Positive Friction: An oxymoron or the missing element?

Letitia Leong • 4 min read

What is friction?

Imagine you’re purchasing a t-shirt online. You head to the checkout page, but find that the layout is really confusing and pop-up chatbot messages keep appearing. Sounds frustrating, right? 

Typically, when designing user interactions, we want their experience to be as frictionless as possible. Friction refers to points within an interaction that hinder a user’s ability to conduct a task or achieve a goal. This may involve going through additional steps that prolong the process, which are ultimately disruptive for the user.

However, sometimes friction can be helpful and beneficial to the user; this is what we call positive friction. 

What is positive friction?

The purpose of positive friction is to slow down or alert the user, who may be running on autopilot mode during important steps.

The goal is to prevent them from making mistakes, by helping them understand the information more thoroughly. This provides an opportunity to change their behaviour if necessary. 

Everyday examples of positive friction

1. Confirming important actions

A common example of positive friction is used by email platforms such as Outlook and Gmail.

Before sending an email, if the user has forgotten to include an attachment after mentioning this in their text, they’re prompted with a pop-up message; an effective prevention for any awkward, apologetic follow-up emails. 



2. Improving learning and memory

Another example of positive friction comes in the form of difficult-to-read fonts, such as Sans Forgetica. Due to its somewhat faded and slanted appearance, the information is seemingly harder to read. As a result, we’re encouraged to process the information more deeply, slowly and effortfully than we otherwise would. 

One study found that information presented in a difficult-to-read font was recalled better than information presented in an easy-to-read, fluent font. Similarly, students given class material in a disfluent, difficult-to-read font across an entire semester performed better on assessments in that class than students who were given material in an easy-to-read font. So if you’re looking to induce deeper processing, perhaps consider using a difficult-to-read font. 

3. For health and wellbeing

Positive friction may also be used to reinforce work-life balance. As working from home becomes more of a norm, more and more workers are linking their work email and messaging apps to their personal phones. The “ping” of a work notification has bolstered the blur between work and personal time. 

Fortunately, messaging app Slack has devised a way through positive friction by allowing individuals to silence their notifications. Before sending a message, users are informed of this status, and are asked whether they’d like to notify the other person anyway. This use of positive friction helps users to consider the other person’s personal time, and whether a message could wait until the next day (which in most cases, it can!).   

It’s not all positive …

Despite the advantages and potential uses of positive friction, there are some ethical considerations to think about. There’s a fine balance between enhancing a user’s experience through positive friction, and using too much friction which subsequently hinders a user from engaging in the process. Ultimately, when designing user experiences, it’s imperative that the added friction should be benefiting the user and not harming them in any way. 


Although friction has long been considered negative, it can also be beneficial for the user. Positive friction may be purposeful in various ways, including helping users to confirm important actions, improving learning and memory, and for health and wellbeing. Positive friction can also come in varying forms, such as additional steps or difficult-to-read fonts.

Before applying positive friction, it’s paramount to consider whether it benefits the user. If implemented poorly, friction can create an unfavourable user experience. For this reason, remember to conduct user research and test each design before launching a frictional experience. 


  1. Cox, A. L., Gould, S. J., Cecchinato, M. E., Iacovides, I., & Renfree, I. (2016, May). Design frictions for mindful interactions: The case for microboundaries. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI conference extended abstracts on human factors in computing systems (pp. 1389-1397).
  2. Diemand-Yauman, C., Oppenheimer, D. M., & Vaughan, E. B. (2011). Fortune favors the (): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes. Cognition, 118(1), 111-115.
  3. Gunson, N., Marshall, D., Morton, H., & Jack, M. (2011). User perceptions of security and usability of single-factor and two-factor authentication in automated telephone banking. Computers & Security, 30(4), 208-220.
  4. Lades, L. K., & Delaney, L. (2022). Nudge FORGOOD. Behavioural Public Policy, 6(1), 75-94.

Want to find out more?

We’d love to chat to you about how to start applying behavioural science - book a slot below to catch up with Jez and find out more.

Book a meeting

Get in touch

We'd really like to stay connected.

Leave us a message to start a conversation: