Designed Inconveniences: UX Patterns That Can’t Be Taught

When you enter Uniqlo’s NYC Iconic Store on 5th Avenue, the first thing you notice is the three huge escalators that take you to the top and main level of the store.

At first sight, there’s nothing special or interesting about the escalators or the general layout of the store. However, if you observe for a couple of minutes, you’ll start seeing some intriguing dynamics.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here is one:

So what’s going on here?

For starters, retail spaces are heavily optimized to increase foot traffic and sales. There’s no secret in that.

The interesting part is that usually, those patterns are subtle and hard to detect. In this case, Uniqlo was rather bold and made a statement with those escalators: “For every 2 customers in, one or less can go out”.

This is what I like to call a “Designed Inconvenience.” A type of user experience pattern (usually frustrating or not optimal) indirectly controls a user flow and impacts a decision-making process. Designed Inconveniences are usually created to favor a business rule or business-centric goal.

These escalators are a clear example of a Designed Inconvenience. Here are some perceived facts about them:

  1. The two escalators on the sides handle the inbound foot traffic, while the escalator in the middle handles the outbound foot traffic. “2x in, 1x out. That’s my kind of math.”

  2. When customers enter the store, they have to decide which escalator to take. Usually, they would take the least crowded one. Since the escalators are always moving constantly, there’s almost no congestion when taking an escalator up.

  3. Inbound escalators are closer to other display areas of the retail space. This increases the chances of customers seeing products they might want to buy later.

  4. Outbound foot traffic has only one escalator. Since that escalator sits between the two inbound escalators, the visibility of products while leaving is highly decreased. “If you’re leaving… leave soon”.

  5. Unlike the inbound escalators, the outbound escalator would get some congestion. This usually pushes people to find alternative exits. “While you find another exit (if you do), go and buy another jacket.”

  6. If you make the two most left (or two most right) escalators inbound and keep the right (or left) one as an outbound escalator, that would highly increase the traffic to that side of the store.

  7. If you make all the escalators outbound, that will push all the inbound traffic to the mezzanines in the sides.

These escalators provide a great user experience for incoming customers and a not-so-great user experience for leaving customers. By doing this, Uniqlo is increasing their customer traffic and the time spent by each customer inside their store. Ultimately this would result in more sales.

Designed Inconveniences in Software

Designed Inconveniences are very common in software design. If you don’t believe me, try to log out from any of your favorite apps. You would find out that doing so it’s a little bit harder than what you expect.

This pattern became very popular when consumer technology companies realized that allowing users to log out was hurting their ability to push services and provide a more streamlined experience. So they buried the log-out button somewhere where you would rarely check.

However, Designed Inconveniences in software go way beyond hiding buttons or preferences. Here is a list of common and recent Designed Inconveniences in Mobile and Web Apps:

  • Facebook launches a wide network notification when someone starts live streaming. This a Designed Inconvenience to promote and get traction for one of their newest features.

  • YouTube has a default setting that auto-plays to the next related video without user intervention. This Designed Inconvenience increases user engagement and time spent on the website, which would ultimately translate into more time spent watching ads.

  • Amazon tries to lock you in the checkout gateway once you hit that view. When trying to move back to the home (by clicking the navbar logo), you will be encouraged to stay and finalize the checkout or return to the cart where you would likely see related products and advertisements for credit cards with sign-on bonuses. This is a Designed Inconvenience to increase conversion rates and decrease cart abandonment.

  • Spotify pauses an ad when you turn the volume down, and then it resumes the ad when you turn the volume back to an audible level. This is a Designed Inconvenience to preserve the integrity of the ads that partially finance Spotify’s business.

Designed Inconveniences vs. Deceptive UX Patterns

Designing against the user is something that you can’t teach. There’s no formal training or program in the world that would teach you how to create patterns that would degrade the final user experience of a product in favor of a for-profit goal. In fact, this is the opposite of modern design practices that are heavily influenced by user-centric approaches.

However, it’s important to note a big difference between a Designed Inconvenience and a Deceptive UX Pattern.

A Deceptive UX Pattern is an unethical method or mechanic that forces users through an unexpected path to later profit from them. They range from small UI distortions to complex ploys that trick users into thinking they would get something out of their performing process.

In contrast, a Designed Inconvenience is simply a design choice that can annoy users but rarely hurt them.

Companies like Facebook provide free services that depend on how well their monetized layer works. Sometimes to preserve the business viability of an idea, it’s necessary to expose users to unpleasant patterns and flows. Good UX Designers should always try to mitigate the UX impact of these patterns by bringing extra value in other product areas.

The best user experience is the one that balances business and user goals with subtle harmony.

Final Thoughts

you can’t teach the process of designing an “inconvenience” in a formal context, but it’s important to be always mindful of the necessary balance between business and user goals. A good and profitable user experience is better than an excellent user experience that is unprofitable.

If you are tasked to design an “inconvenience,” always try to find ways to mitigate its impact by being transparent with your users and allowing them to have a clear understanding of their usage alternatives (including the paid alternatives, like premium versions that remove the inconvenience).

Also, if you’re tasked to design a Deceptive UX Pattern, do yourself a favor and find a new job.