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Digital Interface Design and Power: Friction, Threshold, Transition

Lookup NU author(s): Dr James Ash, Dr Rachel Gordon, Dr Philip Langley



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Sage Publications Ltd., 2018.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


This paper draws upon the example of High-Cost-Short Term Credit (HCSTC) products accessed via digital interfaces and devices to examine practices of interface design and the operation of digitally mediated power. Utilising interviews with HCSTC website designers and users of these products, the paper shows how these interfaces are designed and tested to manage frictions: practical, affective or emotional blocks that interrupt or stop users from applying for these products and entering into credit and debt. We suggest that the key role of interface design is to manage these frictions by guiding action in such a way to minimise intentional or propositional thought and negative affective states at key thresholds of the application process. The management of friction is enabled by practices of data driven design, where the contingency of human response is engineered through analytics in order to increase rates of application. Working through the example of HCSTC, the paper complicates a notion of control as a smooth or automatic operation of power, instead emphasising the necessity of both continuity and discontinuity as key to modulating action in a digital age. To understand the specificity of interface interactions and move beyond existing work on control, we offer a vocabulary of friction, thresholds, and transitions.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Ash J, Anderson B, Gordon R, Langley P

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Year: 2018

Volume: 36

Issue: 6

Pages: 1136-1153

Print publication date: 01/12/2018

Online publication date: 13/04/2018

Acceptance date: 24/02/2018

Date deposited: 20/03/2018

ISSN (print): 0263-7758

ISSN (electronic): 1472-3433

Publisher: Sage Publications Ltd.


DOI: 10.1177/0263775818767426


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