Resistance is often seen as a negative word in business and design. We try to remove resistance as much as possible to make products and services easier to use, easier to buy, and easier to opt-in. 

But resistance is a part of our human nature (or culture). We celebrate resistance, we tell stories and sing songs about it. Think back to your childhood, when you tried picking up a heavy rock (it could be a box or toy too). You bend over to pick it up (desire) and for a tiny moment you doubt you can lift it because of its weight (resistance). Then you feel some elation when you’re strong enough to lift it up, triumphing over the weight of the rock (or box or toy). 

A large part of this process is in our subconscious and lasts only for a moment. We see this process of desire – resistance – triumph in our hunter/gatherer history, man wants meat, man chases deer, man gets meat. We also see it in stories like Indiana Jones – man wants treasure, man faces peril, man gets treasure. It’s everywhere in our culture and experience, so it’s what we expect

In the digital realm, we have no resistance. We get immediate visual feedback when we tap a button on our phone screens or click a link on our PCs. Designers were so excited that they brought this smooth resistance free interaction to physical products through capacitive buttons (physical surfaces that sense when you touch them the way your smartphone screen works). We’ve mostly adapted to these smooth experiences void of resistance.  At first it felt weird, like something was missing, then UI/UX designers introduced haptics (the use of technology to simulate a sense of touch and motion) to simulate the resistance feedback we feel when we interact with physical objects.

In the physical world we not only expect resistance, but we also rely on it. When you flick a light switch you have the desire to turn on the lights, the resistance of the switch just before it flicks on, and the triumph of successfully flicking the switch is met with a metaphorical fanfare of lights coming on. Without the resistance of the switch though, we think it’s broken, or that it may turn itself back off from a slight breeze.  

The resistance of a water bottles weight and lid can tell us a lot

We rely on resistance as an important method of feedback, to know if a product is working, or if there’s a problem with our devices. Like in a bottle cap, when you buy a bottle and open it for the first time, the resistance of the seal snapping tells you, its contents weren’t tampered with. The resistance of you screwing the cap back on tells you when the bottle is closed well, and if the resistance is too little, or gets tight too soon, we immediately know there’s a problem, without needing to look at the cap. Resistance as a feedback and as part of our Desire – Resistance – Triumph story can be used well together to make a product feel wonderful to use, and by extension, more valuable to your customers.

As I said earlier, users think products are broken if their resistance is too low, but the same happens if resistance is too high. When it’s too high, products start to feel unfair, stuck and unusable. But if you can get the resistance just right for your specific user group, other products start feeling cheap, broken and unusable by comparison to yours. By adding the right amount of resistance to a product experience, you triumph in the end.