Why Simple Websites are Better #2 - Cognitive Fluency

Keep it simple, stupid!

Successful people have long known that the simple solution is almost always the best one, but unfortunately when it comes to practice, too many designers and clients think that having lots of varying stuff on their website will somehow meet the needs of everyone – rather than nobody.

Good designers instinctively know that simple, familiar designs will perform better, and one of the scientific theories that backs up this intuition is cognitive fluency.

So, what is cognitive fluency and why does it matter for my website?

Cognitive fluency refers to the experience of how easy or difficult it is to think about something. As a general rule, humans prefer things that are easy to think about and shy away from things that are hard to think about.

This principle influences pretty much every aspect of human behaviour - and decision making when it comes to buying goods and services online is no exception.

So, if a user reaches a website for the first time, but the navigation looks similar to the vast majority of other websites they been to, then it will feel familiar and ‘right’ and they will feel at home and know how to proceed.

On the other hand, if they arrive and the navigation is in a completely unexpected place, or requires them to figure out some kind of krypton factoresque puzzle in order to find their way around the site, they are more likely to think the site is ‘wrong’ or at the very least it leave them with a vague, sub-conscious uncomfortable feeling.

The Mere Exposure Effect

Cognitive fluency is closely linked with The Mere Exposure Effect, which basically states that the more you are exposed to something, the more you prefer it. This can easily be seen when popular brands change their imagery, and all the customers moan and groan that it’s not as good anymore, even in the product inside is identical.

If you’re smart, you can take advantage of this exposure effect with your web design, by playing on the experiences people will have had in the past and ensuring your website echoes those experiences.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should just copy everyone else, or that all websites should always look exactly like they did in the 90s – far from it. But you need to use originality and innovation where it works, and in small enough chunks that it delights your users in comfort rather than baffling them.

Further reading:

Read more interesting and research backed up stuff about cognitive fluency here: http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2011/07/how-cognitive-fluency-affects-decision-making.php