Benford, S., Greenhalgh, C., Giannachi, G., Walker, B., Marshall, J., Rodden, T. Uncomfortable User Experience. Communications of the ACM. Vol 56, No 9. 2013

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CHI article on the cover of the CACM = must read.

Benford et al.’s article is about creating and utilizing uncomfortable user experiences in design. The authors derive examples and ideas from art, media and amusement parks. The main idea is that discomfort used in controlled ways can produce “entertaining, enlightening, and socially bonding cultural experiences”.

The idea of designing for discomfort is interesting. However, using discomfort outside art and amusement usage can be difficult. The authors identify four forms of discomfort and relating design tactics:

  • Visceral -> unpleasant wearables and tangibles, strenuous physicality, pain
  • Cultural -> challenging themes, culturally resonant devices
  • Control -> control to the machine, less or greater control than usual
  • Intimacy -> isolation, strangers, surveillance and voyerism

In addition to these design themes and tactics the article suggests utilizing structures from storytelling, theatre and movies to build the wanted experiences. Discomfort is not usually the experience that is the goal of the interaction/design. Instead discomfort is used as intermediate step to produce or communicate something else. As a result the discomforting part of the event or usage can and should not be too long. Discomfort is also an experience that emphasizes designers’ ethics. Important questions that the designer needs to answer to are is the discomfort justifiable in the case and how to ensure the rights of the users (i.e. right to withdraw, privacy, etc.). Authors leave the question whether uncomfortable user experiences are usable outside the domain of cultural applications open.

Posted by Petri

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