Harmonising Security and Usability

Harmonising Security and Usability

How can we strike the perfect harmony between usability and security in app design?

Cherokee Mahoney
0 min read
July 4, 2023

The modern digital landscape presents an intriguing paradox. On one hand, the user is king. Designers must strive to provide seamless, intuitive experiences, ensuring users can navigate with ease and efficiency. On the other hand, the spectre of data breaches and cybercrime looms large. Users are increasingly aware of the value and vulnerability of their personal data, prompting an emphasis on robust security measures that can sometimes clash with the goal of smooth usability.

A recent collaboration with a client’s data protection team put our balancing skills to the test. They were ardent advocates for stringent security protocols, suggesting 2FA (Two-Factor Authentication) for every login and ten-minute session timeouts. Together, we orchestrated a symphony of user-friendliness and robust data protection, striking a resonance that we consider a melody of success.

So, how can we strike the perfect harmony between usability and security in app design? The solution lies in keeping our users at the centre of the process, prioritising their needs and experiences while ensuring their data remains safe. However, it’s important to remember that this is not a static process but a dynamic balancing act. It involves continual adaptation, learning, and innovation as technology, user behaviours, and security threats evolve.

Before we delve into how to find this sweet spot, let’s look at the potential pitfalls at each end of the spectrum.

Extreme Scenarios — An Eye-Opener

On the usability extreme, we can sometimes become so engrossed in designing a slick user experience that we inadvertently overlook the critical aspect of security. For instance, the infamous 2014 Snapchat security breach offers a cautionary tale. Hackers exploited a weakness in the app’s API, resulting in the leak of personal data from 4.6 million users. Undoubtedly, neither the users whose data was compromised nor Snapchat, which suffered a significant blow to its reputation, desired this outcome.

On the flip side, an overzealous focus on security can make user experiences feel like navigating a maze full of dead-ends. Multiple passwords, two-factor authentication, and a series of security questions can leave users frustrated and more likely to seek out alternatives that offer a more user-friendly approach.

Striking the Right Chord — Balancing Usability and Security

The quest for an app that is both secure and pleasant to use requires us to consider several key approaches.

Embrace User-Friendly Authentication

While the traditional username and password system is a standard in mobile app login security, it’s time we broaden our horizons. It’s the 21st century, and we have an array of more user-friendly options at our disposal, like biometrics (fingerprint or facial recognition) or single sign-on (SSO) systems, which allow users to access multiple services using one set of credentials.

Adopt Adaptive Security

Adaptive security measures, like risk-based authentication, offer an excellent means to strike a balance. This approach assesses the risk level of each login attempt and adjusts security steps accordingly. For instance, if someone tries to log in from a new device or location, they might be prompted to complete extra authentication steps.

Promote Robust Password Practices

Educating users about the significance of strong, unique passwords can bolster security without complicating things. By providing tools like password generators and secure storage options or simple tips, we can encourage users to adopt better password habits. This approach places some responsibility on the user, underscoring the mutual goal of data security.

Simplify Security Measures

By continually reviewing and updating security measures, we can eliminate unnecessary steps and enhance the user experience. It’s critical to stay abreast of emerging security options as technology evolves and hackers devise new strategies. Opt for more modern and user-friendly security measures, or consider refining two-factor authentication processes to be less of a headache, such as allowing users to choose their device.

The Conductor’s Guide — Steps to Discovering the Sweet Spot

Finding the balance between usability and security is a bit like being an orchestra conductor. It requires careful planning, perfect timing, and harmonising different elements to create a symphony that resonates with the audience — our users. Here’s a step-by-step guide to exploring this sweet spot.

Step 1 — Understand Your User

Before designing or refining your app, spend time understanding your user. Research their preferences, understand their tech literacy level, and identify what they value most. This understanding will provide a solid foundation for balancing usability and security.

Step 2 — Collaborate and Consult

Involve your data protection team from the early stages. Their expertise can guide you to build strong security measures while keeping user experience in mind.

Step 3 — Test and Iterate

Use prototyping and testing to identify potential usability and security pitfalls. Feedback from users is invaluable in refining the balance.

Step 4 — Educate Your Users

Finally, part of your role involves educating users about their responsibility in maintaining their own security. Use your platform to teach about strong password habits, the importance of security updates, and more.


In the end, orchestrating a user-centred design that harmonises security and usability is not a one-size-fits-all process. It’s an ongoing concert, evolving with changes in technology, security threats, and user behaviour.

When we put our users at the heart of the process, striking the right chord between security and usability becomes not just a goal but a journey. We evolve with our users, adapt to their changing needs, and continue to innovate to provide an enjoyable and secure digital journey. Let’s make our users the symphony’s maestros, ensuring their digital experience is secure, user-friendly, and above all, music to their ears.


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