How to Reduce Your User’s Cognitive Load

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we continue our discussion about cognitive load by asking how we can simplify our sites and match our user’s mental model.

This week’s show is sponsored by Balsamiq and Fullstory.


Paul Boag: This week on the Boagworld Show, we continue our discussion about cognitive load by asking how we can simplify our sites and better match user's mental models. This week's show is sponsored by Balsamiq and Fullstory.

Paul Boag: Hello and welcome to the Boagworld Show, the podcast about all aspects of digital design, development and strategy. My name is Paul Boag, and joining me on this week's show, in a relaxed, chilled, happy world of sitting, I don't know, by the fire in a pub inaudible 00:00:49.

Marcus Lillington: I'm not. I'm in the Headscape office.

Paul Boag: No I just meant metaphorically.

Marcus Lillington: Oh, I see. Right.

Paul Boag: I've been thinking about this you see. A lot of the podcasts out there, they're trying to be more and more professional, while-

Marcus Lillington: In what way? What, like kind of like, "We're proper radio people"? DJs?

Paul Boag: Yeah. They've got a radio.

Marcus Lillington: Presenters?

Paul Boag: Yeah. Well, we're more sitting and having a chat with a few friends. Hello friends.

Marcus Lillington: That's how it's always been.

Paul Boag: Exactly.

Marcus Lillington: That's fine.

Paul Boag: Mainly because we can't be arsed to be professionals.

Marcus Lillington: It's actually quite a lot of effort of you want to do all the proper studio stuff and edit every episode from top to bottom. It takes too much time and you end up not doing it.

Paul Boag: Exactly.

Marcus Lillington: It's better to do something, a little bit roughly maybe, than not do it at all.

Paul Boag: Really interesting you were talking about that. I was talking, one of the people I was mentoring yesterday, I was talking about marketing and doing marketing material, and how she gets stuck because she was a perfectionist. I said, "My mantra towards such things is quantity over quality."

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. That's a tricky one isn't it? Something over nothing maybe.

Paul Boag: Yeah, something over nothing. Yeah, to some agree I mean that when it comes to content marketing, because people want to hear from you again and again. You've got to build up that regular thing. My other attitude you see, is the more you do something, the better you get at it, so when you start off, go for quantity, and then by the time anybody's actually paying attention to you, it'll be quality. Do you see what I'm getting at?

Marcus Lillington: That's a good point. Cat's in the chatroom here, says, "Progress, not perfection."

Paul Boag: Exactly. I like it Cat. You're a wise woman. Marcus, can you just talk for a little bit? Because I want to check something on Divinity II, my game that I'm playing at the moment. I've just died, or one of my party members has died, and I haven't got a resurrection scroll.

Marcus Lillington: No, no problem at all. I did notice that probably because you quite often, not every day, but most days you set up a question for the Slack channel, for everyone to respond to if they so wish, and the first one that you've done probably, well maybe not the first, but the first one ib a long time that had nothing to do with our work and our jobs, was about gaming, was by far the most popular one you've ever posted.

Paul Boag: I know.

Marcus Lillington: Even I had 10 responses in it.

Paul Boag: But Marcus.

Marcus Lillington: Yes.

Paul Boag: You said your favorite game was bridge.

Marcus Lillington: It's a brilliant game. That's a brilliant game.

Paul Boag: I know you've been talking about retirement and you're looking forward, but you're not living in some Florida community for old people or old web designers.

Marcus Lillington: You've never played it have you?

Paul Boag: No, I know, but we all know.

Marcus Lillington: Ah, so therefor you don't know.

Paul Boag: I know the kind of people who play it, and they're the kind of people you're turning into.

Marcus Lillington: I used to play it when I was younger. I played it in my teens and in my 20s. I don't play it anymore because I've got no partners to play it with, and it's inaudible 00:04:00, you have to play with crosstalk 00:04:02.

Paul Boag: Yeah, because they've all died.

Marcus Lillington: Well no, it's obviously I'm not quite old enough yet. I'll have to wait inaudible 00:04:07 to join the bridge club. But no, I did then expand and start coming up with loads of other games that I love, as everybody did on the channel. What's this one you're playing Paul? It sounds really complicated and boring.

