Before I expand on my UX evolution post, I wanted to get these thoughts out.
Off late, I’ve become very interested in the concept of forcing functions as behavioral modifiers. Forcing functions are different than constraints but just like constraints are applicable to all aspects of life (or design). These are not things that make you weigh the pros and cons or help you combine options to create new realties- these are things that force you to take an action in order to proceed or achieve an outcome. Like you have to press a button to operate the fan. And you have to plug in the fan in order for it work in the first place. There are no choices there. And that has an effect on our behavior. Pushing physical buttons is not natural behavior. But its a forcing function that has modified our behavior- its the first thing we check if the fan is not working, for instance.
Most experiences we design revolve around things like reducing friction, error prevention, alternative paths & flows, recovery paths, messaging and communication, fail safes, reducing taps/clicks etc. We need to pay more attention to something more basic in terms of forcing functions. Time, money, physical environment etc are all great forcing functions. Of course their effectiveness on the user depends on how strong the value proposition is but the leverage they give in designing with constraints can be tremendous.
Here’s how a forcing function would work- say I want to understand what clothes a customer in a store takes in to a fitting room. Customer has shown intent in to entering the fitting room. The value to her has been established. The forcing function is her physical environment- she cannot suddenly decide to try on these clothes in a virtual environment, she must use the fitting room in the store that she is physically present in. To be more specific, she must open and close a fitting room door in order to use it. The opening and closing of the door cannot be skipped- which means it becomes a forcing function. Can we leverage that interaction to solve the problem of understanding what clothes she’s entering the fitting room with? I believe good design can achieve that.
Forcing functions are not easy to identify, they require careful observation and a deep understanding of offered value. They help minimize user action and choice. If leveraged properly they can also modify behavior in the long term. But once identified, designers need to use them more often instead of designing around or within the constraints.