People Are ImpatientThe web
is an unusual environment, high in cognitive friction, the only place
where you can suddenly find yourself somewhere completely different,
lost and confused or overwhelmed with seemingly no warning.
To cope, we have become extremely impatient.
Interaction design guru Alan Cooper (www.cooper.com)
defined this term to describe the mental stretch caused when tools
behave in a way that seems unrelated to what you wanted. I find it
extremely helpful in illustrating the ever-present anxiety of being a
normal web user.
Note: Alan describes this much better
in his excellent book "The Inmates are Running the Asylum". Please buy
In times gone by, using a tool to do
something was a simple affair. e.g. Gather friends > take sticks
> make stick pointy > poke mammoth with sticks >
repeat until mammoth falls over. The pointy stick is very low in
cognitive friction: its purpose and form are directly related. Even if
you'd never used a pointy stick before, you could imagine how you could
use it simply by looking at it or handling it. If you stick yourself in
the leg with it, you understood why you'd been stuck in the leg, and
you would learn how to avoid getting stuck in the leg again.
Todays' tools are generally high in
cognitive friction: their form and purpose are more often unrelated.
In order to get my microwave to heat
some food, I first have to set the length of time to cook for. I can't
just press 'Start' and then stop it when I choose. Then, I have to
select my power setting. Then I press 'Start'.
On the other hand, when I've finished
writing this topic, and wish to shut down my (Windows) computer, what
do I press? Yes, the 'Start' button.
There's nothing about my microwave
that lets me know how to use it to fulfil my goal of getting food hot.
There's nothing about my Windows PC that tells me how to shut it down.
You have to work these things out for yourself today, somehow! That's
the cause of cognitive friction.
Another effect you notice with
cognitive friction is: if something doesn't work, you're made to think
it's your fault.
Causes of cognitive friction on the
Experience teaches us not to trust
new sites straightaway. There are so many web sites out there, when
we're searching for something, it's likely that this unfamiliar site
we're on is the wrong one. If we're on the right site, we're probably
on the wrong page.
Think about it. To complete a typical
web goal, say booking a hotel ticket, you may have to visit 25 web
pages (search engine, follow a link, go back to search engine, follow
another link, find right site, navigate to booking section, select
dates and room type, check availability, enter all your information,
enter your billing information, verify your billing information,
confirm your order... Only one of those
pages actually books the hotel ticket. Most of the others either
completely wrong, or in the way.
I know the web is too big to see.
Statistically, I'm almost certainly not on the right page, and anyway
the next search engine result is likely to load faster and help me find
what I'm after quicker.
Hyperlinks are naturally high in
uncertainty. Click one and you could end up anywhere. What's more,
click the wrong one and you could accidentally launch an obscene web
site, a hundred popup adverts, or pick a virus. (How designers can minimise the
uncertainty of hyperlinks)
How do users respond?
The main coping mechanism we use to
counter the low trust we have in the web is a manic, impatient
decide in as little as 1/20 of a second whether a site is appealing or
- We scan pages for clues that
"You're in the right place"
- We make quick decisions about
whether to carry on or go back (It's proven that web users don't read
the page and make a valued decision on the best link to follow, but
select the first likely-looking option. See Steve Krug's book "Don't
Make Me Think" - below - for more excellent insight into this.)
- When searching, we often don't even
wait for the page to load, before deciding whether to click back, or
follow a link (Note: Principle of putting the most important stuff at
the top so it loads and is seen first.)