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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Reduce Sign-up Friction

So now we've answered a person's basic questions about our web application. In some cases we focused on what value the application provides, while in others we focused on more social issues like who is using it. The journalism technique covers most of those bases.

If we've done our job right, people are motivated to take the next step and use the application. With luck we've now got everyone in the "Ready to Go" mindset. The key at this point is to reduce sign-up friction as much as possible.

Don't Make Creating an Account a Requirement (until You Need to) has an excellent way to get started using their service with very little friction. Say you book at flight at You'll get an email from them confirming your flight details. Simply forward that email to and they create a page for your itinerary. They send you an email back with a link to your newly-created page. You've essentially started using their application without creating an account, or even visiting the site!

Figure 4.26

Figure 4.26 TripIt makes starting a snap. All you have to do is forward an existing email to the service and they create an itinerary for you.

Another great example is Netvibes, a web-based desktop application. They invite you to start using their service immediately by configuring your own desktop.

Netvibes makes creating an account seem almost like an afterthought. They provide value way before they make you sign up. Here's the text:

  • This is your personalized page, you can now modify everything: move modules, add new RSS/ATOM feeds, change the parameters for each module, etc. Your modifications are saved in real-time and you'll find your page when you get back on If you want to be able to access your page from any computer, you can sign in (at the top right) with your email and a password.

The Netvibes example highlights a larger principle of form design. I don't know if it is written in stone somewhere, but it should be:

Upon signup, ask only for information that's absolutely necessary

In the case of Netvibes, nothing is required to start using their application. Talk about a frictionless process. Only after you start using it do they remind you that if you want to save what you've done, you have to sign up.

Figure 4.27

Figure 4.27 Netvibes kindly lets you play with the tool before having to create an account. In fact, they almost make creating an account seem like an afterthought... what a novel idea!

Progressive Engagement

Interface designer Luke Wroblewski calls this technique progressive engagement.5 Progressive engagement allows people to get started using software without committing fully or filling out a sign-up form. They engage with the software slowly instead of having to scale the hurdle of a sign-up form before engaging.

Both Netvibes and Tripit practice progressive engagement. Contrast the experience of those sites with that of the Wall Street Journal. When reading an article snippet on, you're asked to subscribe to the service for full access. When you press "subscribe," you're presented with a daunting form. Not only do you have to pay money (a hurdle in itself), not only does this form contain more fields than necessary, but it's only one of four pages!

Now, someone might argue that "It's the Wall Street Journal, the most respected newspaper in the world, so they can do what they want." Not so. What the Wall Street Journal has done is to increase signup friction. The only way to overcome that increased friction is to increase motivation by using the techniques mentioned above. While readers of the Wall Street Journal might be highly motivated, that shouldn't be a requirement just to fill out a form!

Figure 4.28

Figure 4.28 The Wall Street Journal has an incredible amount of friction in their signup process. This daunting form is only one of four pages!

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