Creative Studio


A blog about design, user experience, startups and everything in between.

Stress moment design


For some time now I have been thinking of this idea that you can judge a product if it is good, bad or does its job if it resists a “stress moment”. Stress moments are part of our daily lives and are unpredictable. They are a pile of moments and events that add up and at one moment of the day they may explode at the same time and get you into panic mode or simply break you down. Imagine you are in a conference call trying to figure out how to send a file via the new Skype interface and then suddenly your colleague spills a cup of coffee on you and then your phone starts to ring, and the dog brought into office starts barking, and all of this at the same time. This is what I call a stress moment.

It is crucial to test your products or services for this kind of moments. Why? Because micro interactions have the ability to create a first or a lasting impression & feeling about your product. It may change someone’s opinion about your brand, it may lose or win you a customer who had good intentions, it may cost you as a bad review that drops the sales and many other bad things or good things.

Many products that are present on the market are poorly designed and built. There are multiple reasons for why they are poorly designed and usually, it is either time constraint, budget, neglecting the user or simply bureaucracy in a company. I will try to show you how users really interact with your product, and why it is important to take into consideration this kind of moments when introducing new features or products.


3 tram stations and a modular phone test

I worked once in a startup and we shared the office building with a phone company that manufactures modular phones. They proud themselves with building ethical and sustainable phones that can be recycled. They do not use child labor and all their mining workers are paid a fair price. From one point you would think “hey this is a great cause and we should all buy this kind of phones because it has a purpose and helps people and can change the world”. But if we leave that aside and focus on the product itself, I would like to show you how it failed a stress moment.

I was going home after work and waiting for my tram. When it arrived, I got inside and took a seat across a guy who was unpacking a new phone he just received. The tram had to go 3 more stops before everyone leaving it. It takes on average 5–10 minutes to arrive at its destination. As a designer, I was enjoying this moment. Why? Because it’s always interesting to watch and see how people interact with a product for the first meanwhile nobody can see it or judge them. From his face, I could see he was very excited. By accident, he was unpacking the phone of that specific company I just mentioned above and the first thought I had in mind was: “Well, well, well, what do we have here. Let’s see how it works out” (I said this in my mind with the voice of Tim Roth from Hateful Eight.) min 1:15


He got the phone out and took all the papers aside. The excitement level on his face was increasing with every breath. After a brief moment, he got his old phone out and extracted the sim card in order to start using his new phone. I could see he just couldn’t wait to start using his new product, the guy was in heaven of excitement.

The tram was already at the second station so we got 5 minutes more to get to the final destination. He starts figuring out how to open his modular and ethically built phone. He tries one side than another. He tries to pull the back cover in and out. Nothing happens. Then at one moment, he figures out how to open it. Gladly he thought his challenge ended, but not so fast cowboy. “Where the hell should I insert the sim card?” He flips that phone, looks for the slot, can’t find it, then he accidentally takes a part of the phone out. Why? Because it’s freaking modular. At the same time, the tram is slowly arriving at the ending point and the guy starts to hurry up because he wants to finish the job before he gets out.

He tried multiple things and still could not fit that part back. But at one moment it clicks and he could eventually place it back. The tram arrives at the destination and people start getting out. A moment of tension increases and you could see how his blood starts circulating even faster. Seeing that he can’t insert a sim card into his new phone he angrily throws the new phone into the backpack, takes his old phone out, opens the back, inserts the sim, closes the back and gets out of the tram.

That was, what I call, “you fucked up” moment of a company. That company had every chance to prove to that guy that not only he got a great product but it’s amazingly easy to use. He could be proud when getting out and give the first call to his mom or girlfriend about “Hey I just got this phone and it is amazing”. But no, they fucked up. Bad. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is called UX under stress moments.

These type of moments are authentic and they can prove if a product is really good or not. And it can happen to anyone at any place. At home, kids are screaming and you try to fill out a form which is confusing as hell. At work, you are in a rush to a very important meeting with a potential client and you can’t figure out how to replace an image in Keynote. Or you want to take a picture with a celebrity but your phone freezes and he leaves. This kind of events is a testing moment of truth. It’s a moment when the customer will either fell in love with your brand or will open a space in his heart for your competitor.

Great products are made for stress moments

In one of my recent episodes of the podcast, I had the pleasure to speak with JD Hooge, CCO of Instrument, a well known and respected digital brand and experience company. When I asked him what is the definition of a great product he said that:

A great product anticipates what you need and is one step ahead of you. It also gets out of its own way and has a wink, 10% of surprise and delight that makes it feel more human and less technological.

And the funny thing is that if your product or service fails at the most basic things, how can you expect it to create a positive feeling about it? In the phone company case, it failed to do a basic task, change a sim card, and they expect it to create a further positive feeling?

How to test your product for stress moments?

I personally use the “Bathroom Test” when I want to see if a feature works fine or it’s clear enough for someone to take an action. So for example when you see a colleague going to bathroom ask him to stop for a couple of seconds and ask him to perform a certain task you want to test. And trust me, in that moment specific moment the last thing he will be thinking about is your feature, cool color or amazing copy. The only thing he will want to do is perform the task as fast as possible and get out. If he fails to perform it, then you have your answer.

These moments may appear at any time. So, for example, I want to use an app and want to fill in a form, but at the same time the mailman is at the door ringing, your wife yells something at you from the next room, your dog is barking because of the ringing door and you just want to fill in the God damn form which you can’t understand why it gives you an error and what is wrong with it. After a growing tension in your brain, you give up, close the app/website and go and open the door. When you come back, you do not care about the app anymore and continue your daily routine. So you can’t really predict it, but you can always be ready and test something under most crazy situations you can imagine.