CX Insights

Using Friction to Improve the User Experience

4 min read

Yep, friction, you read that correctly.

Most marketers, including myself, are guilty of prioritizing words like ‘seamless’ and ‘effortless’ when it comes to describing the ideal user experience (UX). But, what if this isn’t what our users desire?

Think about it.

People love feeling accomplished. We love to Instagram our culinary creations, to take on projects from our DIY Pinterest boards, not to mention the immense satisfaction that comes with assembling an IKEA furniture haul.

The psychology

There are several cases that explain this logic of accomplishment. One of the most well-known is Betty Crocker’s instant cake mix and the case of the guilty American housewife.

user friction

Back in the 1950s, General Mills launched a line of Betty Crocker instant cake mixes. With the intention of saving consumers time and effort, the only instruction was to add water to the pre-packaged dry ingredients.

Surprisingly, sales were disappointing. People were resisting this supposedly hassle-free product, so Mills brought in a team of psychologists to uncover why.

It turned out that, despite its convenience, the product made the average American housewife feel guilty. Psychology Today reports, “It saved so much time and effort when compared with the traditional cake baking routine that they felt they were deceiving their husbands and guests. In fact, the cake tasted so good that people thought women were spending hours baking.”

So, Mill revised the product – ironically making it less convenient. By relaunching with the simple instruction to add both water and one egg, sales of the Betty Crocker instant cake mix soared.

So, now we know that why users like to feel accomplished, but how can this impact conversion?

Friction can prevent users from making mistakes

One way to introduce friction into the customer journey is by adding a confirmation notification. A popup or modal window may initially frustrate the user, but if adding one more step to their journey prevents them from making a mistake then they’ll appreciate it in the long run.

friction in UX

By asking for confirmation before sending out an email, this example of friction from Hubspot uses clear yet playful copy to inform the user there is ‘no turning back’. Instead of feeling frustrated, the user is aware of the full impact of their actions and can avoid any slip ups.

Another great example is the Amazon app. In the interface of the app, the call-to-action (CTA) to place an order requires a swipe gesture (as opposed to a tap of a button), because it’s easier to accidentally tap a button than it is to accidentally swipe one. Again, a temporary moment of friction for the user saves a lot of potential frustration further down the line.

Friction can lead to better quality leads

It may seem logical to make sure your product or service is as easy to use as possible, but by adding a slight roadblock you can actually encourage better quality leads.

As Nick Babich points out, “friction can be helpful for sites where users generate the content.” Just look at the relatively lengthy process of uploading a deal to Groupon or advertising accommodation on Airbnb. The extra friction a user encounters ensures that both platforms provide a good quality service.

user friction

Another example is Product Hunt. By having an approval process in place for contributors, the site filters out spam and creates a trustworthy community. What might begin as friction for the user actually curates a better experience for them.

Friction can encourage conversion

A personal frustration of mine can often be found on travel websites, where the provider will continue to advertise hotels or flights that have just sold out and are no longer available. However, although it drives me crazy to have ‘missed out’ on these deals, I do find myself hurrying to secure the next best option instead of perhaps taking the time to research and converting elsewhere.

Alongside this, another (less orthodox) use of friction is to encourage conversion by shaming users. Think about unsubscribing from promotional emails and there being an option to ‘not unsubscribe’ or being encouraged to simply receive less frequent emails instead of none at all.

friction UX

The same can be found when it comes to subscribing to email newsletters. However, I think Esquire is a brand that implements this friction quite well. The magazine uses playful copy to poke fun at users who decide not to leave their details. The friction here encourages conversion yet still delights the user in the process.

And there we have it. It may have a bad reputation, but introducing a little friction into your UX can actually have a positive impact for both you and your users.

Have you experimented with user friction and seen some interesting results? Let us know in the comments or shoot us a tweet @usabilla.

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Robyn Collinge
As Usabilla's Copywriter, Robyn brings nice words together - like peanut butter, napping, and Sunday brunch.