Friction in journaling

We’re building an app called Sound Off. It allows you to record journal entries using your voice. My co-founders Rory and Elly have written lots about the benefits of keeping a voice journal, and the psychological principles behind it.

But to me, the biggest benefit of audio journaling, from a product/app development perspective, is that it reduces friction.

Friction in the world of user experience (UX) is defined as:

…interactions that inhibit people from intuitively and painlessly achieving their goals within a digital interface

Usually, discussions about reducing friction are centred within the digital world. ‘Creating a frictionless experience’ refers to making an app, that is initially difficult to use, slightly easier to use. This is done by extensive usability testing, seeing where users trip up, making changes to fix it, and testing it again to confirmed its worked. Changes often focus on readjusting layouts, re-ordering options, moving button placement, and so on.

(Sometimes, it can also be a good thing to re-introduce friction. One recent example is Twitter’s choice to flag and hide misinformation tweeted by President Trump.)

With Sound Off, however, we’re making a ‘greenfield’ app, so there are no earlier versions to compare to. Instead, we’re trying to reduce friction when compared to keeping a physical journal.

We all know that journaling can help our all-round wellbeing. In fact, just recently, The Guardian, in association with the UK Government, listed it as the second-best way to maintain wellbeing over winter. But getting started journaling is really hard: you have to find the right notebook, find the right pen, and think about syntax and punctuation and vocabulary.

Audio journaling removes the need for all that and means you can get started quickly and easily.

In light, of reducing friction, here are three key elements we knew we had to have in our app.

1. Jump Straight In #

Writing a journal by hand gives you a ton of time to faff. Am I in the right place? Should I go sit in a coffee shop? Which pen should I use? Is it time to start a new notebook?

We want to cut out all that faff and get you straight into audio journaling. So our app opens ready-to-record, with one press of a button, so you can talk out loud through what’s on your mind.

2. No Recording Indicator #

When writing in a journal, you’re always under a small amount of pressure: you can see what you’ve written previously, you can judge your handwriting, you can keep looking back at your spelling and punctuation and grammar.

We want to take away all this pressure. So when you record, there’s no red light or microphone icon, to tell you you’re on the spot. There’s also no timer to show how long you’ve been going for…

3. Voice Feedback #

…however, you do still need the confidence that your voice is being recorded and saved successfully. So, instead, we have auditory feedback displayed on the screen. This is like the visualisations you might see in music apps. But instead of jagged shapes or soundwaves, we’ve got a series of calming concentric circles, that expand in response to the volume you’re speaking at.

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