There is a reason why perpetual motion is scientifically impossible to achieve. Friction. Friction exists at every level in our physical world, and it should be applied to the digital world, too. It’s an important factor in the design of websites, apps, and systems.
fric·tion /ˈfrikSH(ə)n/ noun — the resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another
Website friction, in that sense, is anything that gets in the way of a user achieving a desired outcome.
FRICTION IS A BUMMER.
You’ve felt it — you’re online trying to decide where to eat dinner, and you find what looks like the perfect spot. You click over to their website and… WHAM! You can’t figure out where to look for their address. It’s not in any of the expected spots on the page. No phone number either. The likelihood of you actually going that restaurant to eat becomes slim to none.
If the restaurant is yours, you want to reduce friction on your website as much as possible. You want to make it clear where you’re located and that you take reservations. Maybe you even let visitors make that reservation through an embedded portal on your site. It’s like greasing a wheel. The gear turns more smoothly, and you’ve got a paying customer at a table.
THREE THINGS THAT CAUSE WEBSITE AND APP FRICTION:
1. TOO MUCH EFFORT NEEDED TO COMPLETE A TASK
This isn’t about laziness. This is about eliminating steps that could be avoided. That’s why a lot of us like keyboard shortcuts. When we’re typing, our fingers are already on the keys, so it’s much easier to click ⌘ + c than to move away to the trackpad.
Think about how you can give your customers the information they need in the least number of steps possible.
2. TOO MUCH CONTEXT SWITCHING
Study after study has shown that multitasking isn’t actually a thing. You’re not really working on two tasks at once — you’re mentally switching between the two, albeit rapidly, therefore often being less effective at both. It was a revelation when Kindle introduced an included dictionary, so when you’re reading and stumble over a word, you can immediately highlight the text and look it up.
No need to get up, hunt down the ole Webster’s, and remember the alphabet. Nope, I got my question answered right from my comfy chair, and now I can get back to the plot at hand. What’s your equivalent to Kindle’s dictionary?
3. TOO MANY DECISIONS
Decision fatigue is real. Having more choices isn’t always better. I’ve noticed this trend on restaurant menus. They tend to specialize more, offering just a few rotating seasonal choices rather taking than the Cheescake-Factory approach by making a little bit of everything.
The menu is a one-pager rather than a book. If you don’t like anything on it…well, that’s tough. However, most people do find something appealing, and the simplified menu results in faster and easier ordering. Extensive drop-down navigation options are the Cheesecake Factory behemoth menu of the web. You don’t need them.
You don’t need to care about the science that keeps brainiacs from building a perpetual motion machine, but you do need to care about the friction that keeps your customers from doing business with you. Luckily, that’s an easier hill to climb.
Ask yourself, “Is my website as easy to use as it could be?” If not, we should talk.