What You Need to Know About “Experience Friction”

Experience Friction Blog

When we talk about well-designed, effective digital experiences, we often describe them as being “frictionless.” At some point, you’ve probably had a friction-free experience: you went to a site, found the product you were looking for right away, added the item to your cart, breezed through checkout, and landed on an order confirmation page with a feeling of accomplishment… all in what seems like a matter of seconds. 

You’ve probably had high-friction experiences, as well: navigation that’s not intuitive, search that’s clunky and requires significant browsing or filtering in order to find a product, unclear messaging around pricing and inventory, a cumbersome checkout experience that doesn’t gracefully handle errors, and a feeling of frustration or exasperation when you finally hit the confirmation page.

There are dozens of ways that friction can be introduced or reduced in digital experiences. While it sounds like a negative thing and can often have a negative impact on conversion and user satisfaction, there are also cases where it can be used strategically as a tool for reducing user error.

Methods for Reducing Experience Friction

Emphasize key information: In order for users to easily complete their goals on your site, they need to be provided with the information that enables them to do so. Stock or inventory levels, pricing (including promotions or discounts), shipping speed, and product ratings are just a few of the most influential pieces of data that typically compel ecommerce customers to purchase. Therefore, it is imperative that these pieces of information are present, easily identified, and understandable throughout your experience.Some ways you might do this include: 

  • Using badges to call out key features (like Sale, Best Seller, New etc.) 
  • Stylized messaging to ensure that information about inventory levels, pricing, or shipping speed is perceptible. 
  • Easily-understood iconography (like stars) provides a quick way for users to evaluate products 
  • Consistent layout and alignment ensure that key information is scannable and easily digested

Depending on the products you offer and what matters most to your users, things like rich imagery, fit or sizing recommendations, or product compatibilities may be the critical details that your users need to help them convert. A strong understanding of who your users are and what they are looking for on your site can help you determine what information to prioritize, as well as where and how to do so. 

Focus on simplicity: When simplicity is prioritized in an experience’s design, it becomes less likely that unnecessary friction will be introduced. Not all simple experiences are frictionless, and not all complex ones are high-friction. However, there are certain areas where focusing on simplicity can be hugely beneficial:

  • Creating a navigation and site structure that is intuitive, jargon-free, and clear
  • Avoiding extra steps for users by ensuring the flows or processes we create are streamlined and clear
  • Not requiring more information from users than necessary 
  • Providing clear calls-to-action that guide the user 
  • Ensuring that the interactions and controls that we choose are conventional and intuitive 
  • Being intentional about the content that we display to ensure that it is valuable and actionable (e.g. product recommendations, personalization, etc.)

Explore your users’ journey: The best way to determine where harmful friction exists in your interface is to test it! Conducting user testing involves providing your users with tasks to complete. Watching them and getting their feedback helps us identify where they struggle, and is an efficient and illuminating way to identify opportunities for reducing friction. Users understand, approach, and interact with the interfaces that we create in ways that we sometimes don’t anticipate, and therefore, uncover points of friction that we might not have considered:

  • Spots where users would like more (or less) information: is the data on our product cards overwhelming them? Are they bouncing between product pages because there isn’t enough data on the cards? Do they have all of the information that they need in order to evaluate their options and make a decision? Would they benefit from contextual recommendations or content?
  • Places where they are prone to error or frustration: do users consistently struggle with successfully completing a particular checkout step? Are they having trouble selecting product options? 
  • Areas where they could benefit from contextual support: would a tooltip or contact card help them move forward or reduce confusion?
  • Considering the users device: How does their experience vary across devices? Does a mobile user encounter different friction points than a desktop user?

While getting this information directly from users is best, I would also encourage you to test entire user journeys through your site. In a typical development cycle, we focus on individual features or sections of an experience. Experiencing the full flow of your site from the perspective of your different user types can help you get a feel for places where they may unnecessary experience friction or where they would benefit from some additional friction.

Strategically Using Friction to Improve Your Experience

Friction isn’t all bad: As I mentioned earlier, while it can be problematic for your users, there are cases where friction may be necessary or beneficial to introduce. 

  • Legal necessity: Where a user must agree to terms & conditions before progressing (e.g. age limitations for a purchase, cookie tracking, etc.), then it can be necessary to introduce a little bit of friction to present the user with those conditions and acquire their consent. 
  • Error reduction: While users do not want to have to confirm every decision and action that they take on your site, identifying the areas in which users are most likely to input incorrect information, and then displaying a confirmation message to make them double-check the contents, can reduce error levels and user frustration. Verifying that users want to remove an item from their cart, encouraging them to double-check and confirm the spelling on their custom items, or requesting that they validate their address are all situations in which users (and your business) benefit from a little friction. 

The key to introducing experience friction is that its execution should be appropriate and well-designed. While error states on forms are necessary to ensure that users provide accurate and complete information, it is critical to make sure that the error messages are apparent, descriptive, and display in real-time and in context of where an error has been made. 

Get a Grip on Your Experience Friction

If you would like to identify areas where friction may be necessary or provide your users with a better experience, the User Experience team at CQL can help. Contact us today!