Friction’s Hidden Cost and Simple Solution

Online, friction is that extra click to find what you’re looking for, the confusing registration flow or the slideshow that requires a new version of SliverLight to run. At the office, it’s the unnecessary meeting, time consuming paperwork or the communication breakdown that stops momentum and derails the project. No matter how minor it may seem, even the smallest point of friction can have a major impact on our overall success and happiness.

Friction is insidious. It pops up everywhere and as a result, it’s become too easy to dismiss as no big deal. After all, it’s just one more click, one tiny extra step, one insignificant form. How much can one click really hurt? The reality, however, is that all of these little extra nuisances compound quickly and create big problems.

Unchecked friction equals time and energy lost, frustration and diminishing returns. It can drive users away just as easily as it can kill company momentum. Losing a visitor and potential sale from your website because of a single extra click is criminal. Sapping the energy of a talented designer with a weekly TPS report is equally damning. Like a figurative “Whack-A-Mole” game, it’s imperative that we approach our design with the goal of smacking friction down - keeping vigilant in efforts to eliminate it wherever it rears its ugly head.

So what does this kind of vigilance look like? As industrial design legend, Dieter Rams, once said, “Good design is as little as possible.” Whether in design or company policy, in the fight against friction, simplicity wins. The simpler and more intuitive the process, the better the results, whether on the Web or at the office.

Recognizing friction is only half the battle. We have to follow through to eliminate it. This can be as easy as decreasing the number of clicks a user must make to complete a task, or instituting a company-wide system like 15Five, that takes the friction out of employee reporting, making it more likely for everyone to do theirs.

The companies that recognize and reduce friction find success. They’re worth learning from and emulating. Take page speed and it’s impact on user behavior. Studies have shown, for instance, that a one second delay in page load time can result in a 7% drop in conversion rate. That’s why sites like Amazon and Google benchmark against page speed as a point of friction. Slower pages mean fewer purchases and fewer searches. One second can seem trivial. It’s just one second, right? But it has a exponential impact when it scales. One second, across millions of users costs a lot of money in lost purchases and ads served.

Google knows that speed is critical to eliminating friction on the Web, it’s why they use it in their search algorithms; faster sites get ranked higher than slow ones. At digital-telepathy, we use pageless design to remove the disjunct, friction-filled experience of jumping from page to page in a website. No matter which approach you take, the goal is the same. Find and eliminate friction from the user experience.

Wherever we turn our attention from UX to engineering to productivity, we are always striving to hunt down and whack the unnecessary complication in favor of the simple and intuitive. In our own quest to root out friction, we’ve come up with something we call Betterment, which is our internal philosophy of constant improvement.

We represent our philosophy with the equation, Betterment = Simple + Compelling - Friction. Its prominence in our philosophy, shows the importance we place on recognizing and removing friction from our workplace, design and products we build.

After all, the absence of friction creates smooth and rewarding systems with limitless positive results, from happier employees to better conversion rates for our clients. Wherever friction arises, the extra effort in finding and removing it proves time and time again to be a key differentiator between experiences that are rewarding and those that aren’t.


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