Cognitive Friction

Your constantly-updated definition of Cognitive Friction and collection of videos and articles
158 shares

What is Cognitive Friction?

Cognitive friction occurs when a user is confronted with an interface or affordance that appears to be intuitive but delivers unexpected results. This mismatch between the outcome of an action and the expected result causes user frustration and will impair the user experience if not jeopardize it. User research can help uncover such problems and generate friction-free design.

Imagine a mouse-operated graphical user interface (GUI) where selecting a folder icon requires two left clicks and opening it requires a right click. This isn’t necessarily a bad way to control the GUI—however, it’s completely counter-intuitive, as our experience with GUIs for decades leads us to expect that a single left click selects an icon and a double left click opens it. The conflict between our expectation and the way the interface works is called cognitive friction. As users will not be comfortable with the prospect of unlearning a conventional way of completing an action, they will reject such a design.

Where to spot cognitive friction?

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

User interfaces that suffer from cognitive friction can negatively affect the user experience, leading to frustration and possibly the abandonment of a product. Avoiding cognitive friction is the job of the user experience design team, in conjunction with the UI and interaction design teams. To identify places where cognitive friction might occur, the team might engage in user interviews, create task flows, and design easy-to-use information architectures ahead of development. Expert evaluations and usability testing with users during the development of a product can highlight problems and point to solutions for them. Remembering that cognitive friction can arise across a range of conventions is vital. While areas such as mouse and keyboard design (including the entrenched nature of the QWERTY keyboard) appear obvious, designers should remain aware of potential pitfalls, established norms, and the need for eliminating user frustration.

Literature on Cognitive Friction

Here’s the entire UX literature on Cognitive Friction by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Cognitive Friction

Take a deep dive into Cognitive Friction with our course Mobile UI Design .

In the “Build Your Portfolio” project, you’ll find a series of practical exercises that will give you first-hand experience of the methods we cover. You will build on your project in each lesson so once you have completed the course you will have a thorough case study for your portfolio.

Mobile User Experience Design: UI Design is built on evidence-based research and practice. Your expert facilitator is Frank Spillers, CEO of ExperienceDynamics.com, author, speaker and internationally respected Senior Usability practitioner.

All open-source articles on Cognitive Friction

Please check the value and try again.

Open Access—Link to us!

We believe in Open Access and the democratization of knowledge. Unfortunately, world-class educational materials such as this page are normally hidden behind paywalls or in expensive textbooks.

If you want this to change, , link to us, or join us to help us democratize design knowledge!

Share Knowledge, Get Respect!

Share on:

or copy link

Cite according to academic standards

Simply copy and paste the text below into your bibliographic reference list, onto your blog, or anywhere else. You can also just hyperlink to this page.

Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF. (2016, June 2). What is Cognitive Friction?. Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF.

New to UX Design? We’re Giving You a Free ebook!

The Basics of User Experience Design

Download our free ebook The Basics of User Experience Design to learn about core concepts of UX design.

In 9 chapters, we’ll cover: conducting user interviews, design thinking, interaction design, mobile UX design, usability, UX research, and many more!

A valid email address is required.
316,247 designers enjoy our newsletter—sure you don’t want to receive it?