“We've got to a point in our lives now, where we've made life so easy and so frictionless that we're not even needed in our own daily experiences. We don't really need to do anything. We click a button, and an Uber arrives; you click another button, and food arrives, and we're not involved in anything at all.” Said Dr Kate Stone, whose company creates interactive print experiences, at the Drum’s SXSW Speakeasy in Austin with Karmarama.
Dr Stone, director of Novalia, is far from a Luddite but does feel as though removing too much friction can be counterproductive in that it can strip away imagination, involvement, wonder and meaning. She argues that the idea of being frictionless is designing things out of people’s lives whereas friction is something that should be designed into products to make them more memorable.
“When I come to place like SXSW, everything seems to be about a lot of impact, a lot of technology, and how clever something is and how new something is,” she said. “It's almost about showing off the attribute, and I'm much more interested in people and their reactions. I'm more interested in the footsteps that are left behind rather than feet going through the sand.”
Indeed, it’s hard not to be enchanted by the work. For example, Stone and Novalia created an engaging piece for Ikea’s Memphis store opening that leveraged the sounds of home tied into the city’s blues music tradition. She also discussed a highly-lauded and high-profile project for Pizza Hut in the UK, where pizza boxes were turned into DJ decks, and the winner of Love Island did a live set using nothing but the boxes.
Other existing and experimental projects include a Bluetooth-enabled notebook with a small piano keyboard, a book that has all of the samples of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You song and, for SXSW, a speakeasy-themed installation allowed people to touch the boards to create a wall of sound.
— Stephen Lepitak (@StephenLepitak) March 12, 2018
Getting to memorable through friction
To the layperson, these products may seem more of a curiosity, but to Stone, the whole point is to open up and reconnect people’s minds to what’s in front of them — the added friction that gives pause.
“Everything we do is full of wonder. Everything we want to create is full of wonder and full of magic,” she said.
This presents a substantial opportunity to create what Stone calls branded friction that offers a relevant sense of journey and, more importantly, wonder. Additionally, the essence of being meaningful, mindful and memorable is a consideration and three things that brands could potentially strip out due to overly-engineering the removal of friction.
“You’re more likely to remember things because there is something to remember,” noted Stone. “If nothing happened, there’s nothing to remember. How can we deliberately create friction and brand that friction with a look, with a feel, with a color, with a sound, with a smell, that something happens in some way? It has a moment, rather than mindlessly pressing a button and a light comes on. That friction is part of your journey.”
A simple example of branded friction that Stone mentions is San Pellegrino, which places a piece of foil on top of the can.
“They put friction into your journey, and you absolutely remember them. And it's meaningful,” she said. “You think, ‘Oh, the rats are not skipping over on top of my can!’ It's mindful. You're part of the journey, you're part of the thing, and it's memorable. They put friction in.”
Where the magic can happen is not steeped in more technology and less friction, but rather in what’s around and in us, especially our minds. Sharing a story about her time in the woods in Upstate New York, Stone realized that adding friction — getting to the top of a mountain, setting up a hammock in the cold — was in itself an appreciation of our own human evolution and taking our minds from one state (constant movement and stressed out) to another (more restful and contemplative).
“We've invented and created so many things that remove all of those processes from our lives, and I think is a big cause of a lot of mental health issues that we all have,” she said.
The journey of technology
Over the course of time, technology’s evolution is seen through the lens of computers. In the early years, they filled entire rooms. Later on, they occupied our desks, then our laps, pockets and now, things (i.e. - The Internet of Things). Stone believes that computers and smartphones will disappear. But what will these developments create, as technology continues to embed into humanity?
“We have a choice, are we going to create a future that looks like technical, that looks like the Jetsons where everything's really hi-tech?” asked Stone.
“I don't believe that we will. I think we'll create a future that looks more magical,” Stone argued. “So it would look more like Mary Poppins and Harry Potter because, although we long for the future — we always create our spaces and places to make things old-fashioned generally. So the future, I believe, will look more like the past than the present. And the future will be more magical than technical.”
If this is the case, then an argument for keeping some friction to keep the magic alive is one worth continuing to pursue.