Friction lives within us and around us. It influences every moment of our day. It’s both helpful and harmful. We unknowingly use friction in every invention we make. It’s an embedded success characteristic. But we rarely talk about it. Likewise, there are no common metrics for how to judge its effectiveness. The result: it’s hidden in plain sight.

What is Friction

  1. We’re driving down the highway, turn the corner and see a multiple car crash. We stomp on the brake pedal so the disc brakes rub against each other and we come to a safe stop. That’s good friction.
  2. Our arteries are clogged with cholesterol. The blood struggles to pass through and we have a heart attack. That’s bad friction.
  3. We are walking on slippery ground. Our shoes create friction and we don’t fall. That’s good friction.

Friction is a form of energy that both helps us and hinders us. Unfortunately, we experience bad friction every day.

  1. When we try a new app and it doesn’t do what we want.
  2. When a new banking process we need to complete is confusing.
  3. When the internet goes down during a search.
  4. When we get a flat tire on the way to the movies.
  5. Add your most frustrating example here.

These are all examples of energy wasted. To understand wasted energy friction we first need to understand the following.

Why Energy Matters

Like all living things, humans consume energy in the form of food. Compared to other non mammal species, humans self regulate their body temperature. As a result we consume orders of magnitude more calories. Alligators warm in the sun and eat food once a month. Humans heat themselves and eat daily. ‘

That’s why evolution evolved our nervous system to send signals to our unconscious brain to assess body temperature, energy expenditure, etc. Wonder why out of the blue we suddenly realise we’re hungry? That’s our unconscious brain sending us a hormone message to respond to the body’s needs for energy. Likewise, when we try a new “thing” and feel, “that’s cool”, that’s the mind sending a pleasure hormone so we repeat the behavior.

In short, our body’s control systems are hypersensitive to wasted energy as it forever wants to conserve energy, not waste it. That’s where habits come from. Why figure out how to shower every time? Instead, we create a habit.

How Tools Reduce Energy Expenditure

Humans are conscious beings. Which means we don’t live by instinct. Instead, we see the future and make choices which we manifest in the form of goals. Then we translate these goals into a behavioral path to optimize our success.

In addition, we combine goal attainment with a mastery of making tools of all kinds. Clothes, cars, hammers, smart phones, eye glasses, production lines, you name it. Tools enable us to attain goals more efficiently, and occasionally, goals which otherwise would not be possible. Everything around you, other than your body and nature, is a tool someone invented over the course of human history.

Unfortunately, in using a tool we need to expend energy. That creates a conflict.

Zero weFriction design resolves our body’s conflict of needing to expend energy to survive, against its overwhelming desire to conserve energy. It does that by focusing on reducing wasted energy.

Zero weFriction Design Axioms

Three Zero weFriction axioms define design’s fundamental direction. Design a tool without a focus on reducing energy wasted and the probability of success falls. Why? Because our bodies are hypersensitive to it. Otherwise why did Amazon patent 1-Click? The energy saved between 1 click and 3 or 4 clicks is trivial.

  1. A tool is useful when it helps us attain a goal.
  2. The value of a tool resides in its ability to use less wasted energy then alternative tools targeting the identical goal.
  3. Zero weFriction Design’s goal is to reduce user wasted energy to zero.

Zero weFriction is not impossible to achieve. The first example of zero user energy expenditure will launch shortly in a brain-controlled prosthetic hand. The user will move the hand as we do, by thinking. We are also very close to zero energy in other domains. We ask our virtual assistants Google, Alexa, and Siri to make a phone call, add items to our shopping list, turn lights on, etc.

Zero weFriction Design Examples

Amazon changed how we shop by eliminating travel frictions

Millions of people buy what they want from Amazon by reviewing and purchasing the product over the internet. As a result, users save the energy expenditure of travelling to stores to view, try on and purchase the item. Amazon changed users’ behavior from a “travel behavior” to a “shop from home behavior”.

