How easy should we make it to do things we don't want people to do?

There was an interesting discussion at UKGovCamp a few months ago. UKGC is an unofficial yearly gathering of public sector people, who chat informally about thorny issues at work.

Suppose a digital design team has to support a policy which charges people money every time they do a thing. Let's say driving a car across a bridge. There's all sorts of cool tech that you could use in order to make the payment process as simple as possible. Perhaps numberplate recognition tied to a credit card? Or a simple registration process and a push notification? Nice! Do lots of user research and make it as easy as possible. Hurrah!


What if the payment is to discourage use of the bridge. Perhaps the policy owners are worried about damage, pollution, or some other negative thing. Their goal is to reduce usage - by any means necessary.

Does that mean the team should make the process deliberately difficult?

A team might decide that it makes sense to make a service which is hard to use. No mobile-friendly page, a huge form to fill in, unrealistic timeouts, all the things designers usually fight against. Maybe even make the service break every few days?

Rather than using the monetary cost as a disincentive, the service's lack of usability could be the disincentive!!

Clip from the movie "The Producers". Leopold Bloom says "Under the right circumstances, a producer could make more money with a flop than he could with a hit."

This is, of course, a deliberately silly thought experiment. Generally speaking, Government wants to make it easy for you to give it money. And there are usually easier ways to change behaviours.

The private sector often places these sorts of barriers in place. Phone lines are "experiencing higher levels of calls than usual" and have dozens of impenetrable options because having a human answer your query is expensive. So it's hard to do.

If you've ever seen "this page looks better in the app", that's usually because the app makes more money, or was an executive's pet project. So a business puts up interstitials to prevent users from doing what they (the users) want to do.

Why do budget airlines make it so hard to do anything on their websites? Perhaps because they generate more revenue if people turn up to the airport and have to pay for seats and baggage?

Anyway, the next time you're stuck trying to complete something that should be simple, and are cursing the fools who designed the process, please remember that Hanlon's Razor is only a suggestion. Some badly designed processes are malicious.

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2 thoughts on “How easy should we make it to do things we don't want people to do?”

  1. said on

    @Edent This happens a lot. The Facebook mobile website is ugly, buggy, feature-limited & has bad UI on purpose.

    Sites hide login buttons but the sign-up button is big & colorful because they want new users but don't want you to logout (same resson why logout buttons are sometimes hard to find).

    Unsubscribe or cancel billing options are often buried in sub-sub-menus or in support menus instead of billing. 'Add to list' is a tiny link but add to cart a huge button. A pet-peeve of mine. 🙃

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