Certain tasks take extra time and effort to complete. Registration for a secure service, or recovering login credentials are two good examples.

However, there is a tension between security and usability that influences the success of a design. Make it too secure, and you add too many steps and usability suffers. Make it too simple, and security is compromised.

To make better design decisions it would be helpful to understand more about the cognitive processes that are happening.

Is there any research you can recommend that will help show:

  • What influences a user to accept and complete more onerous tasks?
  • What factors contribute to abandoning a task?
  • 1
    I think "increasing security increases steps" is a myth. Shannon said the enemy knows the system: that is, the enemy knows all the steps, no matter how many there are. In well-designed systems, everything about the system is public knowledge except the key. Thus the key alone is the securing step. I think the "tension between security and usability" is not inherently a UX problem, but an indictment on the limits of how we can transmit the key (eg, because email is inherently insecure we have a key delivery bootstrapping problem).
    – bishop
    Sep 9, 2015 at 13:11
  • 1
    Notwithstanding, the technology we have is, well, all we've got. So we have to accept the limits and work within them. Great question, BTW.
    – bishop
    Sep 9, 2015 at 13:14
  • 2
    Thanks. I know that the 'increasing steps' is oversimplifying. I wanted to give an example that people could understand easily. What I'm trying to get to is - I have to take lots of things into account when I design. Security, cost of development, how it fits into the existing design or backend limitations, how maintainable it is, whether it works for the majority, whether it causes barriers for the minority. I don't design interfaces for everyone - I make choices about who I tailor for, and sometimes that makes the journey for others more difficult.
    – jackiemb
    Sep 9, 2015 at 13:30
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    I make these decisions based on instinct and experience. But I'd like to understand the science better so that these decisions are more informed.
    – jackiemb
    Sep 9, 2015 at 13:31
  • I doubt very much that you will find any users that would be 'happy' to expend more time and effort than necessary... but there would certainly be cases where they might be willing to accept that they will have to spend more time and effort than initially informed. Downloading time is a classic example of people willing to wait longer than expected (if there is enough incentive to do so anyway).
    – Michael Lai
    Sep 10, 2015 at 8:55

1 Answer 1


A user really needs some kind of incentive to continue with a rather tedious task. Incentives can be anything and brought in various forms:

  • A score meter for password strength; or even an animation to reward you
  • The value they gain from doing so (e.g. an e-book, an extended evaluation version, sneak previews, ...)
  • A tangible incentive (probably nobody that actually does this)
  • The scent for getting closer to their goal as they progress.
  • The value behind the task, or in password protection, what they're actually protecting = sensitize people about a strong password. e.g. a password for my bank account vs a password for a hamburger loving cat page.

more can be found here on SE!

People will hook off if they don't have an incentive to continue or the task itself is unforgiving (e.g. pressing back results in the loss of already entered data; unclear instructions on password safety). It could just as well be that they are overwhelmed, in such a case it isn't bad practice to guide a user towards the end by turning it into a wizard for instance. As long as the user is confident that progressing through all these hoops will get them to their goal. Additionally time will not aid, if users have to wait too long before they can continue their scent, a hook off is more and more likely. So, the time invested should reflect the value gained.


  • Thank you for the time you have taken to reply. There are some good way finding links here. I think the first link is most helpful as it directs to research papers. Some of the others are more opinion-based though. I have lots of opinions and experience as an information architect, but am looking for scientific papers
    – jackiemb
    Sep 9, 2015 at 13:37
  • 1
    I've added a link to an interesting paper, I wasn't able to read the entire thing but at a first glance, it does confirms some of the stuff. :-)
    – Xabre
    Sep 9, 2015 at 14:24

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