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Uncomfortable User Experience

Uncomfortable User Experience

Credit: Barry Downard

How to create and resolve discomfort for a thrilling and memorable experience.

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CACM Administrator

The following letter was published in the Letters to the Editor of the February 2014 CACM (
-- CACM Administrator

As a user experience (UX) researcher, I took note of Steve Benford et al.'s article "Uncomfortable User Experience" (Sept. 2013) on designing discomfort into users' experience with technology. I appreciated Benford et al.'s interest in the framework of Freytag's pyramid and their examples of physical experience (such as amusement park rides and breathing exercises) but was left with questions about applying these ideas to the commercial HCI, particularly the UX, realm.

I venture to say the majority of UX designers reading Communications design hardware or software, not just for entertainment but for educational and productivity purposes. In any domain, UX designers are always looking for new interaction methods on mobile devices, ways to "gamify" tasks, or unique interactions that make their brands more desirable, popular, and memorable. For me, Benford et al. started down an interesting new path but stopped short of defining a clear link between these tactics and the kind of HCI work most developers do, which is probably more cognitive than physical. Could these tactics work for us?

For example, Benford et al. reminded us of interface innovator Ben Shneiderman's guideline that the locus of control should remain with the user, suggesting "distorting this relationship" would only generate discomfort. Moreover, Benford et al.'s examples were physical: thrill ride, walking tour, performance audience member. But this would seem to have been the perfect place to explore possibilities in everyday software development. If in your next mobile app project you wanted to build in a "thrill" for user sociality or enlightenment, how would it work?

Benford et al. certainly inspired unconventional thinking, but I was left wanting acknowledgment there is a place for uncomfortable user experience in everyday products as well.

Elise Lind
Portland, OR

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