How to leverage friction for the success of your product

When friction in UX becomes a good thing - the mobile spoon

In product design, friction is usually the “bad guy”: a conversion killer that prevents users from getting things done and accomplishing their goals. 

Friction is that thing that causes anxiety, confuses the users, slows them down, or distracts them from doing what they originally wanted to do or what the product wants them to do. 

Friction is usually bad for business. 
Unless... it’s done intentionally...

There are situations where friction can help the product (or the business) perform better. 

Users might still feel frustrated, but “good friction” is usually something that’s planned to achieve a certain goal that is more important than good user experience. 

So when can friction be a good thing? 

Here are 6 legitimate examples (followed bu some illegitimate ones): 

1. Filtering unwanted users

Short sign-up forms lead to higher conversion rates and more users, but sometimes you just don’t want “anyone” to become a user. 

Think about early-staged products that are chasing certain early adopters, high-end products that seek for specific target users, or even products with user-generated content where quality is key. 

In such products, adding some friction to the onboarding process guarantees that only highly engaged and highly committed users will enter the gates, while spammers or occasional visitors will be kept out. 

Interesting, right?

So how do you keep the bad guys out? 

One option is to place a very long copy on top of the sign-up form explaining about the product, what it does, who is it for, and what are the rules for using it.

According to this experiment - placing a long copy on top of the sign-up form decreased conversion rate by 28%. 

Using friction in UX to filter out unwanted users - the mobile spoon

Another option is to use long sign-up forms that usually discourage low-engaged users from signing up. 

Sounds counterintuitive, right? The exact opposite of everything you read about in UX guides, but for some products, the challenge is not to bring in leads, but instead - keep low priority leads away, and a good technique to do it is to add small obstacles along the funnel and slow down the users. The ones that are really interested in your product will probably show a higher resilience to those obstacles. 

This option is often used by high-end products and services, but it can also be found in common Facebook and LinkedIn groups that use it as a screening technique. 

2. Forcing a strict policy

There are products that continue to limit the users AFTER the sign up is complete: for example, many Reddit subs are preventing users from posting new posts until they reach a certain number of comments. 

Using friction in UX to maintain a high product quality - the mobile spoon

Games do it as well: new players must go through a tedious training process of accomplishing tasks before they can join real games and challenge experienced players. 

3. Prioritizing leads

Let’s say that you have an extremely popular SAAS product that can be used by individuals or enterprise teams.

With thousands of daily visitors signing up for a trial, it’s important to distinguish between fat, juicy leads (large teams, enterprise companies), and skinny ones (single, private users). 

One option is to add a field to the sign-up form, asking for the number of users. 
It might work, but such fields tend to have a weak impact because users tend to flip through forms quickly just to get to the trial phase. 

Another option is to split (god forbid!) the CTA button into 2 buttons 😱:

Using friction in UX to force the users to pause for a second and thing - the mobile spoon

Buttons are a big thing; they are meaningful, they lead to somewhere, so having 2 of them forces the users to think, read the text, and determine what option to use. 

It creates friction, slows down the sign-up process, but in this case - it adds a necessary piece of information that can be used to prioritize the good leads and design an optimal onboarding workflow for each segment. 

If your product is serving different types of users (or different industries), you can use the same split-button technique to lead each visitor to a different section on your website that is tailored and optimized for a specific use-case. Here, again, one might argue that having a few buttons instead of one might slow down the users and create some friction, but that's the only way to make those users think for a few seconds before they hit the right button. 

4. Preventing users from making mistakes

A classic example of “good friction” is when a product adds an extra step to prevent users from making bad decisions. 

That’s usually done by showing for an extra confirmation message (such as “are you sure you want Soundwave to turn Ravage into a cassette?”) or by adding an extra click to perform an action (i.e. get into an edit mode first, and only then allow modifying or deleting a certain item). 

Users hate popups, so it’s important to use it only when significant/irreversible actions are involved and there’s no simple “undo” capability. 

Using friction in UX to slow down users and help them avoid mistakes - the mobile spoon

An extra confirmation is usually needed whenever payments are involved because that’s a highly sensitive topic for all users. Whenever money is involved, anxiety is usually higher, and simple mistakes can end up causing serious frustration, support tickets, refunds and unnecessary operational load that can all be prevented by protecting the users through the UI. 

5. Increasing users attention to details

UI defaults are a great way to simplify things and nudge users to use preferred options, but sometimes you actually want your users to stop for a moment and pay attention to the details before they move on. 

In such cases, removing those default values might actually do the trick: 

Using friction in UX to slow down users and increase their attention - the mobile spoon

Back at Missbeez, a marketplace for lifestyle services on-demand, we faced a problem where service providers were mistakenly sending offers to customers with inaccurate hours, leading to accidental appointments and unpleasant cancelations. 

We removed the default hour selection, forcing our service providers to manually select the time, and added an extra confirmation step before submitting the offer. 

This change turned a simple “one-click” action into 3-4 steps. 

Of course, some service providers complained about the new UI, but our data proved that the problem was completely gone! Removing the default hour forced the service providers to pay extra attention to the time they selected and the extra confirmation prevented accidental submissions. Talk about good friction!

6. Covering up for a problem 

Sometimes a product intentionally adds complexities to certain actions just to protect the users from encountering a certain problem in the product. It can be a performance problem, it can be an operational problem, a scalability issue, etc.

To protect the users from this problem, the UI is designed in a way that will "balance" the behavior of the users: slow them down, prevent peaks, make it harder for them to find a certain feature, whatever is required.

Here’s another example from our marketplace product: when we were facing a severe supply shortage, and many orders were left unhandled, we decided to try and boost our supply-side by forcing each service provider to send 3 offers per each order instead of one.

Of course, for our service providers it added some extra steps whenever they wanted to send an offer, but this move was not driven by UX, it was designed to minimize our own operational problem and increase liquidity in a "fake" way. 

Sometimes see a weird UI decision in a product and think to yourself “what were they thinking?!”, but often enough, product decisions are driven by limitations (technical, operational, budget-wise) and are designed to solve certain business problems by causing friction. 

A note about dark patterns

In my post about dark patterns in products, I reviewed 20 types of dark patterns and how they create friction, confuse users, and trick them into performing unplanned actions.
When the UI is designed to confuse the users, items "accidentally" sneak into the basket, unclear messages are used to distract the users, and opting out suddenly becomes an impossible task.

Keep your product respectable and professional by not using these techniques, even if at times they feel like the best way to achieve quick wins.

Read more about these UI techniques here

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Gil Bouhnick The Mobile Spoon
symons said…
In order to sell your product effectively, your product needs to be well designed, including its packaging. Product packaging is often the first thing the consumer sees about your product, and many people make purchasing decisions primarily on Product Design, especially when faced with many options. Those of us living in the First World are faced with many options most of the time. Thus, if you want people to choose your product over the products of competitors, then your should seriously consider why and how you design the packaging.
Gil Bouhnick The Mobile Spoon
Anonymous said…
Great stuff - thanks
Gil Bouhnick The Mobile Spoon
Olivia said…
Great post!