High-Friction Products

Written by Published in Product Design, Product Management
My Ayurveda Doc is a delightfully irascible octogenarian. Although I’ve known him well for the last 3 years, I shudder to open my mouth in front of him. And so whenever I recommend him to my friends, I ensure that I coach them first before they get ready to manage his anger in their first visit.

When I think about my love for my Ayurvedic doc, and other amazing people who are largely unapproachable, I see an interesting heuristic.

In an age of information abundance, unapproachability is a useful gatekeeper to weed out the non-serious from the serious. The more unapproachable you are, the easier it becomes for you to find the right people who truly value what you bring.”

Call this the Collaboration Paradox, if you will.

The more doors you build to invite others towards you, the less sought-after you become.

I often use this high-friction heuristic to evaluate doctors and professionals whose services I consider important. The more customer friendly a hospital or a doctor is, the louder my warning bells ring about the doctor’s efficacy. I know, it sounds idiosyncratic.

Think about it.

When friction-less design is pervasive, products with high friction are going to be very useful to sift the wheat from the chaff.

Here is another product management example from an Indian Kitchen.

If you venture to cook in a middle-class Indian kitchen, you will likely see these for cutting vegetables

a) A beautiful looking Chef knife, if you are well to do.


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b) An ugly looking badass kitchen tool Arivaalmanai ( Tamil) or Boti ( বঁটি) in Bengali

High friction product

Given a choice, which one would you instinctively pick up to cook?

Say, you want to build a new product, you can build them in two kinds.

a) Chef-knife like low-friction products. Very simple UI. Even a child can pick it up at first instance and start using it. Think of Slack or Base Camp or LinkedIn.

b) Arivaalmanai-like high-friction products. Don’t be deceived by Arivaalmanai’s simple UI. Its usability is low for a good reason. You need hours of practice before you can start using them to cut vegetables.

Once you start using them, your efficiency in cutting the vegetables grows exponentially at scale.

Think of Stata statistical software used by Nate Silver or Vim Editor used by few of my developer friends. These complex products are used and mastered by pros for a good reason. Once mastered, these products deliver exponential returns.

When you are a young and inexperienced product manager, you start assuming that all products should be like chef-knife. I made this rookie mistake, back in the early days.

Today, I know better.

You have to know the mindset of the users, and the domain in which they are going to use the tool to solve the problem they find it valuable. For a long time, I used to crib about SAP’s menacing user experience, or for that matter, Tally software’s archaic user experience, whenever I encounter them in my client meetings.

Today, I am able to appreciate that although it comes with high cognitive load, its comprehensiveness brings it an air of importance to those SAP exerts users inside an organization. When Agri-Input Retailers hire Accounting graduates to use Tally Software, its menacing user experience makes it easier for Accountants to mark their territory through Tally Software.

I’m beginning to appreciate high-friction products and my mind is excited by the prospect of designing them. What have you discovered about high-friction products?

Have you come across this unapproachability heuristic in any other situations?

This article was originally published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/high-friction-products-venkataraman-ramachandran/

About the Author:

Venky works as a Product Manager in iConcept, a vertical Agtech startup, based out of Hyderabad, India. 

He is also the co-founder of Mandram, a non-profit initiative to bring native languages into the modern discourse.

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