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A Special Interest Group on Designed and Engineered Friction in Interaction

We’re part of a group (Sandy J.J. Gould, Lewis L. Chuang, Ioanna Iacovides, Diego Garaialde, Marta E. Cecchinato, Benjamin R. Cowan, Anna L. Cox) running a special interest group meeting at CHI2021 on the idea of adding ‘friction’ to interactions. Most of the time designers and engineers try to make interactions with technology less effortful. Frictions are about doing the opposite in order to change the way people interact with something.


Human-computer interactions are implicitly designed to be smooth and efficient. The implicit objective is to enhance performance, improve safety, and promote satisfaction of use. Few designers would intentionally create systems that induce frustration or are inefficient or evendangerous. Nonetheless, optimizing usability can lead to automatic and thoughtless behaviour. In other words, an over-optimization of performance and satisfaction could imply or encourage behaviours that compromises individual users and their communities.

Frictions —changes to an interaction to make it more taxing in some way— are one potential solution to the risks of over-optimisation and over-proceduralisation. The content warnings placed on social media posts on platforms like Facebook and Twitter are an example of a a friction. These frictions have been added in response to particularly ‘risky’ scenarios, where, for instance, widespread misinformation may significantly influence democratic processes. Twitter, for instance, added friction to the process of ‘retweeting’ (i.e., relaying a message to other users) for certain messages. If a user tried to retweet a message containing a link without having opened the link then Twitter would produce an interstitial dialog asking users if they wanted to read the link before retweeting (Andrew Hutchinson 2020).

In the short proposal we submitted, we consider the perspectives of different academic disciplines’ accounts (and usages) of tensions between automatic and deliberate behaviour. We explore the limits on theoretical frameworks that can plausibly describe the mechanism of designed frictions. Following this, we enumerate some effective designs for intentional frictions in human-computer interactions, identify abstract principles from their real-world use, and expand on how they could be generalized for innovations in designed frictions. Finally, we hope to address how current practices for evaluating usability can be modified to consider the potential costs of automatic behaviour and how they could be mitigated with designed frictions.

Open Questions

There a number of open questions about the use of frictions. One of the goals of the SIG is to determine which are most pressing. As we see it, the most important questions about frictions are:

  • What kinds of interactional contexts are frictions most suited to?
  • What are the most effective ways to get people to switch to a slower, more deliberative way of thinking?
  • How quickly do people become habituated to frictions, and how do we manage and/or mitigate the effects of friction habituation?
  • Should we be focusing on changing people’s behaviour instead of steering them with frictions?
  • How do we calibrate frictions so that they give people space to think, but are not excessively frustrating or negative to user experience?

To find out more go to https://www.sjjg.uk/frictions-sig/

Sabbatical week 5: going dark

Switching off, going dark, saying no.  These are all phrases that relate to good advice about how to get things done, or more to the point, how to avoid being distracted and concentrate on the things you want or need to work on.  This week I’m trying to carve out time by switching off email and avoiding other forms of digital communications so I can concentrate on the huge pile of tasks I have to get through.  This thing is that I’m finding it really difficult.  I mean *really* difficult. 

  I started off by deciding that I was going to take my own advice and try a once-a-day email strategy (Bradley, Brumby, Cox and Bird (2013) How to Manage Your Inbox: Is a Once a Day Strategy Best?).  I even scheduled it in my day.  Inspired by a blog post by Think Productive’s Graham Alcott (http://www.thinkproductive.co.uk/the-lemon-routine-rhythm/) I decided to dedicate the morning to important tasks , check email at lunchtime, and then use the afternoons for more communal activities such as meetings. 

  Just 24hours in and it all went wrong when I had to check my email first thing as was expecting to receive a file from a colleague which I needed to work on.  As the 47 emails piled into my inbox I found it impossible to ignore them. 

  I’d successfully ignored them the previous night when doing the same thing.  That time I’d used the snooze function in my GTD outlook add-in that enables you to snooze a message until the following day.  But this time the snooze button didn’t seem appropriate.  I didn’t want every email from yesterday to disappear until tomorrow.  So it sat there in my inbox, looking at me, and it was all of 3 minutes before I started going through it (I like to keep my inbox at zero).  90 minutes later I had answered emails, added things to my to-do list, and deleted a whole bunch.  What I hadn’t done was work on the document I had been waiting for!!