One thing interesting #9: Friction

Good design removes friction from human activity. A good design team will look to remove the 'things' which get in the way of a user achieving a specific goal. What's left becomes the product or service. What's left should make achieving that specific goal easy. Enjoyable. Sometimes, a delight.  

The obvious forms of friction are often very functional. Making an online purchase without having to re-enter our card and address details. Making an espresso without having to grind, portion or tamp the coffee. Taking a connecting flight and not having to deal with our luggage until our final destination.

Some forms of friction are less obvious. They don't all involve physical effort. For example, hanging a painting on the wall might not be thought of as 'removing friction'; but it might improve the environment. It might make you and others feel better and actually enjoy being in such a space. Removal of emotional friction perhaps.

The auto-play feature on Netflix might make it physically easier to watch the next episode of that gripping series, but its the convenient cliffhanger the show ended on which also removes any emotional friction in making that choice.

'Bindgeing' is by design. Netflix's product team and the show's director can share the credit.

Friction can also relate to choice. How easy is it to discover, assess and choose something new you might need or want?

Most pro free-market economists expect market dynamics and competition to naturally regulate choice and pricing (most of the time). We, the consumers, expect sufficient variety when choosing a particular product or service; with a bell curve of price options. Some cheap, some expensive, the rest mid-range.

This system works when there's just the right amount of friction and scarcity to make us consider and deliberate a purchase.

But what happens when almost all friction is removed? And we face an abundance of choice accessible at any time in an instant? How do our behaviours towards choice change?

We haven't really had this problem until recently. In computing, Moore's law has driven us to a world of abundance. Pixels? Practically free and abundant. Data storage? Practically free and abundant. Bandwidth? You get the picture.

Essentially, any product or service that has been built with these free and abundant 'raw materials' has removed an enormous amount of friction compared with their analogue predecessors. Messaging, entertainment, journalism. All free and abundant (and most of it is in your news-feed).

This series of articles from Social Capital explores this very topic. They explore the economics and psychology of 'friction removal' which - when it approaches zero - has a dramatic impact on the way in which we make choices. Well worth following.

Neil Smith

Neil Smith Design LTD, 1 Davenham Ct, Liverpool, L15 8GD, United Kingdom