User Interface Friction

A while ago I participated in an interesting seminar concerning the topic of User Interface Friction, which in short will be brushed up here. Firstly a definition of the concept of User Interface Friction, and secondly seven guidelines helping to avoid friction in user interfaces.
I believe that the guidelines are important to keep in mind when designing or redesigning a user interface.

UIF is the resistance imposed upon a user-guided process through the operating system and the way the user interface reacts. In most cases, it has nothing to do with functionality: we use the term User Interface Friction to define the difference in fluidity and productivity that can be observed when running the same program or procedure on different computer systems, or when trying to achieve the goal on two similar digital devices.

(Andreas Pfeiffer – User Interface Friction Benchmarks XP/OSX/Vista)

Below is seven guidelines for reducing the user interface friction:

  • Reduce number of steps
    Minimize the number of click/keystrokes/gestures necessary to accomplish actions in your interface.
  • Fewer elements
    Simplify the interface by reducing the number of elements, e.g. consider for each element/field, if it is necessary for the current task of the users – or necessary at all.
  • Use automation
    Let the system do actions where possible, e.g. use autocompletion where possible and natural.
  • Fitts law
    Minimize the travel distance of the eye and the mouse cursor, and make relevant object as large as possible. Check the precision of the controls in the interface design and interaction devices. (Fitts law)
  • Activity based design
    Think about which actions are natural according to the “current” activity of the user, i.e. if you give the user a hammer, make sure to provide the nails.
  • Performance
    Time is friction, avoid latency in the user interface, e.g. menu latency.
  • Reduce cognitive load
    Help the user with the tasks. Make the textual content in the language of the user, and avoid introducing new concepts. Reduce the number of steps and elements.

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