The Principle of Least Effort: An Integral Part of UX
“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology- not the other way around.” The words of Steve Jobs couldn’t ring truer than in today’s digital era. This is because both desktop and mobile UX design is fundamentally rooted in human cognitive psychology.
From product management to design, having a deeper understanding of how people think is not only a competitive advantage, it is actually a necessity to genuinely “get” ones target audience on a deeper, cognitive level. Some may even suggest that “we are approaching an era where companies will be hiring professional psychologists to work on their product design and UX teams.” While you and your colleagues do not need to be running en masse to get your Ph.D.’s in cognitive science, it is widely understood that great UX designers and product managers must have at least a strong understanding of the human psyche. This is because a stellar UX must masterfully respond to human psychological queues and incorporate psychology into its design.
The human brain is certainly complex. On top of that, our background and upbringing also affects the way we process and perceive the world. Yet, our individual brains are more closely related than they are different. The following cognitive factors play a role in how human beings process visual design: memory, attention, speed, focus, creativity and flexibility. These dynamics generate a number of principles that if embraced and researched by a UX design team, can truly elevate their game.
Understanding these cognitive principles mean understanding how people naturally interact with the digital world. For more evidence on this powerful connection, psychologist and cognitive scientist Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D. has studied and linked cognitive science to definitively improving UX design.
For this particular article, we would like to dive into the “principle of least effort” and its relation to desktop and mobile UX.
Principle of Least Effort
The “principle of least effort “essentially states that people will do the least amount of work to get something done. This can apply to the amount of thought, time, energy or even key strokes- at the end of the day every human prefers the path of least resistance.
This theory encompasses the cognitive factors of attention, focus, speed, and flexibility and spans across many different fields, including evolutionary biology and design. Ultimately, people want information/content provided to them as quickly and simply as possible. Thus there’s no surprise this principle has become guiding force in digital UX design. Moreover, with society’s consumption of digital media substantially increasing each year, a flawless UX on both desktop and mobile are now more important than ever before.
From desktop to mobile form factors, it is utterly important to design with this principle in mind. Think of how the least effort principle is already a part of general design. For example, many would agree that it’s a best practice to show your users simple, intuitive icons to represent standard functions instead of lengthy descriptions. The brain can process the icons much faster than the descriptions- thus making it quicker for the user to complete what they want to do. Keep it clean, simple and avoid clutter.
Another best practice as a result of this principle is to make a user signup/login page as seamless and effortless as possible. Basically, users inherently see that screen as something that is “slowing” them from getting where they want to go within your website or app. The moment your signup page seems too lengthy or involving too much energy, your user will quickly abandon that screen and worse potentially never return. Make sure you are only asking users for information that is absolutely necessary to create an account. Ask yourself, is a username, double confirmation, or birthday really critical? Ultimately, in order to strengthen your website and/or app’s UX, you must embrace the human mantra “don’t make me think”.
It’s simply human nature for people to want a quick start and an easy finish. When the motivation to engage in an action is as high as its ease of use and accessibility, users will perform the desired actions most frequently. This is the essence of the “principle of least effort”.
Further Reading on the Psychology Behind UX
Want to learn more about the valuable intersection of psychology and technology? We highly recommend that you consider the following reads:
100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People (Voices That Matter) by Susan Weinscheck – Provides designers with a practical guide for Fircombining cognitive science into technological design. Weinscheck focuses on what motivates users, and how designers can influence their base to purchase, read or initiate some kind of desired action.
Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug – First published in 2000, hundreds of thousands of web designers and developers have turned to Krug’s book for usability guidance and understanding what principles drive intuitive navigation.
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal – Explores why certain products enthrall us, while others never catch on. Eyal explains this psychology through the Hook Model- a four-step process for developing a legion of loyal users and “hooking” them onto your product.
Designing websites and apps is in a sense a dynamic “machine-to-machine” language. Understanding how we think on all fronts and how we perceive and process complex patters, is an essential tool for this generation of UX designers.
On top of building a strong understanding of cognitive science, it is imperative for designers to pull in-depth, qualitative analytics in their website or app. Analytics that show how your users are actually behaving, can confirm or disprove your design theories and further help you optimize and repair your UX.
By collecting actionable data and embracing cognitive theories like the “principle of least effort”, you will effectively further your ability to build a website or app that is simply a cut above the rest.
This post was originally featured on UXMotel.