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Designing Human Experiences with Friction in Mind



R/GA London strategy director, Rachael Stets explores how to design human centric customer experiences with friction in mind

Designing Human Experiences with Friction in Mind

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines friction (from a mechanical standpoint) as a force that resists, or makes it difficult for one object to slide along the surface of another. Friction always slows and/or impedes progress.

We experience friction in the world around us every day – some of which is more useful than others. It prevents our shoes from slipping on the ground, and gamers from defeating a virtual enemy too easily. Other times, we want to reduce friction, such as that within the moving parts of a car, which can be lessened with oil.

'Good' and 'bad' types of friction are debated, scrutinised and reimagined over time across physical and digital environments – one need only look to traffic calming methods such as speed bumps, traffic lights or roundabouts that require people to change their behaviour for the safety of themselves, and those around them. More recently, new data privacy laws have spurred an endless stream of pop ups requiring people to accept cookies to read a news article, if they can get past the mobile ads encroaching 80% of the screen.

So when is it ok to have some friction – and how much is too much? How far do we take the “don’t make me think” experience design rule? When should we make people think, understand, pause, consider, evaluate, re-think, reconsider, or re-evaluate?

While the appropriate amount of friction will vary across contexts, a few principles can help inform better use of it:

  1. Higher (perceived) stakes = higher tolerance for friction
  2. Mutually beneficial friction can create long term value
  3. Avoid intense friction at the peak, or at the end of an experience

Higher (perceived) stakes = higher tolerance for friction

The amount of friction created within any given experience should correlate to the weight of the consequences of the action someone is trying to take.

For example, if someone is trying to read an article online, a single pop up informing them of cookie collection to protect their privacy will not cause significant consternation – though five ads impeding their view on top of one may. A confirmation that you want to wipe your entire hard drive has likely been a welcome feature in many instances, and a double factor authentication will be perceived as acceptable for highly sensitive client information in a workplace setting. Similarly, financial institutions such as Wells Fargo have found that when they implemented facial reading as a feature to log into their app, people perceived their accounts to be more secure if the authentication worked a little more slowly than an instantaneous confirmation (as we experience to unlock many mobile devices today).


Mutually beneficial friction can create long term value

The reason to create friction can be advantageous to the designer and the audience.

Many subscription services use this to their advantage when someone is trying to unsubscribe from a particular service, by offering a pause feature or an incentive to continue their experience. While this can work to the advantage of long term business goals, it can also benefit the audience by offering them a different experience than the one they were previously unhappy with. A more tactile example is the well-known effectiveness of the IKEA ‘diy’ model, where they tapped into a truth that people are more likely to feel invested in a given product and experience if they are involved with building or creating it with their own two hands.


Avoid intense friction at the peak, or at the end of an experience

The intensity of the friction should be considered in context of the wider experience being created.

Finally, we cannot speak about friction without acknowledging that people do not have the cognitive capacity to remember and retain every aspect and emotion they experience in any given environment. The 'peak-end rule' in experience design has long established that people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak and at its end, rather than the average of every moment combined together. This means that if you do have to introduce friction into an experience, consider how to balance it with other emotional highs, and pay particular attention to the last point of the experience as an opportunity to end on a positive note. A physical example of this can be observed in airports, where the baggage claim is positioned farther away from the gates so people spend more time walking than standing and waiting for their luggage. Similarly, the SKNRs app creates a social-sharing friendly “GOT ‘EM” image to amplify the high of securing a desired pair of shoes.

As with any experience, when designing with an audience-first mindset, it’s important to remember that the friction you are creating also exists within a wider world that is full of friction and cognitively overload. And while you cannot control the wider circumstances, you can be considerate of the intensity, benefit and context behind the friction you are creating to leave your audience with a greater peace of mind, or even an emotional high from the experience you design.

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R/GA London, Fri, 29 Jan 2021 11:43:44 GMT