attracted me and millions of others to android!

Example #3

osx      windows

People shifting and sticking to Mac’s OS X.

I was a long time Windows user, and finally took the leap to the OS X ship in 2011. I’ve never looked back since and have never regretted the decision. (Maybe I will when its time to upgrade to a new MacBook Pro, haha!). So why do people stick on to OS X after using windows for so long? Specifically, what made me stay with Mac when I hated iOS? After all, both are made by the same company right? Well, the reasons are, again as you might have guessed, the scope to master  this new Operating System. Unlike iOS, OS X had a lot of new things for me to learn, and I’m still finding new features in it after all these years. This keeps OS X interesting. This is apart from the fact that it is easier to use and looks better than Windows. (Subjective, I know).

I think these examples would’ve driven home the point that incorporating a little bit of difficulty into our products, whether physical or digital, could increase customer satisfaction, hence sales and profits!

“Ease of use encourages somebody to pick up your product. But the promise of mastery ensures that they will never want to put it down.”

Try to think of some devices, apps or softwares that you’ve liked, but did not know why. Try to find out if this phenomena could be responsible for that experience. I found thinking about it to be very interesting and hope that you do too! If you do find something, drop a comment or an email! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

– Cheers!

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