Paths, Pirates And Pachyderms

A few years ago, file-sharing was a massive problem for content owners. At its 2008 peak, a third of US internet traffic was through file-sharing networks. Six years on, that’s down to 8%, according to this Mashable story.


The elephant does not acknowledge your warnings.

Since internet traffic is always increasing, that doesn’t mean the absolute amount of piracy has diminished, but it certainly hasn’t kept up with the net as a whole. So where did the pirates go? Streaming services, apparently – streaming video, particularly Netflix, now accounts for a massive proportion of online traffic where file-sharing has sharply dwindled.

It’s interesting to look at this story through a behaviour change lens. At BrainJuicer we talk a lot about “building a path for the elephant”. Human decision making is like a rider and an elephant. People think they can influence it by persuading the conscious rider, but ultimately the rider has little control over the mighty elephant – and the best way to change behaviour is by building a path that the beast automatically follows. So with that in mind, let’s look at file-sharing. Continue reading

A Tale Of Two Simpli-Cities

One of our constant mantras at BrainJuicer is “Fun, Fast and Easy” – it’s our shorthand for how quick, instinctive “System 1” decisions should feel. Most decisions people make are taken quickly (“fast”), routing around difficulty (“easy”) and make the decider feel good about their choice (“fun”).

But of course there’s more to it than that. What happens, for instance, when two of these imperatives are in conflict? What happens when making a decision easier also makes it less fun?

Two news stories last week perfectly shed light on this fascinating issue. They both involve root-and-branch redesigns, and both redesigns put simplicity at their heart. One has been a roaring success, one a complete disaster.


The disaster first. The plunge in US retailer JC Penney’s fortunes under its ex-Apple chief executive Ron Johnson looks likely to become one of this decade’s touchstone studies in business catastrophe. Johnson was ousted on April 8th after a brief reign which had seen sales nosedive, with his signature “Everyday Low Prices” policy widely blamed. Continue reading

Keep It Simple, Not Stupid

Every now and then someone says something on Twitter that makes you go, “Gosh, yes!”. An example was Joshua Porter, the user experience designer, who pointed out a week or so ago that:

“Simplicity is a cognitive property, not a physical one. That’s why less isn’t always simpler.”

This nails something very important. At the heart of the lessons we draw from the System 1/System 2 metaphor for human thought is the idea that System 1 decisions ought to be “fun, fast and easy”. If you expect people to make decisions that aren’t these things, they won’t thank you for it – and may well revert to a default anyway!

“DRINK ME”: Alice makes a fast, fun and easy decision.

It’s easy to equate visual and physical simplicity with easy, fast decisions. But it’s not always true. A cluttered environment might offend designers aesthetically, but it doesn’t necessarily stop people making fast and easy decisions – think of a supermarket, where hundreds of brands compete for attention but people still make very rapid, ‘system 1’ decisions by simply bypassing most of the excess information.

In his tweet, Porter was referencing this fine piece, “What Does It Mean To Be Simple?“, by Daniel Ritzenthaler, which points out that simplicity means ‘more clarity’, not necessarily less of anything. Ritzenthaler talks about the process in terms of giving people the minimum information they need to make a clear, fast, binary decision. Go below that minimum – for the sake of perceived simplicity – and you have the opposite effect: you make the decision tougher. Your biggest allies in creating fast, easy decisions aren’t the eraser and the delete button, they’re habit and intuition.

Of course, you do still need to work out what that minimum is – which is often where testing comes in. What makes for the simpler decision: a brand of dog food with a clear statement of nutritional benefit on the pack, or a brand of pet food with a larger and bigger-eyed dog?

(We know the answer to that one. Hint below.)