Almost everyone wants to make their website simpler and easier to use. A smooth, effortless experience after all helps sweep users toward conversion and encourages them to return later. But what does simplicity look like in practical, applied terms? Does it result from clear instruction, fewer elements, reassurance, or some combination of all of these and more? Testing, of course, is a powerful tool for identifying the most persuasive element but to determine which elements are worth testing, we need some kind of theoretical framework.
Fortunately, there are many options. One very useful example is the “computers as persuasive technology” model—or “captology”—developed by Stanford University researcher, BJ Fogg. His research explores the overlap between technology and persuasion and has found technology like websites have measurable potential to influence attitude and behavior. This idea probably isn’t new to anyone reading this blog, but the model does provide several interesting and useful extensions.
One of these extensions is an operational definition of simplicity as the “minimally satisfying solution at the lowest cost.” More precisely, Fogg outlines six core elements that influence simplicity: time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social deviance, and routineness. When an action takes a long time, it has a higher cost than one that can be done quickly. If the target behavior is completely new, it has a higher cost than something we do everyday.
Importantly, lowering the cost (increasing the simplicity) of actions is not universally appealing—if we sit down with the Sunday crossword, for example, we expect and appreciate a heavy requirement of brain cycles. Similarly, each element exists on a relative scale. If an action costs $1 to complete, for example, and you have $10, it appears to be a fairly simple decision. However, if you only have $1, the decision is much more complicated.
There are two essential takeaways you can apply to testing and optimization:
1. Understand context instead of applying best practices
Fogg’s model illustrates the effect context and individual needs can have on the perception of an experience—and the fundamental ability to complete an action. This makes optimization a bit more difficult but through testing the nuances of these factors can be determined. It’s clear, however, that simply applying a best practice cannot effectively address the unique mentality and needs of a user.
2. Focus testing from simplicity on key elements
The model outlines six elements on which testing and optimization efforts can focus. Obviously, testing around Fogg’s simplicity framework addresses only one category of factors that influence users—something Fogg would readily admit and in fact addresses with a more complete behavioral model—but if you’re looking for new ideas, targeting the elements of simplicity is a great place to start.