The UX of System Friction

I bought my wife a Kindle for the holidays.  Over the past three weeks, she has purchased and read, 10 new books.  Previous to that, her reading habits were normal, a single book every couple of weeks.  How did this happen?  How did her reading (and purchasing) habits jump so enormously, just based on the device?

The difference between a system that is unbelievably awesome and not working at all has to do with user friction.

Imagine users behavior is like a ball rolling down a hill.  They want to be entertained.  They want to achieve their life/business goals. So what stops them?  System friction.

System Friction is anything the user perceives as having to do.  Frictionless is when the user perceives that there is nothing to do.

In reading, my wife defined friction as some of the following:

  1. Going to the Library or Bookstore
  2. Browsing for a book and then checking it out or buying it
  3. Remember to bring the book with her.  Sometimes the book is too big to carry in her purse.
  4. Get to the page she was on, when she last read
  5. Flip pages while holding the book with two hands.

This friction limited her reading.  She didn’t go to the bookstore/library all the time, just once in a while and usually read at home because books were too big for her purse.

So what did the Kindle change?

  1. She didn’t need to go anywhere to get a new book.
  2. Browsing /buying was so easy on the new system with search and suggested reading.
  3. The Kindle fit into her purse, so she could read while out and about.
  4. It automatically remembered her page
  5. It allowed her to change font size and flip pages with a single click.  (One handed reading)

The Kindle just removed all of the friction within the her reading system.  So what happened?  She slid down the hill with no impediments and read alot more.  Now, the only friction is mental regarding the price of the book.  Amazon even addressed that issue by reducing the cost of digital books.

Every system in existence works this way.  What are the areas of friction?  If you can remove the friction from the system, then people will roll down hill quicker.  It’s not about more capabilities, it’s about less friction to achieve the goal.  I hope that by giving you this way of thinking about a system, it will inspire you to build more frictionless products.

2 replies on “The UX of System Friction”

Two additional benefits of Kindle:

1) Think you might like a book: Get a free sample (I think like 10% of the book) and read it on your Kindle before you buy it.

2) Reading something on your Kindle and are standing around for a few minutes with just your SmartPhone. You can start reading it on your Smart Phone Kindle client, automatically synced to the point where you last read on your Kindle.

Whatya think?