Designing Friction Into an Experience

As UX Designers we are taught, and learn, to think that friction is bad. Our mantra is 'Make it as easy as possible for the users! Make the experience intuitive.'  But how often do we pause to consider that, sometimes, friction might be a good thing?

We even have four different types of mapping diagrams to help us outline the experiences people go through (NN/g).

The question behind all this: if we make the journey frictionless then how do people ultimately grow and learn? Should we retain, or even add, friction to our designs? There are obviously some situations that may have complex requirements or deserve to be excluded from this, such as onboarding, or checking out on an ecommerce website or app. But what about in an educational context?

I suggest that the end learning state would be higher with some friction thrown in to cause a bit of struggle that cements the concepts being learned. That’s one experience. What else?

Friction can add value to experiences. With technology making tasks and connections in our lives easier, we may value those connections and tasks less. Consider a Nest thermostat versus needing to chop your own wood for heat. Which one do you value more? Why?

It's also important that we consider the differences between cognitive friction and experience friction. Cognitive friction concerns how we process and understand the UI. Experience friction is when there is a 'pain' point in the experience that challenges the person using our design to think more deeply, and ultimately come to some new insights. The above example comparing a thermostat to manual labour demonstrates how experience friction might add value. As we think about this, we should seek to cause less cognitive friction in our user interfaces, but provides some experience friction to help us grow as people.

How exactly can friction as an experience help?

  • Friction can prevent users from making bad decisions - such as confirmation dialog boxes
  • Friction can help build skills - such as education and self-improvement
  • Friction can make users feel good - add value with experience
  • Friction can improve quality - a sign-up process with intended, and the right friction, can add value to a community

What about friendships, or human connections? With a quick glance, we can easily keep up with people in our lives using social media. But is the depth of the connection the same as if we'd gone to dinner with that person? Do we have long conversations over social media? Not really.

When are designing, we should design the most effortless experience for our users first, but not forget to go back through our design and see where we can add friction to increase community engagement, stop them from making a bad decision, or help them grow as a person. As UX Designers, we do have the power to change the world, one small interaction at a time.

Julia DeBari

Julia DeBari

Julia is currently a UX Program Director at GrowthX Academy in San Francisco, CA. In the past, she has been a UX Designer and Manager for academic institutions, enterprise corporations, and smaller companies. With almost two decades of industry experience as a UX Designer for companies such as Dell, VMWare, and TripIt; and agencies like Epsilon, Razorfish, SapientNitro, and MRM McCann, Julia is known for her UX mentorship and career guidance, and her ability to enhance the culture and morale of any team she leads. She is a passionate advocate for User Experience and for education.

comments powered by Disqus