In user experience, friction is defined as interactions that inhibit people from intuitively and painlessly achieving their goals within a digital interface. Friction is a major problem because it leads to bouncing, reduces conversions, and frustrates would-be customers to the point of abandoning their tasks. Today, the most successful digital experiences have emerged out of focusing on reducing friction in the user journey, including Pinterest, Uber, Mailbox, and Tinder. Spotify recently introduced a new Touch preview feature that leverages tap, hold and swipe gestures to reduce friction in discovering and liking songs. The strategic design decisions these companies have made have exponentially accelerated user adoption and engagement.
In fact, a seamless, frictionless user experience has now become the new standard: the minimum to be relevant in the fast-paced world of technology. Gartner predicts that with ongoing competition there will be a more rapid change in user experience innovation over the next five years than in the previous 25 years. Mastering the art of reducing friction through a combination of design and engineering creates a significant competitive advantage, especially when driving early user adoption and growth. It can be pivotal in the success of a technology company.
Here are some important developments accelerating the design of frictionless products:
Development #1: The Evolution of Interaction Design Research
Designing a product with a full user journey in mind is important in order to pinpoint where friction is helpful and where it is harmful to both user and business goals.. Combining advanced qualitative and quantitative user research methods allow for a deeper understanding of users. The first step is understanding the breadth of tools and methods available – below is a mapping of valuable technologies and methods that have become increasingly accessible with the growth of the Internet and proliferation of SaaS.
While tools and methodologies can be robust sources of user data, the availability of data requires an even more sophisticated understanding of how to balance and integrate different methods in order to extract relevant and actionable insights. Every step in the journey, from sign-up to search, can either create or remove friction and impact the success of the overall product. Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz outlines key methods for analyzing user behavior. In order to strategically measure and optimize for overall business goals, Lean Analytics suggests prioritizing and focusing on metrics that matter. In an example by Croll during a Google Ventures talk, he emphasizes the importance of fully understanding the steps involved in a user journey and removing any steps that can negatively impact response rate.
Integrating research methods to develop sophisticated hybrid models of interaction research will give companies who value design a significant competitive advantage. Data science teams are continuing to grow in importance by designing predictive algorithms for user behavior, allowing product experiences to be further optimized. For example, LinkedIn’s User Experience Design (UED) Research team uses a design and product development process that integrates behavioral data, real-time metrics, and predictive models. Focusing on identifying new insights to reduce friction and improve the user journey will lead to significant results for companies willing to invest in the process.
Development #2: The Introduction Of New Surfaces and Interactions
New surfaces, objects, and screens that provide seamless, frictionless user experiences are emerging, expanding beyond the screens of today, such as computers, tablets, and phones. For example, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year, Bang & Olufsen revealed the BeoSound Moment: a new tablet-based music system with a wood case that is actually touch sensitive, making it the first wooden, touch-sensitive product on the market and leading the way for more materials and surfaces to become interactive.
While haptic technology is not new, its role in facilitating frictionless experiences has been limited thus far. However, more responsive technologies that reduce friction by relying more on touch, movement, and gestures are growing in popularity, especially as wearables become a new point of interaction.
A big barrier for haptic technology has been real-time accuracy. Many companies have found ways to improve accuracy so that haptics can sync with digital experiences, especially in gaming. Apple recently announced an innovative “digital crown” as a context-optimized input method, integrating a “taptic engine” to deliver physical sensations to your wrist.
The surfaces of 3-D objects are now becoming new user interfaces as well. The interfaces of the future will reduce friction by eliminating our reliance on traditional monitors and keyboards, as touch, gestures, and voice technology are becoming more and more advanced. New technologies have sophisticated multi-touch capabilities and interactive software that promotes multi-user collaboration. As John Underkoffler, the CEO of Oblong explains in his TED talk, “One thing that three-dimensional interactions and the general idea of imbuing computation with space affords you is a final destruction of that unfortunate one-to-one pairing between human beings and computers. That’s the old way, that’s the old mantra: one machine, one human, one mouse, one screen. Well, that doesn’t really cut it anymore.”
The future of UX will involve simulating physics by tracking head, body and eyes in order to design intuitive 3-D interfaces and corresponding immersive environments as part of the design of the user journey.
Leap Motion recently released an interaction engine, which is the the beginning of a toolkit built to support developers working with physics-based interactions. The interaction engine features magnetic anchors that can be applied to digital objects, allowing for interactions where objects are magnetically drawn to the hand based on proximity to anchor points within the digital space. Apple is also investing in virtual reality, specifically in gaming applications.
Development #3: The Flattening of Walls and Emergence of New Systems
The friction that exists in the current “app ecosystem” is becoming increasingly unsustainable as home screens on smartphones grow cluttered with more and more apps. The trend of unbundling of existing apps — such as Google Drive separating into a suite of apps including Sheets, Docs, and Slides — has pressured companies “to go back to the drawing board and figure out what is important to the user.” According to Dan Grover, “Every app has accumulated more and more features seemingly unrelated to their ostensible purpose.” This has contributed to an increasingly fragmented mobile experience, rife with friction as users pop in and out of different apps littering their home screens.
While mobile deep-linking, or using a uniform resource identifier (URI) to link to a specific location within an app is an attempt to reduce that friction by directing users in between app experiences, it is a band-aid rather than a cure. One of deep-linkings shortcomings, as described by Nate Hindman, is “If a user doesn’t have an app installed, and you deep-link them into that app, then they’re either sent to the mobile web or to an app store download page. Bouncing someone from app to web is a poor user experience, and sending them to an app store download page is totally removed from the user’s intent: ‘I don’t want to download another app, I just want to buy those shoes.’” Talk about friction!
For now a variety of startups, including DeepLink, are tackling deep-linking as the first steps towards improving user experience on mobile. Startups like Wildcard, Quixey and Button are even working on improving mobile search by using UI cards, revealing a vulnerability for tech behemoths like Apple and Google. Quixey is another startup with ambitions to create a search bar in your smartphone, making it possible to search both a relevant location within an app or search result outside of an app in order to reduce the friction of users having to manually find and input information in a smattering of apps on their smartphones.
From the invention of the wheel to the evolution of virtual reality, people have been striving to reduce friction since the beginning of time. Advanced user research methods and more sophisticated tools, the emergence of new surfaces, and the evolution of a more integrated app ecosystem all emerge out of this fundamental need to reduce friction. By focusing on strategically reducing friction, companies can stay at the forefront of the ever-evolving landscape of user experience design.