These days, the word sloth describes laziness, but laziness is the outcome rather than the source of sloth. Sloth is actually avoidance of work or a “don’t care” feeling. In earlier times, when the work being avoided was God’s work, this was seen as a major sin. Thinking of sloth as avoiding work or not caring about outcomes gives you a useful perspective; namely that people are not motivated to do more than the absolute minimum work to achieve their online aims. You could call this “lazy,” but that isn’t necessarily true. Instead, customers demand easy-to-use sites and software.
It doesn’t take much additional design work to create an interface where the path that requires the minimum of user effort is the one that is most profitable for the developer.
- Path of least resistance: Ensure that your desired end result is on the easiest path through the process. Hide disclaimers in locations away from this path.
- Provide fewer options: The more items, the more likelihood of procrastination.
- Pre-pick your preferred option: Prime people so that they are open to accepting the choice you highlight.
- Make options hard to find or understand: Place opt-outs out of the way and obfuscate.
- Negative options: don’t not sign up! Sign people up by default and make it harder for them to un-sign than to continue down your preferred path.Use desire lines to hide the sign-up in plain sight.
It is human nature to want the greatest outcome for the least amount of work. Once we internalize some useful behaviors we tend to re-use them constantly, even if they aren’t necessarily the best fit for the task we’re performing. Clicking “next” without reading all the text on the screen normally serves us well. That’s why we are sometimes surprised to subsequently find out that we signed up for more than we’d bargained for. The normal behavior failed us when a savvy marketer slid their proposition onto the fallow areas of the page away from the desire line.
But it isn’t just straight-out deception that leads us to unintentional choices. Our sloth also leads us to accept default options either because we can’t be bothered to change them, or when we have run out of decision-making energy.
Often it’s easier just to keep doing what we’ve always done than to make a change, even if that change would save us time, money or the hassle of a spam-filled inbox.