Reduce UX Friction: Start with User Journeys, End with Successful Products

By Dorothy Shamonsky, Ph.D.

In user experience (UX) design, friction is understood to mean interactions that limit a person from achieving his or her goals in a digital interface in an easy and intuitive manner. For instance, say you’re buying something online. You want to edit your purchase right before the Confirmation screen but the website doesn’t seem to have an Edit or Back link so you bomb out and start your purchase over again.

Friction is undesirable because it can cause users to abandon tasks or even eliminate a whole product from their suite of apps.

Frictionless interaction has recently become a popular qualifier for evaluating user experiences. Happier, less frustrated and more efficient users can lead to greater customer loyalty and product success. As designers and developers, you will benefit by understanding methods that allow you to create frictionless interactions.

There are many facets to a frictionless experience, but a good place to start is with user journeys, where you can determine a user’s goals, paths, likes and pain points.

Understanding the User’s Journey

Friction can cause customers to turn away from your products. But delivering a frictionless experience requires you to deeply understand how a user interacts with a digital interface. That’s where user journeys are insightful. A user journey is a simple but profoundly valuable concept for UX design.

It is either a time-based or step-based description of how a user interacts with an interface and typically contains text and illustrations. It can appear like an illustrated story (more text than image), a storyboard (more image than text), a flowchart (see it all at once) or an infographic (if you have the time).

A user journey can be imagined or it can be deduced from data and observation. In other words, a journey can demonstrate the way users could interact with a new service or product, or demonstrate the way users currently do interact with an existing service or product.

If you are working with an existing UX, use as much actual data as is available to you so you can be as realistic as possible about user behavior. If you are creating a brand-new UX, validate a journey with user research.

There is no right or wrong way to envision a journey so create one that works for your particular project and team. The point is to color in a fair amount of detail to help you understand what steps a user might take while interacting with a system or service.

A user journey can give you incredibly valuable insight into where friction exists in a user experience. That knowledge will help you understand whether users are achieving their goals with efficiency and accuracy, what path they are following to achieve those goals, where they get hung up, and where they find delight.

To help you reduce the friction, here are a few aspects of contemporary interfaces that have fueled the push for frictionless experiences. You’ll want to pay particular attention to these as they can have the opposite effect when handled poorly.


Touch and speech interactions are more natural for humans than mouse or keyboard. They enable a more direct way to interact that feels like and often is less effort for the user. But choosing the appropriate modality for the context of use is essential.

As computation migrates to more locations like cars and streets, and to more types of devices like signage and jewelry, each context has an ideal modality. For instance, hands-free speech interactions are well-suited for driving to avoid the distraction of interacting with a screen. Mouse and keyboard are still ideal for some types of tasks that require very accurate control, for example using professional desktop tools like Photoshop, and for tasks that require extensive typing, like writing code.


Allowing users to customize experiences to suit their own preferences can make an experience work ideally for individual users. But, that can’t happen if it is difficult to set those preferences. Does the user even know what options are available or where to find the controls for those settings? A better design solution begins with making the user aware of what preferences are available.

Incorporating algorithms that make suggestions here and there, regardless of actual user behavior, is a basic first step. Using intelligent algorithms that observe user behavior and then make suggestions based on data is a step up. Machine learning that empowers the computer make some choices based on observing the user. This ensure that users don’t have to literally set controls, and can unburden the user. The interaction will feel frictionless.


If a user needs to jump between different apps or websites in order to complete a task, say sharing a status update on social media or shopping online for a solar-power supply, expect a lot of people to give up before reaching their goal. That whole process is chock-full of friction.

Deep-linking or using a uniform resource identifier (URI) to link to a particular location within an app is one way to reduce some of the friction that can arises in these instances. But it still has many shortcomings. If a user deep-links to an app that’s not already installed on his or her device, being forced to go to a download page or app store can be an annoying experience. The last thing users want is to get waylaid downloading yet another app.

It’s always possible to recognize an instance of friction in a user experience when you get complaints from users or see a blip in user data. The power of user journeys is that they provide a comprehensive overview of where friction exists so you can create an effective and comprehensive plan to fix (or avoid) the problem.

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