Intuitive website design to reduce friction

Intuitive website design to reduce friction

You know it, and you learned to fear it: Friction, the threat to high conversion. In this article, I am going to lay out how understanding the fundamentals behind our thinking and behaviour can eliminate sources of it. To reduce friction, make your website more usable. Navigation has to be easy, create an intuitive website. Psychology and neuroscience can give you useful insights into how your user interface should look.

Learning outcomes

  • Understand friction
  • Know the underlying drivers of human thinking and behaviour to reduce friction
  • Learn how to adjust your UX design accordingly to build an intuitive website

Friction

You might have heard the term friction before. From a psychological perspective, friction is the difference between the way things are and the way things should be. Alternatively, stated in more general way friction is about how easily your visitors can do what they want to do.

Our brains are complex pattern recognition machines, continually trying to predict what will happen next. We test the current situation against the situations we have experienced before. When the current situation does not match our brain's predictions, it cannot activate a reaction that was used and tested previously. It has to come up with a solution on how to react on the spot. That costs precious and limited mental capacity and energy and goes against the brain's prime maxim: safe energy whenever possible.

As a consequence, we feel frustrated.

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To prevent customers from becoming demotivated, many companies try to create a frictionless environment. At this point, a smart user experience (UX) becomes essential. Amazon and Netflix are solid examples of near-frictionless experiences. They both have an intuitive website and buying there is as easy as it can be.

How to reduce friction

In our trainings, we often get asked how to reduce friction. One approach is to tailor the user experience to the users' expectations. Smart UX Design, therefore, paves the path of least resistance. Ideally, your visitors should be able to navigate through the whole customer journey without any moments of irritation and reorientation. In other words, they should be able to use it intuitively, without having to get used to it.

What are the features of an intuitive website?

Brain & Behaviour can help you find out. By understanding the cognitive processes of your customers, you can align your goals with their satisfaction.

According to the American Psychological Association, these cognitive processes include "attention, language use, memory, perception, problem solving, creativity, and thinking."

The primary drivers of human thinking and behaviour

Before giving you some hands-on tactics to reduce friction, here's an overview of the basic principles driving human thinking and behaviour.

  1. Our brain is lazy. We don't want to think more than we have to;
  2. Most of our thinking and decision-making are subconscious;
  3. Emotions drive a lot of our behaviour;
  4. Our capacities are limited;
  5. We make mistakes, but we can learn from them.

Our brain is lazy

Our brains are complex pattern recognition machines, continually trying to predict what will happen next. It prefers to do this by spending as little energy and mental resources as possible.

When it needs more mental resources, we experience more friction.

Most of our thinking is subconscious

Daniel Kahneman introduced the two systems of human decision-making. A fast but subconscious system 1 and a slow and conscious system 2.

System 1 makes most of the decisions for us. Usually, that is beneficial for us: it enables us to save energy. Conscious, intentional thinking requires more cognitive efforts and thus, more energy. Second, system 1 is a lot faster than system 2 and enables us to react instantly to changes in our environment.

Most of the automatic cognitive processes follow innate or learned patterns and heuristics. Psychological research proves that these automatic patterns are predictable.

The interface design of your website should, therefore, facilitate automatic thinking.

Emotions drive our behaviour

We are going to touch this topic only briefly, as we already have many blog posts about emotions. What is essential at this point is that our subconscious decision-making relies on our emotions a lot. Consumers make most of their purchasing choices based on emotions instead of rationality.

From an evolutionary perspective, emotions are physiological reactions to events. Their purpose is to facilitate specific actions or reactions to ensure the survival of the individual, its group or human species. For example, feeling sad after a loss helps us refocus and promotes social bonding. Negative emotions occupy our mind and contribute actively to the increased cognitive load.

Therefore, to reduce friction, the experience with your website should be fun and enjoyable.

We have limited capacities

Humans have a limited attention span and a limited working memory capacity. That means we can't focus on several things at once. There's much research proving that multitasking is generally not a good idea.

We make mistakes, but we can learn from them

As mentioned, the automatic system 1 is working fast. It relies on patterns that proved to be effective in the past or only scans information. Most of the times, this works fine and enables us to be in direct interaction with our environment. However, system 1 is also prone to errors. By relying on emotions and instincts, decisions and behaviour choices can turn out different than expected.

Fortunately, we can learn from the mistakes we make. Our memory is continuously updating. Therefore, we can improve, connect or expand our knowledge. The more often a particular behaviour had the desired outcome, the higher the chances that we are going to apply it in the future as well. That's how habits form. They are reactions that became automatic.

How can you use that for your advantage?

The following list of applications is by no means complete. Still, applying them will already bring you a long way to an intuitive website and reduce friction.

  1. Adapt the navigation flow to the reading direction;
  2. Using images can save your visitors' mental capacities;
  3. Don't let people multitask;
  4. Keep your writing style as simple as possible;
  5. Keep it consistent.

Adapt the navigation flow to the reading direction

The direction in which we learned to write influences what we focus on first, in which order we tackle tasks and which information we remember best. People from Western countries, who read and write from left to right, tend to focus on the left side of their visual field first. Also, they remember information from that side (left) better. It's the opposite for Arabic speakers, whose writing system has a right-to-left orientation.

To help your visitors' brain navigate through your website, organise it in the direction they write and read. Think about 'what should make the first impression?' 'which task should they attend to first?'

Like this, they have more capacities left for the content. Also, they experience less discomfort due to friction caused by navigation difficulties.

Using pictures can save your visitors' mental capacities

Depending on the kind of information you want to convey, a different medium might be recommendable. In general, images are more natural processable for the brain than text. It saves mental capacity and thus prevents friction.

Images are not always easier to understand than text. If the content is complicated, an image can cause confusion and uncertainty. As a consequence trying to understand it will cost more mental capacities, and will increase rather than reduce friction.

Don't let people multitask

Your visitors should only deal with one task at a given moment. Please don't give them too much information at once, and allow them to complete one task before they start with another.

A lot of online shops split the purchasing process into several steps. You have to fill in your address without mistakes first before you can go to the next step, the payment details.

A small bonus: If you want your visitors to go through several steps, put the 'next' button on the right side. This layout will fit with how left-to-right readers mentally represent the order of things (see 1.) As a consequence, there's less friction.

Keep your content as clear as possible

Content clarity refers to how difficult or easy it is to read the text. It includes the writing style and also what the writing looks like.

By keeping paragraphs short and bite-sized, the content is more manageable for the brain. Second, keep your writing style as simple as possible. Even highly educated people seem to disengage when confronted with complicated texts.

Have you heard of the Automated Readability Index? It's a rank for the writing style of a text that states the high school year students must be in to understand it. The general advice is to aim at a '9' or lower. There are online tools like Hemingway that rank your text and help to simplify it.

Keep it consistent

A consistent design allows your customers to adapt to new contexts quickly. An excellent example is the different products of Apple. If you know how to use an iPhone, you can also navigate an iPad or a Mac. The design and applications are consistent.

Additionally, consistency saves you the time and money otherwise spent on creating a new design.

To put it in a nutshell

Make the experience on your website as enjoyable and frictionless as possible for your visitors. Create an intuitive website that is easy to navigate. Take the basic principles behind our decisions and behaviour into account. As a result, you will reduce friction and increase not only conversion but also customer satisfaction.

Apart from your design, also the way you phrase your copy has an impact on your conversion. Find out more about the power of framing to nudge customers.

Want to learn more psychological concepts involved in changing behaviour change and decision making? Get immediate feedback on your personal case! That's all part of our 1-Day Crash Course.

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