How to increase your user base: Make your product less engaging

Design, Development/Tech, Experience, Interaction Design, UX

In my previous post What’s wrong with wearable tech? I touched on how technology must be unobtrusive in order to integrate seamlessly in to people’s lives. Now I’m looking at the emerging trend of ‘Slippy’ UX. The phrase was first coined by Jake Zukowski,who explored how the design of automobile interfaces should provide an unobtrusive experience in UX in Automobiles: Balancing effective UI design & driver safety.

Currently, the aim of most designers is to create immersive, engaging experiences that keep us interested. We refer to this as “Sticky” UX. The problem with this is that it requires a large proportion of our attention, which limits our ability to interact with anything else (For more information relating to our capacity for attention, read Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman). To get around the problem, we often find ourselves rapidly switching focus between our device and reality, resulting in a poor overall experience of everything. Slippy UX is the opposite of this: Design that requires minimal attention so that the user can focus on whatever else it is that they’re doing.

‘Slippy’ UX

Slippy UX is effortless to interact with, runs almost entirely in the background and requires minimal mental effort. It is the key to integrating technology further in to our everyday lives. Today’s applications include attention-critical situations such as driving, flying and combat* as well as disturbance-free situations such as managing the temperature of your home. Tomorrow’s applications could include enhancements to live performance, law enforcement and even simple conversation.

Effortless, subconscious interactions

Real world examples of Slippy UX are everywhere, but are most frequently found on the road where attention is most scarce. Traffic signals are Slippy: Red for stop, amber for caution and green for go. Ask yourself: When was the last time you had to put some serious mental effort in to decoding the meaning of a green light?

In the below concept I explore Slippy UX in one of its typical applications: A car stereo. The concept minimises distraction from the road by making use of as much System 1 Thinking as possible, through the use of colour (reds and greens are avoided in an attempt to minimise any clashes with traffic signals). The concept also uses very large tap regions to allow for less precise gestures to successfully control the system. Swipe to go left and right and tap to go up or down.

Although not included in this concept, additional interaction layers in the form of multi-touch gestures could be used to control variables like volume and balance. Apple designer Matthaeus Krenn explores this in more beautiful detail with his blog piece A new car UI.

Attention scarcity

So what does this mean for digital marketing? Let’s start by imagining an economy in which attention is the currency and utility is the product, where we exchange moments of our attention for utility: Just like a real economic transaction, we are more likely to choose products that require the least attention and offer us the greatest utility in return. Now let’s look to a future where technology is integrated in to many more aspects of our lives: Our capacity for attention is the same, but there are many more products requiring it, making our attention currency all the more scarce. In this environment, an investment in a Slippy experience would be a more rational choice than a Sticky one, provided they both offered the same utility.

How do we create a Slippy experience?

Quite simply, we must offer more utility for less attention. Some good principles to follow are:

  • Design for brief moments of attention
  • Don’t distract unless absolutely necessary
  • Only display the most distilled, essential content
  • Express context in a clear and understandable way
  • Simplify interactions e.g. Just use left, right, yes and no with big tap regions

These principles could immediately translate to lighter design, less but more concise copy and simpler, more automated user journeys. Looking deeper, however, we must empathise with our customers, give them exactly and only what they need and ask for no effort in return. This thinking must not only apply to our marketing material, but also to the products/services we offer.

The good news

Although consumers will be paying less attention, there will be more opportunities to get your product, and therefore your brand, in front of them. This is because the reduced cognitive effort required of a Slippy experience means it can be interacted with in a wider range of environments. Note how in the above concept there is still a company logo in the top right, allowing a brand to have a presence in a situation that it would not normally have access to.

All we need now is a better name…

“Slippy” is good because it is the metaphorical antithesis of “Sticky”, but there must be a less tactile (and less gross) way to describe these concepts! Any ideas?

Any other comments, or good real life examples – tweet me!

Rory Watts recently joined RMA as Senior Interaction Designer

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* As an entertaining side note, the US military prefer to describe Slippy as KITFA – “Keep it the F@#k Away”, which helps summarise the principles behind it.