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The greens have been replaced by oranges, the normal hues vaporized in the smoke that has choked so much of the West in this season of wildfire. The West, of course, is no stranger to fire. Natives and newcomers alike grow accustomed to our annual apocalypse of flame.

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In many places, for days on end the sky has been enveloped in haze, the sun reduced to a hot, distant penny. The heat contributes to the fires, then the smoke gets trapped.

The smoke makes the very air we breathe toxic. At one point last month, the air quality in the Seattle region was likened to that of Beijing at its worst, a threat to the old and the young, and those with respiratory problems.

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Also terrifying is how the smoke has twisted the light. With the ordinary palette of the world turned upside down, the familiar has become disorienting. Usual comforts seem unsettling and uncanny. Normally I go to the woods for retreat, for contemplation and invigoration. But the forest has become alien with all of the smoke. In the Pacific Northwest during the zenith of the British Columbia fires, it was as if a cinematographer had put a red lens on the camera.

The evergreens went matte, while the rust-colored trunks of madrone trees were poppingly visible from hundreds of yards away. The cedar trunks were nearly pulsating with color. In Northern California during the Labor Day heat wave, the woods were changed, too. Fortunately, we have a suite of user research methodologies ranging from behavioral and attitudinal to qualitative and quantitative to help identify them.


File:Where there's smoke there's fire by Russell Patterson crop.jpg

But which ones work best? Well, there is no silver bullet to killing off pain points. Generally, an integration of these methodologies applied constantly over time can help build out the customer journey and identify the pain points to address. And, as more and more data are uncovered, sophisticated data analytics, predictive modeling, and AI capabilities can then be applied to further optimize the customer journey.

The journey is always different. Customers and the journeys they take constantly changes over time requiring continual monitoring. A major driver of these changes is, of course, technology. As it evolves, the journey evolves. Swipe, tap, hover, and other touch interactions enhanced how we interact. Gesture interactions have taken touch into 3D space. And, the rise in sophistication of voice technology eliminated the pain point of keying in information.

Bio-metrics are also creating experiences customized or relevant to the specific customer. A side benefit of these interactions is they also make them more human and humane creating emotional connections and experiences. The application of these real and emotional human interactions will help break down the pain and the friction that occurs as customers attempt to interact with a flat 2D interface. The world is multi-dimensional, and our interactions and experiences should be as well.

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Spark joy, not friction. It is not surprising that Marie Kondo and her cult of tidying up has taken over our lives with such sweet fervor. The evil partner of friction is clutter. We have bloated screens and apps. We have over-integration of features. We have a jungle of links to navigate.

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These do not spark joy. Joy is what we seek in our interactions. Joy is the reason we will return for more. Joy is the ultimate journey. Removing clutter also aligns with one of the foundational tenets of modern design — simplification.

HPI 31 - Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire - Gautama’s Nyaya-Sutra

But friction is not all bad. Sometimes friction is a good tool to use for slowing down the customer to ensure data is entered correctly, terms are acknowledged, or destructive interactions are clearly understood. Customers tend to ignore friction if they are ultimately getting what they want. Like relationships, if we have built up enough investment and value in them, we tend to ignore the dirty dishes of the experience. Friction and pain points are not going to go away. We need to constantly identify, refine, and optimize to eliminate pain and friction along the customer journey.

We can also use friction as a catalyst for innovation. Identify the hot spots and use them as opportunities to improve the experience. In our inter-connected digital world, this requires a constant, multi-disciplinary focus on friction to create positive, emotional experiences for our customers.

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