User Experience: Seamlessness vs. Friction

Smartphones used to amaze us just by having touchscreens; but expectations for “easy” are rising

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Managing our devices can ask a lot of us. For all that they add to our lives, devices sap plenty of energy, too. I recently missed the beginning of a film because my friend wouldn’t let us leave the house until her phone had more of a charge. This is not the free and streamlined world the future sci-fi promised us.

In our modern world, we’ve entered into relationships with our devices that are deep, fundamental, and more than slightly intractable. Through our dependencies, we’ve all become at least a bit mired in the management our devices require. Likewise, we’re often stuck in a user experience, or user flow of some sort, that demands more of us than we’d like to give.

For example, you might have a task that you prefer to execute on your desktop because the mobile experience is lousy. And vice versa: you may have tasks you only do on mobile. Tasks that, even should you find yourself sitting at your very desk, make you reach for your phone instead.

As a marketer, if you take a look at your own service or product, it might serve to ask yourself what this means about the experience you’re putting into the world. It’s all in the friction.

What do seamless experiences really mean?

In a recent piece, Echo, interfaces and friction, Ben Evans ponders the slew of devices in our world that are becoming ever easier to manage. Some don’t need to be charged, or don’t need to be charged as often. Some don’t ever get turned off, and a few don’t even have a power switch at all. He gathers these thoughts around the idea of removing the administrative steps in our human-device interactions, and the progression toward streamlining the management of the physical objects in our digital world. This concept follows to the mobile experience overall.

How much friction exists in the experience of the services or products we use? Is there friction in the communication between app, mobile web, and desktop web? Is there friction in the onboarding process? Is the user given the simplest, most seamless possible journey from point A to point B, whatever those points happen to look like for our brand?

Just how frictionless will consumers expect things to be?

In the Evans piece, we can read about the Amazon Echo, the speaker/interface that hangs out in your kitchen or laundry room or wherever, and responds to voice commands. It can play music or read you the news, and its primary purpose is allowing users to fill their Amazon shopping carts audibly, without stopping what they’re doing.

Evans refers to the Echo as saving people “a bunch of intermediate steps” as well as giving users a “deep link directly to the task you want, with none of the friction or busywork of getting there.” By “intermediate steps” and “busywork,” he’s referring to pulling your cell from your pocket, opening an app, searching for an item, and hitting add to cart. Four steps, by my count, of intermediate busywork.

It makes one wonder, is life now meant to be so seamless that re-upping household supplies through a tiny wirelessly connected device in our very pocket has become a nuisance? This monopolizing inconvenience, not so long ago, was considered a marvel. Before wifi, we had to put on pants and be seen in public!

How can we keep up?

The future is moving undeniably toward a world where the definition of “too hard” is getting smaller and smaller. Companies who can’t keep up are likely to fall behind.

Will we decide it’s really not so bad to have to dry our hands before ordering more dish soap? Or will the convenience of voice-activated UI rule the roost?

These questions are yet to be answered. But if, as marketers, we strive to make the customer experience as “frictionless” as possible, we’re bound to end up ahead of the game. It’s all about ensuring that the customer’s experience is truly amazing.

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