1. Introduction: What I set out to do
During my time at Hyper Island, I stopped counting how many times I heard the word « frictionless ». Every industry leader, guest speaker, student, had to mention it when talking about a successful project or what the product we were building should look like. I was taken by the hype at first: it is not difficult to grasp why frictionless is a good thing. It is about making people’s life simpler, easier, more efficient. It is about giving them the time to do what is meaningful for them by removing obstacles on their way and making the unimportant choices for them. After all we were calling ourselves human centered designers, user’s advocates. We were on a quest to make the world a better place and it had to start by relieving our users from pain and effort.
“Less is more”
Putting simplicity in the center of our design was an obvious choice as I had been educated with Mies van der Rohe’s motto « Less is more » and as I had chosen to leave France and its beauty-first philosophy for the appeal of functionalist Sweden. Sweden that lives by Dieter Rams principle « good design is as little design as possible » (Klemp, 2010). I had loved John Maeda’s book, The Laws of Simplicity, demonstrating how simplicity was the key to good products and services. I had admired Don Norman explaining how design has failed when a need for a push or pull label on a door arises (Norman, 1998). I had enjoyed the fricitonlessness of paying taxes to the Swedish state. However, the concert started to sound monotonous, the slightest bit repetitive. As the months past, I felt a lack of counter voice:
Does everyone really agree on this matter? Is there nobody to defend a need for frictions? Are they really that bad?
So I set out for this research with the desire to explore both sides equally. First, the current trend of frictionless design in both the interaction and the service design worlds. Looking out for the origins of the movement, its wider philosophical implications and trying to grasp the intrinsic limits it is carrying within itself. Also reflecting on the opportuneness of the possible futures that those designs are drawing out for us over the next decades. Secondly, the notion of friction. Of course looking at what designers mean when they talk about friction in a product or a service. But also looking into what friction means in the physical world, what the psychological, societal and sociological aspects of it are. I aimed to research both on the benefits they can bring as well as their limits.
Looking for productive frictions
In order to do so, I looked into the existing body of academic research as well as recent industry sources. A series of interviews were conducted with industry professionals from different fields, to understand their opinion of frictions and their experience using them or enduring them. I wondered if there is actually such a thing as productive frictions: a friction that would be positive for the users, our clients and, consequently, us, designers. And if there is such a thing, then whether we could consider it as a tool in our design process rather than an obstacle as today’s frictionless cult implies. To be able to test those hypothesis, I built prototypes of tools and workshops, studying whether they were confirming or disproving them. The results of these I will share in the following chapters.
Read next —3. What is actually a friction?
Norman, D.A. (1988) The design of everyday things. United States: Tantor Media.
Ueki-Polet, K. and Klemp, K. (eds.) (2010) Less and more: The design ethos of Dieter Rams. 2nd edn. Berlin: Die Gestalten Verlag.