Adding friction to help people make better decisions

Have you ever pressed send on an email before attaching the file? Or walked away from the cash machine without your money? Or opened a new bank account hoping it’s right for what you need, but without being sure? I know I have.

Sometimes it feels like my fault - maybe I wasn’t paying attention, I was in a rush, or I didn’t care enough until it was too late. And other times it felt like it was hard to understand or unclear what clicking a button would actually do.  

Making things that are effortless to use is one of our core goals as designers, right? One-click purchasing, stripped-back designs, and important books such as Don't make me think are everywhere. The social scientist BJ Fogg even developed a behaviour model that highlights how the easier something is or more motivated someone is, the more successful a prompt to act will be.

Graph of BJ Fogg's behaviour model. Ability and motivation along the axis. Tasks with prompts that have high motivation and are easy to will succeed, tasks with prompts with low motivation and are difficult to do will fail.
BJ Fogg’s behaviour model - showing how prompts succeed or fail depending on how motivated and able someone is to do a task.

But, sometimes it might be better to encourage someone to slow down and think, or to not do an action altogether. Maybe we need to make things a bit trickier in those instances?

Why make people slow down and think?

One of the main outcomes we aim for when working in Financial Services is for customers to make better decisions about their money – regardless of how financially literate they are or how confident they are in managing their finances, we want to help people improve their situation. 

We don’t want people taking out an insurance product they don’t understand, or a loan they don’t need. And we also know that not everyone wants, or is able, to become experts of their own finances.

The increase of self-serve solutions also means that a greater number of people are being exposed to the risks of becoming vulnerable, and regulatory organisations such as the FCA are becoming more focused on how organisations need to meet vulnerable customers’ needs. We know that identifying and creating solutions for people who are in vulnerable situations is critical. We’ve also seen that designing solutions that help everyone to get better outcomes in turn helps reduce the chances of someone becoming vulnerable, and supports those already in vulnerable situations.

So, how can we do it?

A key way we can help customers slow down and think and make better decisions is to slow things down. Rather than making things easier and increasing motivation, we can look to add friction or reduce motivation.

Graph of BJ Fogg's behaviour model. Ability and motivation along the axis. Showing how different prompts will fail or succeed depending how motivated a person is.
BJ Fogg’s behaviour model - showing how making something harder will mean some prompts to act will fail if someone isn’t motivated enough.

Person A is very motivated - when a task is made more difficult, a prompt to act would still succeed. 

Person B is less motivated, when the task is made more difficult, the prompt would fail. 

Sometimes, this is a good idea - only having the highly motivated complete something to protect those who aren’t sure. There are many different ways we can look to do this, here are four ways of how you could go about it.

1. Get someone to make a choice, rather than just continue

Getting users to decide between two equally prominent options will make them slow down and choose. Rather than having a primary button that is easy to move forward with - get the user to make a choice between two equally valid options.

This is useful when there are a number of steps and you want some steps to be more considered - e.g. when you’re submitting an application, you might want the customer to slow down instead of clicking the “next step” without thinking.

Image showing an application submission with two equally prominent buttons
Giving a customer choice instead of a single call to action when submitting a critical application form.

2. Comprehension checks

Having users go through a set of checks to make sure they understand what they are doing before they move forward is a great way to give people the opportunity to reflect. It also is a great way to link off to more in-depth content so that people who are ready aren’t overwhelmed. 

This is especially useful for situations where there is a particularly complex situation, or where customers have assumptions that might not be true.

Image showing a comprehension check - making sure someone understands that what they are about to do needs consideration before they continue.
Checking a customer’s comprehension before they continue

3. Making critical (and sometimes negative) messages stand out

Use design to highlight things the user wouldn’t usually expect to see. This makes them read these things as a priority, and slows them down unlike when these messages are part of the usual content, or even worse, hidden away. 

This is useful when someone may be signing up or buying something without fully understanding the situation, and it helps to challenge people’s motivations so that their decisions are more considered.

This has the added bonus of increasing trust and stopping people hunting for information that they can’t find.

Image showing a positive and negative point about a product, side by side with same prominence
Highlighting negative aspects of a financial product alongside the positives

4. Moving call to actions into the best places

Sometimes designers have to make a choice about where to put a call to action - whether it’s one of the first things that draws people to the next step, or whether it’s lower down the page. When you want to help people make better decisions, putting relevant content before the call to action means that people have to put in a bit more effort to move forward, and we increase the likelihood of them reading that core information. 

This is useful when you want customers to read something, or be committed, before they continue.
Note: It’s really important that the content is engaging and clear, otherwise people are likely to just skip past it anyway. 

When to make use of these

We feel that any time where the customer has to make a decision that is irreversible, or one with many factors to juggle, it’s right to consider slowing them down. And we feel that those with a large risk of a bad outcome if they don’t make the right decision are absolutely perfect for adding friction in some way. These shouldn’t be the only solutions either - clear content, the right patterns, and regular research are all necessary to make sure that needs are being met.

We’re seeing a big change from companies defining success as the number of sales they make, to supporting their customers make the right decisions. This needs to continue. Making sure that you’re selling the right products to the right people is part of that. It’s good business sense too - it means fewer complaints, less regulatory scrutiny, a lower cost to serve, and higher customer satisfaction - all of which improve efficiency and drive long-term success.

Sometimes you need to add a little friction - the key is doing it at the right times.

Mark is one of our Experience Directors - helping our public sector clients make life better for their users.