Design for friction

Updated: Jan 4

You must have heard plenty of times that we should design things as simple as possible. Design should always make users life easy & simple. However this is not always the case.

There are some scenarios where we purposely need to make things difficult for user.

This is particularly used for avoiding mistakes that can happen by users, unconsciously.

Example 1 : Let us take an example of sleeping pills

Answer to the above question isn't very straightforward. It is quite easy to take put number of pills from a pill bottle. However its very difficult to take out multiple pills from a blister packaging. Its quite tiring. And there friction plays vital role.

In this case consumption of two many sleeping pills may lead to death. So a little friction can actually avoid someone from dying. As its very easy to opt for multiple pills when you are really struggling with sleep.

In cases of mental illnesses like depression & anxiety, users are tend go for overdose of pills as they struggle with sleep a lot. In such scenarios, adding little effort of taking out one pill at a time from a blister packaging can probably reduce health hazard.

Earlier sleeping pill bottles used to come in bottled packaging. Over the period of time scientists & researches observed the trend in suicides due to overdose of sleeping pills.

So decision was taken to try blister packaging for them & over the period of time, this packaging has shown significant results.

Example 1 :IKEA's DIY furniture

The more effort you put into something, the more you come to value it.

World famous furniture brand IKEA, is heavily based on DIY furniture. IKEA smartly uses friction so that people value the products they have bought, by letting them assemble it.

Example 3 :Multiple pop ups for delete button.

Windows bombard you with multiple pop up / alert messages before finally deleting something. This adds cognitive load on the users & sometimes could be frustrating. But there comes a time, when you are in hurry & you save your important work from getting deleted, just because of these alerts.

Example 4 : Axis bank asks for mandatory password change after 3 months

You are in hurry & want to quickly perform a transaction. You opens up your trusted bank app & you see a pop up,

"Your password has expired, please enter a new alphanumeric password"

Such pop up annoys you like anything & puts down your mood suddenly. Thinking a new strong alphanumeric password & remembering it is a big hustle for you.

And a natural reaction comes to your mind,

"What a pathetic design".

But wait, this design/flow is not that bad. The reason behind forcing you to change your password is the security.

There are good chances that you would have kept same passwords for multiple accounts to reduce cognitive load of remembering so many passwords, and

hackers know this human behaviour.

So this annoying flow, actually safeguards your account from getting hacked & saves your hard earned money. This is how friction protects users from negative consequences.

Conclusion :

There is thin line between designing it for friction & not letting users get too much frustrated. Users might be completely unaware of the thought process, that there is purposely friction is added to the process. In highly competitive market, fully frustrated users can lead to abandon your product or service & might switch to something which is easy & simple.

They may not bother about consequences at all.

Therefore designing for friction is a very sensitive thing. Its very important to test & validate your decisions frequently. A bad decision could lead to heavy business losses. So always be very careful with design for friction.


Tushar Pawar

Product Designer

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A simple meme based presentation - by frustrated engineer ! by Tushar Pawar Product Designer I am a passionate designer & simplicity lover. Loves to try, love