Make no mistake that fluid, unified web design is an irreplaceable factor in the “big picture” of brand strategies for conversion and retention.

There’s a ton of noise out there. Ambitious, emerging brands across a wide range of categories are saturating the marketplace like crazy. It’s no surprise that it takes more than a few impressions for people to remember a brand. The reality is that, for online audiences, marketing messaging, along with promotional information and other mission-laden content, can get lost in the shuffle rather easily.

Cohesive design is fixated on amplifying that messaging with enough firepower to cut through the noise. It can harmonize brand experience and be a catalyst for coveted visibility, when plenty of serviceable options exist. Perhaps more than anything, it weighs heavily on a brand’s propensity to be understood.

Or, without justification, it can be remarkably complex.

Decoding several layers of online behaviors and user engagement has long been a tricky puzzle to piece together. What’s clear about this engagement is that users most certainly wish to journey in complete control of their session, without any navigational curveballs. The path to brand-consumer transparency ought to be a seamless, personalized one.

The pursuit of a breathtaking, intuitive user experience (UX) requires making sense of those behavioral triggers defining these online sessions. Often times, behavioral patterns boil down to simplification.

And so, the implications of a frictionless user experience loom large.

Cognitive friction is mental disharmony inflicted upon users, resulting from unexpected interface challenges on the journey to conversion. Essentially, cognitive friction personifies the disconnect or confusion that happens when a user is alarmed by an action’s outcome, based on another expected outcome of that same action. It disrupts the flow and energy of a user experience that’s supposed to be inviting (or at least navigable).

Ultimately, frustrations with cognitive friction are likely to lead users astray and, in the meantime, diminish trust in a brand’s products or services. For brands, winning over audiences begins with the correction of misleading or perplexing interface design. Fortunately, various design strategies can diagnose challenges with cognitive friction before it becomes too costly or damages reputation.

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Wireframing

While conversions are at the core of brand success and are largely supported by user experience design, compelling UX design can also spell other advantages too.

Beyond just conversions, design is supposed to inspire brand confidence and serve as a blueprint for advocates to interact authentically. Responsive design can also capture the attention of casual visitors and, in a flash, be a revelation for new audiences. When users are overwhelmed or thrown off by confusing or evasive design, it leaves a sour taste. All of the potential advantages that striking design should yield – clarity, command, identity – suddenly slip through the cracks. This often signals information disintegration, or a lapse in the organization of information.

Wireframing (or “prototyping”) exercises are an initial step that can be taken in order to outline specific page-by-page journeys on which users might explore, prior to cognitive friction becoming a relevant concern. An interface’s wireframes are a black-and-white representation of information structure that’s indicative of consumer pathways to absorbing information. Within the scope of a website or mobile application design project, wireframes are strung together before the design phase rolls around. The timing of this exercise prior to designing is unequivocally intentional; outlining the structure of information architecture should inform the balance and configuration of design, not the other way around.

In addition to structuring information, wireframing exercises emphatically communicate the intended functionality of an interface’s pages. They orchestrate the ebb and flow of associated content that falls within the scope of the interface. Wireframes, often designed with vector-based UX tools like Adobe XD, are composed in a raw skeleton format so that user experience friction can be detected without visual cues or design distraction.

Wireframing exercises succeed in setting the tone for a more prolific user experience, one that funnels consumers to the exact information they’re looking for.

Microinteractions

Microinteractions are interface animations that convey system status and support error prevention in user experience. Also an ace-in-the-hole for “branding” appeal, microinteractions continue to soar as a popular, practical strategy for engaging users that have a tendency to browse. Microinteractions exist as visual clues that actions are indeed taking place within the framework of a digital experience. These reference points then provide users with the instant (and much-appreciated) feedback that’s necessary to propel them through an online journey and overcome potential hazards related to cognitive friction.

Microinteractions can energize user experience with several functional benefits, all of which breathe life into processes that could otherwise be complicated or cumbersome. Menu microinteractions can be leveraged to spark curiosity about the navigational features of an interface. They can affirm a user’s positioning or intended trajectory on the journey within the interface. Menu microinteractions might consist of expand-able and collapse-able design, which contributes to aesthetics while also enabling alertness as users track down information.

Furthermore, banner microinteractions can be leveraged to elicit user response and create urgency around time-sensitive or promotional information. Banner microinteractions seize attention and direct users to content that needs more immediate communication. This year, in the thick of travel uncertainties and disruption, United Airlines has masterfully woven banner microinteractions into the fabric of its website in order to communicate updates about COVID-19 travel policies and restrictions.

Additionally, microinteractions can appear in the form of “progress bar” buttons or informational transitions, the latter of which is highly applicable for financial services brands as well as other online retail companies synchronizing enormous amounts of data. Microinteractions also enhance automations and facilitate the momentum of task flows within an interface.

What’s tremendous about microinteractions is that they keep users attentive and alarmed while still fostering a “grounded” experience that doesn’t leave them high and dry on the quest for information. Microinteractions playfully encourage user patience, even when there’s a rush of moving parts to digest within an interface experience. Rely upon microinteractions as a favorable strategy against user setbacks associated with cognitive friction.

Usability Testing

Usability testing (interchangeable with ‘user testing’) is another sound method for, well, “testing” the user experience and pinpointing problems or shortcomings tied to cognitive friction before it unfolds in tangible user dissonance. The essence of usability testing can be summarized as a fact-finding session which aims to track behavioral tendencies while, at the same time, uncovering engagement opportunities that may not have been apparent beforehand.

Similar to wireframing, usability testing puts user experience into action by analyzing the flow and functional framework of content within an interface. Usability testing sessions are performed with a facilitator/moderator, participant, and tasks. Participants are the subjects of user experience, often asked to think out loud so that behavioral rationale and motivations for “surfing” (or clicking) are more adequately understood by the facilitator who’s conducting research. For example, a participant may elaborate feelings of surprise when a “Sign Up” or “Learn More” button redirects them from one website to another. Click-based conflict like this would be addressed in a usability testing session.

The goals of usability testing are pretty straightforward: identify “pain points” on the user journey and receive fresh, instantaneous feedback that’ll advance the corresponding user experience forward with precision and efficacy. The iterative design cycle is fueled by both qualitative and quantitative usability testing that extracts cognitive friction with a vengeance. Qualitative usability testing targets the collection of insights or anecdotes about how people use a product or service, while quantitative usability testing focuses on metrics and drills down on unearthing “benchmarks” that articulate details about the user experience. Both types of user research can aggressively move the needle forward.

Conclusion

Fluid, intuitive user experience design has long been a process of trial and error. Nevertheless, it’s the engine that accelerates brand strategies forward. It’s a blueprint for converting and retaining consumers. Imperative to tracing where user journeys make sense, and where user journeys fall short.

Cognitive friction is where user journeys can miss the mark. It’s a headache that casts a shadow on integrated brand experience, discouraging users from exploring and absorbing important content leading to those objectives of conversion and retention. It’s a hiccup that curbs the trajectory of meaningful consumer engagement. Frustrations with cognitive friction will jeopardize amicability and trust, both in that moment and in the future. Consumers become less inclined to resonate with a brand and its respective mission or services when cognitive friction interrupts the flow of user experience. It’s a severe thorn in the side of brands with an eye on building equity.

And, let’s be real – what brand isn’t?

Refined user experience places a larger emphasis on simplification, and rightfully so. Don’t let a consumer’s journey with your brand be defined by interactive turbulence or confusing navigation. Instead, rally around a dynamic, frictionless user experience that influences users in the all the right ways. Not unexpected ways.

Sharpen conversion. Invite retention. Eliminate cognitive friction.

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