A little effort goes a long way

Why you shouldn’t optimize the pain away

Josh Clement

Trigger warning: Quite a few Crossfit references

This should be software. Or should it?

Crossfit is all about results. Times, reps, weights. Coaches will remind members to add their results into an app, usually Wodify. This helps to track your progress.

Instead of using my phone, which I rarely bring to class, I’ll often use the ‘gym’ calculator to figure out how much weight I lifted. I’ll then plug that score into my profile.

It’s a pretty clunky experience in 2017. The designer in me wants to intervene. To improve.

There’s a feature here. Put it on a roadmap. Remove friction. Increase score input per member. Increase retention. More money.

And hell, in terms of features, building a simple calculator is about as low-hanging as fixing a typo. It’s not hard to implement and bundle with next release.

But it made me wonder, how much of Crossfit, or any gym class can software eat?

Intangibles can’t be quantified. By definition they slip through the gaps.

But as software makers, we must consider them as integral components of the end to end experience.

At it’s best, software can recreate these real things.

Matt Levine of Bloomberg View argues that simulacrum is a central product of the modern technology industry: Facebook Inc.’s business, after all, is creating the perception that you are maintaining meaningful friendships with hundreds of people while you are actually, through the miracle of technology, clicking icons on a screen.

At it’s worst, software sucks the blood out. All that’s left is something that’s not only unreal, but doesn’t even feel real.

Intangibles don’t have to be easy, fun or positive like a high-five or fist bump from a coach. They can be tough. And that’s where I think our calculator fits in.

In Crossfit, it could be lactic acid building up in your muscles or the loud clang of bumper plates hitting the floor. Tidying up equipment. An embarrassing ‘question of the day’ or the whip of the skipping rope on your shins.

I believe making users work a bit harder, adding a degree of difficulty, or at least feel like it, can add a lot of value to your product experience. Think of these barriers as placebos.

Rory Sutherland elaborates: “There has to be a borderline pain threshold thing…some grit in the oyster…for that placebo effect to really work.” Other well known examples include the “nasty taste” of Red Bull or Ikea’s insane purchase journey.

As software designers and builders, it’s natural to see everything as an optimization problem. Racing to iron out the ‘kinks’ is not the solution.

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