news details type

Examining meaningful friction in UX design: 3 keys to creating deliberate points of friction

Clyde Zhang

December 11, 2023

In today’s persistent pursuit of efficiency and simplicity, we often overlook the importance of user experience friction when interacting with products or services. We should acknowledge the preference for a frictionless user experience, yet it’s also important to recognize the exceptions to this rule.

Contrary to the saying, the customer isn’t always right. While some designers feel that eliminating friction will result in a seamless user experience, too little friction can be just as detrimental. Sometimes, a little friction is “just right” to improve the user experience.

What is good friction, and how does it differ from bad friction in client interactions? Good friction is a point along the path to a goal that provides individuals with the agency and autonomy to improve their decision-making rather than having decisions made for them through automation.

Though it may sound contradictory, friction can actually lead to better user outcomes. With that in mind, some UX designers now routinely advocate for including friction in particular experiences. These advocates see friction as a necessary evil we should embrace in intelligent UX design.

How Does ‘Meaningful Friction’ Enhance the User Experience?

Simply put, meaningful friction refers to deliberate challenges or obstacles that increase engagement, require consumer commitment, and provide enormous value to customer experience and brand reputation. This crucial friction can look different in various stages of the customer journey. 

The intertwining of UX design and cybersecurity is becoming increasingly important as designers seek to balance a seamless user experience with the necessity of maintaining a secure digital environment. For example, many companies (including Google and Amazon) encourage customers to enable two-factor authentication when logging into any device or account. 2FA offers a safe way to access cloud-based apps and services and protects against cybersecurity threats. Crucially, no extra degree of defense would exist without this UX design cybersecurity friction point.

The presence of friction in UX design also encourages exploration and discovery. Airbnb lacks a comprehensive “sort by” tool, forcing clients to explore different listings by flipping through pages. This slight lack of convenience turns the experience of locating ideal accommodations into more of an adventure than a transaction. 

Meaningful friction can produce a more satisfying and ritualistic experience; think of conventional safety razors, manual coffee grinders, or vinyl record players. They’re not merely hipster fads but engaging, hands-on products that allow users to concentrate on and enjoy the product’s experience. Adding friction to important rituals draws attention to things we’ve taken for granted for far too long. 

Friction can also create a sense of community among users. Remember when the Apple Magic Mouse lacked a right-click button by default? This eliminated crucial functions, but it garnered a cult following. 

For instructional products, friction can increase positive end results. In other words, a sense of accomplishment is enticing to individuals after they’ve put time and effort into something because it helps them feel smart, tough, and capable. Think about the last time you put a piece of IKEA furniture together; the pride (and relief) you feel after finishing the task is often greater than the amount of work you put in.

When applied properly, friction can be a very effective UX design tool to enhance or emphasize parts of the user experience. So, how do companies determine where and how to apply that friction?

Strategies for Including Beneficial Friction Points in User Experience

UX friction points ensure that consumers are given thorough consideration of their options, testing various possibilities based on user demands, and a clear understanding of the consequences of their decisions. It may also improve the customer journey by involving users in more deliberation or better experience co-creation; the key is understanding how to introduce meaningful friction to customers.

  1. Understand the customer experience.

Savvy companies should focus on building a journey map to visualize a customer’s experience with their brands. This planning is important because it requires companies to consider how clients perceive brands instead of how they believe clients do. By building a map and incorporating customer feedback about each step on the journey, companies can better meet clients’ expectations.

Finding where consumers are in their journey establishes the foundation for meaningful relationships and effective business outcomes so companies can pinpoint where to introduce those frictional points.

  1. Delve deeper into user goals and the positive role of friction.

Friction can be beneficial when companies need to spend time with clients to better understand their demands and unique experiences; the same goes for UX. Customer service interactions that gather more data insights than typical Net Promoter Scores may improve customer experiences beyond the transaction touchpoint, which will add value rather than just absorb it.

It’s essential and beneficial to gather research on what consumers hope to achieve with a brand, where they are currently experiencing difficulties, and what immediate competitors are doing. Direct input from target visitors on what annoys or hampers them on websites will put companies in a better position to determine whether friction could give a valuable solution.

  1. Test out those friction points.

Not all friction is good friction, so what can companies do to determine what’s what? In the case of design friction, user testing is critical to determining if friction points successfully address or exacerbate problems.

To start, it helps to understand the user’s experience of the product and whether design friction has helped or hindered it so far. When UX experts ask users to undertake certain activities, they can see whether users reach the outcome they were looking for and gain valuable data.

Friction gets a bad reputation because it sometimes feels frustrating, but it’s not inherently bad. Like any design tool, friction should be used in the right context. This can effectively create better and more rewarding user experiences. Like any challenge in life, smartly placed friction points are valuable opportunities for learning, connection, and self-satisfaction. Let customers work for it a little more; brands may just find they’re better off.

news details separator

Similar stories