Digital friction is an important concept in a digital business because it is a key factor for goal completion. Your digital channel / service / product / ecosystem can be tuned by including or removing friction. (There are certain cases where friction is actually important.)

Being frictionless is about making interactions as simple and efficient as possible by removing impediments to goal completion. I think a great example of a (near) frictionless interaction is the payment method when using an Uber. This is often to most memorable part of the Uber experience – no physical money changes hands – which is a large deviation from a taxi where you are fumbling around for loose change and/or having to beak a note.

Another good (& enjoyable) frictionless example is Menulog, particularly when ordering pizza.

The payment mechanism in the Apple ecosystem is also excellent and very important as the Apple ecosystem also includes the “unbundling of content” concept. If it was difficult to buy a $2 app on the iTunes store, or a $0.69 music single on the iTunes store, well we probably know the answer.


Digital friction

Digital friction

Friction definition

Wikipedia defines friction as “the force resisting the relative motion of solid surfaces, fluid layers, and material elements sliding against each other”.

Digital friction

Digital friction is the force resisting the relative motion of an actor towards the completion of an interaction or transaction

I’d like to extend that definition to encompass digital. In my view, digital friction is the force resisting the relative motion of an actor towards the completion of an interaction or transaction. More simply, the resistance of a user to complete a goal.

Co-efficient of friction

Also from Wikipedia, “the co-efficient of friction, often symbolised by the Greek letter μ, is a dimensionless scalar value which describes the ratio of the force of friction between two bodies and the force pressing them together. The coefficient of friction depends on the materials used; for example, ice on steel has a low coefficient of friction, while rubber on pavement has a high coefficient of friction. Coefficients of friction range from near zero to greater than one.”

Again, I think there is an extension of the co-efficient of friction into a digital realm.

The co-efficient of digital friction is the ratio of the force of friction between an actor and their ability to achieve a goal with the level of intent that the actor has.

For example, a user that *really* wants to achieve a goal on a mobile device will persevere with using a substandard mobile site (or even use a desktop view in a mobile browser) to achieve their goal. Whereas a person who is marginal in their intent may simply give up. Similarly a person who desperately wants the latest Apple device will queue up outside the store rather than buy online and wait for it to be delivered.

The coefficient of friction also has a concept for bodies at rest and those in motion. The coefficient of static friction and the coefficient of kinetic friction, respectively. This is another good concept for digital and helps describe the friction of a user who is already in motion towards their goal versus those who haven’t started.

Types of digital friction

I would suggest that digital friction has the following components:

  • Experience friction – the force of (good or bad) user design and user experience.
  • Economic friction – the force of product pricing, payment methods, stored payment instructions, mobile wallets, transaction costs, interchange fees and shipping fees.
  • Channel friction – the force of channel choice and transitions between channels.
  • Behavioural friction – the force of user behaviour and user norms based on cultural, temporal and environmental impacts.
  • Trust friction – the force of trust between the two parties.

All of these components must be taken into consideration in a holistic view of digital friction. Having low experience friction but high economic friction, will mean that the overall digital friction is still high.


User Centred Design

I often hear about organisations spending lots of time on user centred design, which is great as it focuses on one of the types of digital friction, but not if the organisation focuses on experience to the detriment of the other types of friction. Having the most beautifully designed & efficient digital channel with a product whose price is too high, will still mean that it will have a high coefficient of friction.


Another example of digital friction is trust. Aiming to introduce new products when customers either don’t know or trust your organisation, will mean that you will need to either build trust first or use the other forms to counter the trust friction. You might need to use a lower introductory price, use a freemium model, include free shipping, offer free returns, or a guarantee.

Similarly using the SSL secure image is a way to reduce trust friction in a transaction. It makes people feel more trusting of your site.

SSL Certificate


Static vs kinetic coefficients

The coefficient for an actor who is part way through their interaction or transaction (kinetic) will likely be lower than an actor who hasn’t started (static).

An example of this is how organisations used to block mobile data / wifi in their stores but then learned that if a user was actually in their store, and wanted to research a product, the most likely place that they would purchase that item would be in their store. This is all about static vs kinetic friction as it is likely that the user could find a lower price elsewhere but the convenience and kinetic coefficient of friction will usually overcome this.


Determining friction

So the last element is how do you determine your coefficient of friction?

This is simple in theory but difficult in practice as it requires a feedback loop of testing and learning with a framework for the resulting data. It also requires you to change your different types of friction so you can determine their impact on interaction and transaction completion rates.

I’ll think about documenting frictions and their coefficients. Might be the topic of another blog post.


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