First iPhone changed how we achieve multiple goals by reducing multiple object friction

January 2007 Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. It came with only native apps. It revolutionized the smartphone industry with two Zero weFrictions.

Because Apple eliminated the physical typewriter writerUsers wasted less energy using apps on the iPhone, compared to other smartphones’ comparable apps.

Users wasted less energy using the iPhone for apps that were not available on other smartphones and necessitate purchasing and using other products.

iPhone users changed their behavior; from “use multiple apps using multiple products” to “use multiple apps in one product.” Signs of Energy Wastage

When users say the following about our tools: frustrated, stupid, complicated, waste of time, or other derogatory expressions, what we are really hearing is that we are wasting their energy. Likewise when users say these words about our tool: cool, great, simple, easy, fast, or other positive expressions, what we are really hearing is that we are not wasting their energy. These expressions are code words for wasted energy.

Why Zero weFriction Design Matters

When designing, especially with tools that help multiple user goals, it is difficult to resolve the “simple” versus “robust” conflicts that can arise between the needs of goal 1 versus the needs of goals 2 to x. How do we best determine the balance between simplicity versus robust capabilities? Especially when we consider development costs. This difficulty results, in part, from the plethora of multiples words we use to describe what we are trying to achieve. Zero weFriction design reduces those code words to the concept of wasted energy. From there, we can build common metrics that can help us make better design decisions.

Zero weFriction Design Summary

We live by establishing goals and following the behavioral path that leads to success. To obtain those goals we expend energy. But evolution wired us to conserve energy. So we are forever in conflict.

Design creates new tools to help people better achieve their goals. Zero Friction Design solves our energy conflict by designing tools that achieve users’ goals with less energy wasted.

Reducing wasted energy in our tools is at the core of design and disruption. Create a BIG wasted energy reduction in achieving a goal and we disrupt the viability of existing tools in that value space. Provide a small wasted energy reduction and we differentiate ourselves from our competitors in that value space.

Finally, design a tool that enables the attainment of a goal previously not possible, and we create a new value space. A new tool that enables the attainment of a “not possible goal” always wastes energy. The first: phone, planes, electricity, the internet, etc, all wasted copious amounts of energy when compared to todays’ energy wastage. Every subsequent version reduced the amount of wasted energy.

By translating the code words we use when designing to its core, wasted energy, we can now use this single concept to develop common metrics that can help us make better design decisions.

The multi-million year history of human innovation is a story about our obsession with reducing energy waste, driven by our biological energy requirements and the physiological systems that control our body and our emotions.

Tips on Getting Started

  • Embrace Zero weFriction design axioms.
  • Introduce Zero weFriction to your team.
  • Review existing tools (product/services) for energy wasted.
  • Add Zero weFriction as a required item in MVP reviews.
  • Translate metrics around steps, clicks, confusion, doesn’t work situations, etc. into energy wasted. Use time spent and aggregated negative emotion as a starting point.
  • Personally become aware by watching for situations where you waste energy using a tool.


Zero weFriction does not imply we should always conserve energy. Far from it. We only need to watch professional sports to see enormous energy expended both in play, and the development of skills that now a days start at childhood.

Sport goals are always the same. Win the championship. When watching a game our bodies recognize the enormous energy expended during a match. We become attached to players for their skill and the high intensity energy display of their craft. We leave shaking our heads in awe of their prowess knowing we could never match them as we don’t have the skills nor can sustain that level of energy expenditure.

And yet, Zero weFriction has been an integral part of the evolution of all sports. Compared to the beginning of the sport: shoes provide greater support allowing for more difficult plays, gloves are stickier so players snag difficult catches, hockey sticks are curved for more accurate shots, padding let’s players safely cope with higher forces, etc. All these designs reduced the energy the player needed to complete a goal: catch a ball, score a point, stop a puck etc. The result: more residual energy was available to increase play intensity to win the game.

weFriction is hidden everywhere. We just don’t realise it’s there. Isn’t it time we recognised its core impact on design and make it visible?