Think of friction as a trust point: It forces you to stop and think.
In experience design, most people think of “friction” as a bad thing. Friction refers to the inability to move fast and seamlessly through life. It is conflict or opposition: something that slows you down, interrupts you, or makes an experience more difficult. We’ve spent decades streamlining our lives and interactions in pursuit of frictionless design. As we make our way through the world, we are remarkably efficient at avoiding or mitigating the demands, stresses, blips, detours, and uncertain interactions that for centuries have characterized daily life.
In our eagerness to make life more easy-going, we’ve overlooked all the ways in which friction in design is not a problem but an opportunity.
The right kind of friction can strengthen trust.
Think of friction as a pause button that puts checks and balances on everything. We call these moments of friction trust points. They are the moments in which designers are communicating to users to think twice about whatever they’re doing. Evgeny Morozov observes that it is not just designers but all of us who need to do more thinking.
Designers build in countless ways to keep users safe and deepen their trust in the platforms, browsers, and systems they are using. Multi-factor authentication is proof that your bank is being extra careful about protecting your money. When you want to transfer funds, you welcome that SMS verifying your identity and that PIN you need to type in before completing the transaction. That moment of friction gives you pause. It is a trust point, not an irritation.
Think of when your credit card company flags a purchase that seems unusual. We feel more secure that they are looking out for identity theft, and that touch point deepens our trust. The same is true when, your service provider texts “Welcome to Costa Rica” when your plane lands, or your browser warns you when you are entering a potentially insecure site. Design should never be too seamless.
These small but significant moments of friction are trust points that deepen relationships between companies and consumers. When people are made to feel safe, it opens the door for them to have other positive experiences.
Trust points can include ways of protecting you from yourself.
Creating the right kind of friction is a little like having a best friend who second-guesses what you’re doing.
Designers have figured out all kinds of new and compelling ways to embed trust points in services. Drunk-texting apps ensure your emotional safety: Some evaluate your condition before they let you send a text and others let you program in people who you forbid yourself from contacting. Your voice assistant repeats your order back to you to verify you really did want to order 50 bottles of laundry detergent. Two-factor authentication adds friction to the log-in experience, but improves security. And medication apps ping you when it’s time to take your medicine — and high-tech pill cases send out digital reminders.
But what we’re most excited about, in terms of digital strategies that focus on life-improving tools or positive reinforcement as a way of developing trust points with consumers, are Fintech apps.
We think Fintech is doing a great job of creating new kinds of trust points that hinge on refining and improving our relationship with money. Our relationship to money is something that’s often overlooked in traditional banks, which tend to have a static interface, minus that security-related friction. Many new products offer a personalized experience, including offering expert financial advice — and nudging us towards better financial behaviors.
We thought extensively about trust points and outreach when we designed two mobile banking apps — Pepper for Bank Leumi in Israel and Nequi for Bancolombia in Colombia. We didn’t want to create the kind of relationship in which Pepper or Nequi compel you to do something. Instead, we decided to create banking systems that focus on outreach and communication as a way of enabling the relationship to go beyond the merely transactional. We wanted to design a system that would nudge consumers to stick with their longer-term savings goals — and we wanted consumers to appreciate that nudge.
For both apps, we built in customized tools and services for users. Nequi’s services flex around people’s needs and spending rhythms, and adapt accordingly. We’re especially proud of a feature we designed into the app called Guardadito (“little savings”), which creates a separate account within an account. The idea was to safeguard people’s savings goals by making a portion of their savings seem inaccessible. Through a simple icon, Nequi is communicating: “Hey, that’s your savings! Don’t spend it.” Of course this concept of the positive-reinforcement nudge comes from the behavioral economist Richard Thaler. We decided to apply it here as a kind of trust point that tells users that Nequi is more than a place to park your money.
With Pepper, we took a different approach, and organized it around a Money Feed concept, similar to a social media feed. We liked the idea of organizing bank services around the ways in which we already communicate and get information. The trust points here are tips and insights, analyses of a user’s spending habits, and offers that are personalized around those spending habits. In both apps, the services and information exchange do more than protect people’s money. Over time, we hope they will help people develop a healthier relationship to money.
We want to encourage designers to think about ways to create more trust points in society through positive friction. What are those design moments that we have not yet identified as vital and necessary? Design is not about making life seamless. It is about having intention as you respond to the puzzle of human behavior.