Yurou Zeng

I’d like more friction please!

As designers, I feel that we’re constantly trying to strive for a seamless and frictionless experience in products. That of course, is a noble goal, I mean, what user doesn’t want a smooth and non-disruptive process? We’ve already established that people have much less patience than before, and thus, less accepting of mistakes and interruptions in their flow. But I can’t help but think that sometimes, friction is good.

In the age of digital automation, things have gotten so easy I almost wish we had to work harder. Tech has slowly taken over our unconscious consciousness, making us recognize patterns and allowing us to skip over otherwise time-consuming formalities. We often breeze past fine print, text on red/green colored buttons, and digital elements that are seemingly consistent across web content. With this, users often gloss over important information and risk falling for dark UI patterns (of course, dark patterns are the fault of the company and designers who implement it, but since we know it does exist and have no way of getting rid of it, we must think of methods of prevention). 

In such cases, it might be fitting to include levels of friction in your product, especially in areas you may want your users to pay closer attention to. In a series of experiments done by Daniel Kahneman documented in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, the act of making a text slightly harder to read promotes cognitive thinking, which in turn makes the content more memorable and less prone to misunderstanding (in the content of the experiment, the given text contained a series of questions. People who had to read it in a less legible format answered more questions correctly and made less mistakes).

I’m not advocating that we make it harder for users to interact with the products we make, but I think that integrating pauses and checkpoints is a practice that can enhance digital experiences as well as simply slow down our pace. Due to how used we’ve become to ads and seemingly irrelevant content, we’ve trained ourselves to very easily ignore and skip over anything we don’t care about. We should really get a break from the onslaught of digital content, and maybe with some (positive) friction, we can.

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