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  • Writer's pictureJohn Selzer

Blacking Out the Friction

Updated: Apr 6, 2018

Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

Nobody likes friction. It conjures up thoughts of words like abrasion, roughness and chafing. Name one person who likes chafing. You can’t do it, can you? The very word makes me shift in my seat.

In the business world, the concept of friction is not quite so personal. Instead, it refers to points of resistance. Think of them as speed bumps. Minor hindrances that slow your pace and put a little bounce in your flow. In extreme cases, they can be spike strips thrown out in the road. Pop go the tires and you are done.

When I am vetting an internal concept at Septariate or working with a founder on refining their model, friction is at the forefront of my mind. It is all about identifying points of resistance and then finding ways to minimize their impact, or better yet, to eliminate them altogether.

People do not readily embrace change.

Say the word “change” around most folks and watch them run for cover. It is hard for us to break longstanding habits, established patterns or to see through the fog of personal experience. Despite our modern airs, our lizard brain lives on. Fight or flight, baby.

We like what we like. We know what we know. We do what we do.

Anything new increases the mental load on your target audience. New takes more effort to fully grasp and appreciate the awesomeness that is your novel solution or impactful message. It requires an intentional, not automatic, response. They have to think. Sometimes that is a lot to ask.

That puts the burden on you. You better get your design right, your process flow figured out or your pitch perfected. Otherwise, you will grind to a halt.

This is why friction matters. Any point of resistance or confusion by your audience is a chance for them to abandon it and move on. Get that first interaction wrong, and you most likely have lost them forever. There are far too many alternatives – and attention spans too short – to expect someone to wrestle with a poorly executed concept or suffer through a weak message.

Don’t get discouraged, though. New is good. Different is often better. Your solution is (probably, maybe) best. But before you lead a customer or audience member into unchartered territory, take the time to consider friction.

Here’s how:

Take inventory. Walk through your product use case, process flow or outline for your message. Take note of instances you expect a newbie to hesitate, require a little extra push or maybe just throw their hands up in frustration and move on. Don’t rush this step; be comprehensive. Really give this a good scrubbing.

Triage. At this point, prioritize and attack. Identify those elements you think are deal breakers. Apply the 80/20 rule and give your greatest attention to those with the highest potential risk. The most “frictiony”, so to speak.

For the other 80%, know that not all friction can – or really should – be removed. The velocity created by your earlier efforts will push the user right on through these without incident.

Reduce the load. If a friction point is a killer, then disarm it. Take a slightly different tack to accomplish the same thing. Tweak it to look or sound more like something that is familiar and more comfortable for your target. While they may never have seen or heard your offering before, they will instinctively know what to do with it.

If there is truly no precedent (okay, sure; it's possible), tread carefully. If you cannot count on learned behaviors and instinct, be intentional and clear. Be obvious. And give ready guidance to prevent abandonment. Remember, you are fighting that lizard brain.

Experiment. Test it out. Hand your product to a first-time user. Give your pitch to fresh ears. Then, observe. Ask questions. Really listen. And once you have released your product or message out into the real world, be responsive. Make revisions on the fly. Circumstances, needs and expectations change. So should you.

Friction is everywhere. But, we know it can be managed. Let the above steps be the grease to smooth out the resistance and better control its impact.

Now, go out there and get it done. Smoothly.


Blacking Out the Friction by Death Cab for Cutie

I love the hard-driving beat of this song juxtaposed against the soft voice of Ben Gibbard. It is the musical equivalent of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Like most Death Cab songs, the lyrics are rich and nuanced. This song contains one of my favorites: “I think that it’s brainless / to assume that making changes / to your window’s view will give a new perspective.” Now, that is deep. And true.

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