The best tools aren’t tools that are the most effective at completing a particular task. No, the best tools are tools that don’t require any extra effort from the user’s part in order to complete that task. The best tools should serve as that extension of your body and that using them should come as naturally to you as lifting your own pair of hands.
In the world of web development, this philosophy is known as frictionless design. A design language so smooth that it wouldn’t take users more than just a single thought to figure out how they can find what they’re looking for or get to where they want to be. If you ever spend time on a website blindly dragging your mouse across the screen looking for what to do next as if they’re Waldo, that’s called friction and frictionless design, obviously, aims to do away with all of that shenanigans.
As smooth as silk
Once everything’s said and done, the main thing users are looking for from websites is one that wouldn’t make their life harder than it already is. Frictionless design isn’t always about simplicity but the idea is to design the website or any product/service in general really, so that users are always in aware of what they need to do next in order to accomplish a particular task.
The easiest example of the practice of frictionless design, as is the case with everything involving an interaction between a system and its users, can be seen in the world of video games. The best video games tend to give players an idea of their next objective without shoving these objectives right in their faces. Remember, frictionless design is all about smoothness and I can say here that there’s absolutely nothing smooth about having to provide detailed instructions to users in every step of their journey.
Frictionless design relies heavily on the concept of intuitive design where the average user is able to figure out exactly what’s going on in front of them even without being explicitly told and if that sounds like magic, that’s because it pretty much is. A purely frictionless design is scientifically impossible but if the goal is simply to limit the amount of friction in your website, that’s absolutely doable using the four following tips.
Force your website through an intensive diet
By this I mean cut off all of the unnecessary flabby fat that does absolutely nothing other than to make your website more bloated and complicated. More features mean more complications that users have to deal with and it’s always best to simply add features that you know are essential. This philosophy also extends to how your website looks. Remove any distracting aesthetic elements from your website and come up with a layout that carries only the essential elements.
Don’t show all features and information all at once
In the world of video game, the concept of pacing is a bit different because it doesn’t just dictate the speed at which the story is told but also the speed at which new gameplay elements are introduced. This is designed so that players have the opportunity to get comfortable with one element before having to move on to the next one. This practice isn’t just useful in video games as this idea of pacing could also work well in websites.
As an example, for an e-commerce platform that’s hosting thousands of different products, it would be a good idea to instead funnel users into narrowing their choices first instead of just holding a free-for-all. Too many choices and features can be overwhelming and web designers have to come up with a way to ease users into the full breadth of the website by playing divide and conquer.
Make sure that users are aware of their current position in your website
I know what it feels to be lost in a foreign land when my phone ran out of battery while I was traveling solo and it was a pretty uncomfortable experience. Most people don’t like being lost, whether it’s in the physical world or in a virtual world such as websites. Always let the users know which part of the website they’re sitting in at the moment as this can help immensely when users are looking for something similar to what they’re currently seeing.
Rely on generally accepted principles
It’s true that the field of astronomy wouldn’t have made such a breakthrough had Copernicus not insisted on going his own way with his heliocentrism model but 90% of the time, falling back on what’s currently out there is the safer option. By relying on the best practices in web design, users could simply rely on existing knowledge instead of having to learn everything all over again and this is what frictionless design is all about after all.