Designing for speed or friction
Google hosted a panel discussion on these topics regarding designing for speed and the need to think about slowing down an experience.
NOTE: This article was inspired by a conversation I had with Adrienne Porter Felt, Software Engineer and Lead at Google Chrome, for our YouTube series “Designer vs. Developer”. You can also listen to a longer version of the conversation by downloading or subscribing to our podcast on iTunes or Google Play Music.
I have argued in the past about designing for speed and hacking user perception. I feel it is essential to employ several design devices to help reassure a user — or person — that something is happening. Alternatively, at the very least, let them know how long something could take, so you give them the freedom to choose whether to continue in an experience or not. Hacking user perception is all about giving the user control over their own decision making.
Designing for fast experiences and making tasks more comfortable and quicker have great results, for example making website forms autocomplete information, we see users complete them up to 30% faster. Which is great for them and great for web makers, however designing fast all the time might not always be the way to go.
A few weeks back Google hosted a panel, where we proposed a motion “Should designers design for speed or friction?” and discussed the cultural, social and ethical factors that influence decision making between these two extremes. By friction, what we mean is deliberately designing something that forces a user to complete a task slowly. One of the panelists, Sven Laqua, presented his ideas on the subject by producing this guide on speed and friction
The idea is when you are designing a task or a flow, you pin a process that you think needs to be fast and low friction, like a signup form. Adversely, if you are designing for someone’s tax return, then you would probably want to slow the user down so they can take their time and give them the opportunity to be thoughtful in their decision making.
So when designing a flow, using this graph as a guide would help designers break down each thing into this matrix, then employ some of the user perception techniques to make the experience delightful.
“If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain.”
Everyone in history apparently
On the panel, we also spoke about ethics and the responsibility of the designer. Sometimes designers create things without realization of consequence to other industries. For example, the rise of Uber has meant a decline in Bangladeshi chefs and waiting staff in London. This is because the perceived freedom the “gig economy” offers makes traditional jobs less appealing, so restaurant workers are opting to become drivers or delivery workers. For the designer creating new experiences that disrupt their industries, these can and do have a knock-on effect. So should we begin slowing ourselves down and debate if we should do something? We ask “How might we”? However, should we also be asking “Why should we?”. A lot of this has to do with privilege, and the freedom designers feel they have. We all want a seat at the table, which probably explains why there are so many chairs in design museums around the world. However, can we afford that freedom? What is the cost to our careers? Being a young idealist is great but once one has responsibilities does the ethical decision-making switch to “if I don’t do this I won’t be able to feed my family.”s
Designing disruption is something I have always had personal issues with, partly because I am British and culturally disrupting is rude. The overexcited boldness of wanting change without thinking about consequence seems problematic. However, everything is contextual, using the guide above we can argue the case for being fast or slow, disruptive or conscious with a person’s environment and still have enough restaurants to eat at.
Special thanks to the Google UX Community & Culture team for organising the panel; Jens Riegelsberger, Matt Jones, Andy Matlock Smritee Maingi, Lizzy Oliver Joanna Kowalczyk, Georgina Hetherington, Joe Williams & Leti Taylor.
Also thank you to the speakers;
Nick Wilson, Alejandra Obregon, James Williams, Chris Downs & Sven Laqua
You can learn more about UX design at Web Fundamentals.