The Law of Convenience

(I first published this page back in August 2002.)

Friction keeps us from doing things we might otherwise really want to do, such as writing a handwritten note to a friend or donating money to people whose work we admire. The causes can be quite complex, such as the bookkeeping, auditing and disclosure that assures us that donated funds really get to their intended recipients, but it’s the other extreme that is remarkable:  Even simple impediments can become insurmountable obstacles.

If it’s hard to park at a downtown store, you might go to a shopping center a little farther away, or be interested in home-delivered groceries. If an online service won’t store your ID and password, even for valid security reasons, and requires you to type in twenty characters, you won’t be eager to use it. It doesn’t take that much friction to cause a problem. Even one extra step can have as significant an effect as twenty.

Businesses constantly test this Law, and our patience, to make money. Ticketmaster hates deep linking because it wants to be sure its visitors go through several pages of ads before they get to the information they want. That’s why so many sites have those pesky pop-up ads on every page. That’s why TV networks feared TV remote controls early on. The work of getting up to change channels was turned into a flick of the thumb, and suddenly viewers were far more likely to switch programs or skip around during ad breaks.

The Law of Convenience is simple.

Every additional step that stands between people’s desires and the fulfillment of those desires greatly decreases the likelihood that they will undertake the activity.

The Law has wide applicability. It’s not just about product or service design, its obvious applications, but also about business models and sales strategies.

It’s also less about laziness than about habits and memory. Reducing the number of steps it takes to do something makes the entire activity more efficient and more likely to become a habit. But first you have to know that it exists at all, which can be a huge barrier.

Not many people know that you can change the default home page on your browser (call it the Law of Defaults, a corollary of the Law of Convenience). Fewer still know how to, even though it is easy. It can also be done by a computer program, so some Websites ask whether you want to make them your home page, knowing that people who say yes by mistake may not know how to reverse their decision later.


About Jerry Michalski

Lateral thinker, itinerant troublemaker, convener, idea mill.
This entry was posted in Perspectives and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Law of Convenience

  1. Pingback: Sky’s Blog

  2. jleeger says:

    Seems the same as the “path of least resistance” that’s true in all natural systems…

  3. Pingback: So many thoughts, so little time — Internet Time Blog

  4. Pingback: The Advent of Digital Slavery: A Sociological Theory of Digital Dependence | Norton's Mind

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