What is User Experience Friction?

Photo by Bonneval Sebastien on Unsplash

Before we begin, I want to define some terms.

User Experience Friction:

What I am calling the distance between what you want your user to do and what they are actually doing. In the case of a mobile app, this could be measured in taps.

If it takes five taps to get from landing on your app’s screen to completing the task you want them to complete, then there is friction.


This is what you want your user to do when they come into contact with your product. For example, if you are a dating app, then one of your intentions is to get them a date that night (yes Tinder, I’m looking at you).


What users actually do when they come into contact with your product. In the case of a dating app, users may or may not get a date that night depending on whether or not they swipe right on everyone they see.

It could also be what else they might be doing while using your product like listening to music or reading an article about Justin Bieber’s new hairstyle (which I know is very important).

Understanding Intent and Behavior:

Understanding intent and behavior can help you build better products. In fact, there are entire schools of thought based on this concept.

Behavior-based design and human-centered design are two examples.

For our purposes, we will be focusing on behavior because the intent is a tricky thing to measure.

In order to understand your users’ behavior, you need to understand what they are doing in your product while they are using it.

If you know what people do while using your product, then you can make changes that encourage the behavior you want.

For example, if users spend most of their time looking at other people’s profiles instead of sending messages, then it might be a good idea to make the message screen easier to find and use.

You can also use this information to change the way that you show data in your product or to modify certain features in order to influence how people use them.

What Happens When There is User Experience Friction:

In order for users to complete an intent when they come into contact with your product, they need to know what that intent is and how they can accomplish it.

This means that friction needs to be removed so that there is a little distance between what users want and what they actually do as possible. This is why I say that friction is your product’s worst enemy.

The first step in removing friction is to understand it. You need to know what causes it and where it occurs.

Then you can decide what you want to do about it. This will be the subject of a future post, but for now, let’s talk about why friction exists in the first place.

Friction comes from two sources: Users’ experience with other products and users’ own preferences and habits.

Understanding these sources of friction will help you build better products by knowing how to fix them. Let’s look at each source individually:

Source #1: User Experience Friction Caused by Other Products:

When a user encounters a new product, they bring their past experiences with other products with them into that new product.

This means that users are coming into contact with your product as if they were coming into contact with another product instead of just a blank slate that has no associations for them yet.

Because of this, users will expect your product to work like other products they have used before instead of working the way you want them to work or the way you designed them to work (if they even work the way you designed them to work).

The easiest way to see this in action is with mobile apps. Think about how many times you have gone into a mobile app store and searched for something.

You may even have found an app that looked like it would do what you wanted, but when you opened it up, it didn’t do what you wanted at all.

You may have had this experience even with your own product! It’s not a fun feeling to think that your product will do one thing and then be disappointed when it doesn’t.

When this happens, users start getting frustrated and might abandon your product if they can’t figure out how to get the behavior they want from it.

They may also decide that your product is broken and give up on using it all together because they don’t want to keep going through the process of searching for a solution only to be disappointed by the results.

This is why it is so important to make sure that users understand what intent they can accomplish in your product before they actually try to accomplish it.

If users know that their intent is not supported by your product, then they will likely abandon it in favor of another one that will help them get what they want.

Source #2: User Experience Friction Caused by Users’ Preferences and Habits:

The second source of friction is user preferences and habits. The thing about user preferences and habits is that they are not always logical.

If users have learned to do something in a certain way because it works for them, then they will expect that way to work in your product as well.

They may not be willing to change their behavior just because you think that it would be better for them to do something else.

This means that users will have their own idea of how your product should work, even if they don’t know it yet.

You need to make sure that your product is set up in a way that supports this so that users can accomplish their intents with as little friction as possible.

For example, if users like to tap on buttons instead of swiping on them, then you need to make sure that the buttons are easy for them to find and use instead of hiding them behind swipe gestures or other visual clues.

In this case, you need to either give the buttons enough space so that users can tap on them or hide the swipe gestures from view until users decide to use them.

Another example of user preferences and habits causing friction is in the case of notifications.

