Cognitive Friction and System Adoption: Inversely Related


Alan Cooper defines cognitive friction as “the resistance encountered by human intellect when it engages with a complex system of rules that change as the problem permutes.”

Cooper was talking about bad interaction design on computer interfaces.

Gentry Underwood of IDEO elegantly describes the impact of UI friction in this chart from his presentation, “How To Build Collaborative Software That People Will Actually Use“.

Slide from IDEO presentation: Relationship between Friction and Adoption

The message is clear: as user interface “friction” decreases, system adoption increases.

How much UI friction do you see on your intranet?


Join The Discussion

  1. deb lavoy

    love the chart – would like to see axes reversed. you know – the up and to the right thing.

  2. Aaron Fulkerson

    Chris…Chris…don’t you know, it has to be up and to the right!

  3. Chris

    @deb doesn’t really work, unfortunately. if you reverse axes is still goes down and to the right.

    if we swapped out “friction” and replaced it with “flow”, then it would work… but i think friction is easier to understand. friction generates heat; too much cognitive friction and your brain explodes. Ugh.

  4. Lorraine Chisholm

    yeah… there’s definitely something wrong with this chart… you need to call that anti-friction 😉 or lubrication or something! It shows friction going down… but then so does adoption! Actually I think you’ve labelled the graph and not the axis. Messing my brain around.

  5. Kim Feraday

    I watched Gentry Underwood’s Web 2.0 presentation on the weekend and one of the more interesting points he raised was creating a continuous cycle of unerstanding –> prototyping to solve some of the particular problems of designing social software where it is as much about user to user interaction as it is user to interface. I think he calls it ethnography through prototyping.

    He also mentions that they use agile to enable this continuous prototyping. I’ve wondered for a while why more social software suites don’t incorporate agile capabilities into their platforms to make them self-healing. They could also help to use social capabilities to improve social processes — I know people using agile for marketing processes for example, but you could easily apply to CRM, sales etc.

    As for the chart if you did change the axes it would solve the problem. While it would still go down and to the right it would mean that as friction (y axis) approaches zero then adoption would extend to the right (increase).

  6. EphraimJF

    The point is basically that a user friendly interface can improve chances of adoption. That idea was part of our intranet development strategy from the start and is one of the reasons we chose ThoughtFarmer.

    It’s part of our simple framework for achieving high end-user adoption: (Only three slides, and one is the title and another is a diagram, so it’s an easy read/view.)

  7. Chris McGrath

    Thanks for sharing Ephraim!

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