User Experiences of the Future are Friction-Free. Follow These 5 Strategies to Design Them.

Posted by Amy Buckner Chowdhry on Jul 25, 2017

Users are maxed out. Every day we wade through infinite online product selection, battle poorly designed forms, fail with login attempts, struggle with privacy settings, and are forced to play hide-n-seek with customer service phone numbers. These are just a few of the thousands of ways digital experiences have made life more complicated.

Let’s stop making things so hard.

Digital experiences can and should be friction free; follow these 5 Design Strategies to get started.

Design for the Journey, Not for the Device:

A few months ago, I flew from D.C. to San Francisco and decided to check-in from my laptop in the hotel. To my frustration, the final confirmation page presented only one option for getting my boarding pass – printing. There was no option to send the boarding pass to my phone.

Obviously, I didn’t have access to a printer in my hotel room, so I checked-in again at the self-service kiosk at the airport. This time, the kiosk failed to print my voucher for the airport lounge.

I went up to the counter to check-in a third time.

This airline forced three check-ins and wasted customer service time by making one fatal UX mistake – designing for the device, not the journey. Companies fail users when they design in functional silos rather than the journey that customers take across devices as part of a task flow or situation.

So, what are some tactics you can do to ensure you’re building for the journey, not the device?

  • Break through organizational silos that create a trap for device-only design.
  • Leverage cross-functional teams who take a holistic perspective.
  • Ensure you have foundational tools like personas and ideal journeys to help guide design decision-making.
  • Craft user research to evaluate the cross-platform experience rather than one device.

Reduce the Learning Curve

Reducing the learning curve for your digital experience can greatly decrease the cognitive load for consumers while they’re engaging with your brand. Experiences should be designed for how people think about doing the task - not how efficient it is for engineering to execute it.

Start by cultivating Shoshin, a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning "beginner's mind". It requires an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, just like a beginner. This mindset drives better decisions when designing experiences for first-time users.

Use Shoshin to:

  • See a multitude of possibilities rather than company, engineering, or organizational constraints.
  • Get into the minds of your customers, fully embrace their mental models and how they might approach a task.
  • Seek out foundational research that explores the problem-space for design and how the design can most effectively solve for customer need.
  • Include new employees in the design experience to gain a first-hand reactions and understanding of the process.

Automate Manual Digital Transactions

We all know automation can tackle big problems, like Amazon Go, which has eliminated almost all friction from the traditional brick and mortar shopping experience. But, automation can make a difference on the small scale too.

For example, financial institutions over the past five years have increased their security and fraud prevention measures by putting more and more burden on the customer. They have adopted a mindset of “prove to me who you are” when customers want them to “know who I am!”

Many banks have taken steps to removing the burden of security from their customers. When calling to talk with a financial analyst, many now allow customers to use biometric voice authentication so that customers don’t have to remember and manually insert their PIN or answer security questions.

To automate manual digital interactions:

  • Identify customer activities that are tedious, where the burden of the task falls to the customer.
  • Look for alternatives like re-displaying previously entered information or creating an intelligent default.
  • Measure time on repeat tasks to identify the “time-sucks” within an experience.
  • Leverage customer data on location, device, demographics, and behavior to find opportunities for greater personalization.

Eliminate Micro-Annoyances

Micro-Annoyances build up over time and overload customers. Find and weed these out of your digital experience one by one.

Bank of America did this with just the slightest change on their ATM interface – so small that you probably didn’t notice. As we all know, ATM screens load slowly, and waiting for the next step in a transaction can be mind-numbing. At Bank of America, there's a Fast Cash Preference that appears on the home screen. Once set, you enter your password and select your withdrawal amount in the same step, thus waiting for only one screen load. This practice has now become common across many banks and ATMs.

Removing micro-annoyances reduces friction and ensures your brand doesn’t add to the stress of your customers. Consider these tactics:

  • Be your own student; observe your current digital process and how you feel at each step. Take note of the smallest interactions that add burden to the experience.
  • Review VoC data (e.g. surveys) to identify low hanging fruit issues.
  • Conduct usability testing on both current and proposed experiences to identify areas of friction.
  • Look at related industries to see how they deal with similar issues, and take note of how major brands solve small problems. For example, Amazon automatically populates the last delivery address you used during checkout to reduce the number of times you need to go through the step of selecting a delivery address. Even better, the brand offers one-click checkout.


I mentioned Amazon Go earlier, but let’s revisit. Amazon Go's success comes from Amazon eliminating virtually every pain point in the brick and mortar shopping experience with extreme simplification – no lines, no checkout, no registers. While not strictly a digital experience, but instead a physical one with a digital component, Amazon Go allows you to walk in, pick up what you need, and walk right out. You get a handy receipt on your phone moments later, and it even tells you how long your trip was to emphasize your time saved. 

Here are some tactics to simplify your user experience at the scale of Amazon Go:

  • Leverage customer journey maps to re-evaluate every touch point in your user’s journey. What steps can you eliminate?
  • Identify innovative technologies that could transform your digital experience. For example, could you leverage Apple Pay to reduce steps for payment?
  • Identify your customers’ routine tasks and required decisions. Find solutions for reducing or eliminating these activities.

What other strategies would you add to this list to create friction-free experiences? I’d love to hear your thoughts - connect with me on Twitter.

Written by

Amy Buckner Chowdhry

Amy Buckner Chowdhry founded AnswerLab over a decade ago to help the world’s leading brands build better digital products. Under her watch, AnswerLab has grown to become a trusted UX insights partner to companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and more. She was named one of Fortune’s 10 Most Promising Women Entrepreneurs, one of EY’s 10 Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of San Francisco Business Times’ Forever Influential Women Business Leaders, and Watermark’s Top 10 Women Who Have Made Their Mark. More about Amy→

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