Users may not want to be notified every time something happens in your product. They may only want to be notified when something important happens or when something they are interested in happens.

This means that you need to be careful about how you present notifications and make sure that users understand what information they will get from them.

If users don’t understand what information the notifications contain, then they might miss out on something important because they don’t realize that it is happening.

For example, if a user has been playing a game for hours and they haven’t gotten any notifications, then they might not realize that someone has sent them a message or made a new friend in the game.

Identifying User Experience Friction:

In order for you to identify friction in your product, you need two things: You need a way of measuring the distance between what users want to do and what they are actually doing, and you need to know what users’ intents are.

There are several ways that you can measure the distance between intent and behavior. The first is through user testing.

You can observe your users while they use your product in order to see how far they get before giving up or doing something else.

You can also use surveys or analytics to find out how far people get before using your product incorrectly or giving up.

The second way is by measuring the time it takes for users to accomplish their intents with your product.

If it takes too long, then you need to figure out why so that you can fix it. If people aren’t using your product correctly, then you need to make sure that they understand how it works and makes it easier for them to do what they want to do.

This is why having a good understanding of your users’ intents is so important. It allows you to identify problems before they occur and solve them before you even start building anything.

The third way is by observing how people use other products that might compete with yours or are similar in some way (i.e social networks).

If you can figure out how to make your product better than these products, then you can gain an advantage over them.

Now that you know how to identify friction, let’s talk about how to fix it. This is a much easier process because once you know what causes friction, then you know what needs to be fixed.

1. Identify the Problem:

Before you can fix a problem, you need to identify it. This means that you need to know what is causing friction in your product and where it is occurring.

You also need to know how much friction there is. Is it a small amount or a large amount?

If it is a small amount, then you can make some minor changes and fix the problem. If it is a large amount, then you might have to do some major work on your product in order to fix the problem.

The more friction there is the more work that will be required to fix it.

For example, if your product takes too long for users to accomplish their intents, then all you have to do is figure out why and then find ways of fixing the problem so that users can accomplish their intents faster.

2. Reduce Friction:

Once you have identified the problem, you can start reducing friction by changing things in your product or by removing features that cause friction (depending on how bad the problem is).

This means that you need to go back and look at your product with fresh eyes and see if there are any features or areas of your product that are causing friction.

Then ask yourself, “If I were a user, would I be frustrated with this feature?” If the answer is yes, then you need to remove it or change it.

3. Test Your Changes:

Once you have made your changes, you need to test them in order to see if they worked.

This is a good idea because it allows you to find out if your changes solved the problem or not. If they did, then great! If they didn’t, then you need to go back and try something else.


User experience friction is one of the biggest problems that can affect your product’s success and it is important that you are able to identify and fix it before it affects your product negatively. This is why I wrote this article and I hope that you found it useful.

About the Author

I am the Founder of Cudy Technologies (www.cudy.co), a full-stack EdTech startup helping teachers and students learn better. I am also a mentor and angel investor in other Startups of my other interests (Proptech, Fintech, HRtech, Ride-hailing, C2C marketplaces, and SaaS). You can also find me on Cudy for early-stage Startup Founder mentorship and advice.

You can connect with me on Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexanderlhk) and let me know that you are a reader of my Medium posts in your invitation message.




Founder of Cudy Technologies (www.cudy.co), a full-stack EdTech startup helping teachers and students teach and learn better. I am also a mentor and investor.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Write, revise, destroy

10 icon packs from the Figma community to have in your toolkit

4 tips to build responsive apps on a budget

Cover image displaying mobile devices in varying sizes.

Why every design should start with the problem

Why do I want to ditch the UX designer role?

Tailored design thinking and process for at scale engagements

Enterprise UX: anything but typical

How to write a good user story: fullest guide

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Alexander Lim

Alexander Lim

Founder of Cudy Technologies (www.cudy.co), a full-stack EdTech startup helping teachers and students teach and learn better. I am also a mentor and investor.

More from Medium

Why User Experience Design (UX) isn’t a Small Business’s friend

How to make your kick offs count.

Things to avoid while doing UX Competitor Analysis

The importance of product first impressions