A topic that doesn’t receive much attention is friction: the underlying variable that controls whether a user performs an action or not. Stop paying attention to pretty designs and start paying attention to metrics (you need to track flows, not single instances!) around friction points and you’ll get people moving along. Remember that design is a manipulator of the presentation of a particular action. It can only do so much in pushing a user to do something. It’s not magic. Sometimes it is but most of the time, it’s not. Design can effect friction in a few areas: timing, sequence, fragmentation, perception, and guidance That’s what I’ll be talking about.
1) Timing -> Thought Momentum
When (within a process flow) do you present the decision?
It is much easier to catch an idea + opinions around it in motion than to ignite it. This is useful when thinking about the magnitude of friction associated with a particular action. This could be anything from providing a review, answering a question or making a purchase decision. This becomes VERY handy when thinking about receiving feedback.The right moment to receive feedback is usually around the key milestones of a particular experience. It doesn’t have to be the ending or beginning and it should NOT be disruptive to the experience. That’s the last thing you want to do. A good example here is when the iPhone asks you to rate an App right after you’ve removed it.
2) Fragmentation-> Split it
How can you break up the process to break up the friction.
If you can’t decrease friction, try to break it up. Remember that friction is a threshold and it is usually NOT relative to the task. A long form is a long form. It’s annoying regardless of the context that you put it in. Split it up. This doesn’t mean just a “wizard” type of interface. That does reduce the perception of friction but your users aren’t that dumb. They’ll click through the 5 steps and discover your trickery. That’s not cool.
3) Sequence -> Order it
Which decisions do you present first, in what sequence and why?
Assuming that you have fragmented the process (look above), the order in which you present the fragmented parts is very key. This also ties into the “thought momentum” concept. You want to get users to fill out information when they have the highest thought momentum. A good example of this is calling out the empty parts of a profile page and allowing for editing options to appear directly on the page without needing to go in edit mode. Facebook does this extremely well.
4) Perception -> Satisfy me
How do I make the user feel like finishing this task is in their favor?
The best example of this is the use of “completeness” meters. Think of the linkedin completeness meter. The idea here is to make the user feel like they’ll be perceived better if they finish whatever it is that you’re trying to make them do. Another way to think about this is like having a passive cheer leader that’s rooting your user to get to the finish line. Congratulating them when they finish small tasks. Here is where small changes to the verbiage can make a big difference. Try to make it fun for them. Generally, I think it’s a good idea to shoot for a user having a good time rather than using peer pressure or try to make them feel guilty by showing them how they can’t finish a task. Positive reinforcement folks.
5) Guidance -> Circle it for me
No use in making the lives of 98% of your users more difficult for the other 2%.
If I go to the forgot password page, I probably want to get a new password rather than cancel and go back to the original page. There is no need to put just as much as attention on the cancel button as the reset password button. It just makes no sense. You have to remember that everything implies something. So by making those two buttons have the same exact style and prominence YOU are suggeting to ME (the user) that about half the people decide to cancel right about now. That’s just not the case. So push the user towards the path that THEY most users select.
Where is the friction??
You can’t apply any of the advice above if you don’t know your friction points. If you honestly have no clue where to begin, you can start by looking at the following
2) Surveys / Questionnaires / Anywhere you want feedback from your users
3) Commenting / Starring
4) Contact us / Inquiry forms
5) Payment / Checkout
6) Long Instructions on difficult tasks before getting to the actual task
7) Setup / configuration processes
There is so much more here but that should give you a good starting point. I’d suggest starting with the really poor conversion points and working up to the harder ones.
Max friction threshold
What/where is it? and how do I bring it down?
There is a threshold line for making a user do something. It’s very hard to tell where the line is and it’s definitely different for every user. That creates a very difficult problem to deliver a standardized solution for. That’s why you have to constantly measure and iterate through your decisions incrementally and then talk to your users to see if you’re doing your job right. You have to have the right mix of data gathering, engaging with users (they might not be customers yet), and making gut decisions. Also, keep in mind that If you’re AT the threshold, it probably means that you’re border-line annoying. You’re not try to bully people. Try to land one or two notches below the line. You want the task to seem easy for the user.