Paul Boag: It's Divinity II, which is an RPG, a role playing game, but a digital, online video game. It's just taken me back to my Dungeons and Dragons, awkward 14-year-old boy stage.

Marcus Lillington: See, they don't appeal to me at all.

Paul Boag: No, I know. Not your kind of thing.

Marcus Lillington: I'm a puzzle boy.

Paul Boag: The trouble with role play games like that is it basically turns into maths.

Marcus Lillington: Okay, so yes, if I get this thing, that'll put that score up to there, but it'll take that off that one.

Paul Boag: Yeah, and so it's all probability, which is why a certain type of person plays it.

Marcus Lillington: I think it's got to do with the costumes as well, and the names.

Paul Boag: Yes. I want to be an Elven princess.

Marcus Lillington: There you go.

Paul Boag: Exactly.

Marcus Lillington: I did say that one of my favorite games, actually on the board game front, it's actually another card game, is one called Love Letter, which is eight different cards, eight different types of cards numbered one to eight, and they are all fairy princess and castle guard and all this kind of thing, but the game is superb.

Paul Boag: What amused me is the very first one that was suggested was Settlers of Calun or something.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, I don't know.

Paul Boag: My reaction was, "Oh yeah, kick it off with a really obscure one," and then everybody jumped on me. Catan.

Marcus Lillington: Catan or Caton.

Paul Boag: Caton? Catan. Anyway.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, whatever.

Paul Boag: Everybody immediately jumped on me, "Oh, this is a really well-known game. You ignorant fool."

Marcus Lillington: I think you're just old Paul, that's all it is.

Paul Boag: No. It's catan according to Ben in the chatroom.

Marcus Lillington: Thank you Ben.

Paul Boag: Anyway, I'll try and put a link in the show notes to it. I describe it as it looks like a game that's been designed by the Jehovah witnesses.

Marcus Lillington: I don't know why. That sound funny, but why?

Paul Boag: No, not because of the gameplay, and nothing against Jehovah witnesses in any way, it's just that all their stuff you get through, like the Watchtower and stuff they give you in the streets and when they come to the door, it's got a very specific design style. I think for a long time, they had this person that kind of job it was to do all these illustrations, and it looks like it's done in the same style. It's so funny.

Marcus Lillington: Ah, I see. The Jehovah's witnesses, who were always on Hartley Wintney, where I live, High Street every Saturday, never talked to me. I think I must have some kind of magnetic field around me.

Paul Boag: You're probably on a list somewhere.

Marcus Lillington: But they know. They know not to talk to me.

Paul Boag: Aw. I always feel really sorry for them.

Marcus Lillington: Past saving, that's me.

Paul Boag: Oh yeah, well past it. I feel really sorry for them. That's hard work that job. That's as bad as cold calling isn't it really? In fact, it's worse because it's face-to-face.

Marcus Lillington: It's actually worse.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Because you know that nobody wants to talk to you. That you're banging on the door of no. At least they don't do that anymore, they just stand on the high street looking sad.

Paul Boag: Oh, do they not come to your door?

Marcus Lillington: Well, where I live anyway.

Paul Boag: Oh, okay. I don't know. Anyway, that's total tangent. The moral of the story is you've got to come and join our Slack channel because that's the kind of crap we talk about. You can do so by going to If you've already joined up and you're not joining in on scintillating conversations like that, I don't know what's wrong with you. What can we do when you don't respond to that? If you're a lurker, don't be afraid to … Don't give me too busy working, Ben said in the blumming … Honestly.

Paul Boag: Right, anyway, that's all a very long, boring introduction. Oh, right, I've noticed you've put something in the notes Marcus. This is unheard of, he says putting on his glasses. Actually no, that'll make it worse of I out my glasses on.

Marcus Lillington: Sometimes I do Paul, just to give you a little bit of a heads up.

Paul Boag: Just to throw me.

Marcus Lillington: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Paul Boag: Your thought for the day is developing the new Headscape website. Is this going to be a slow train wreck? Because designing your own agency website is the worst thing to do. Not the worst thing, not in the sense of you should never do it, but in the sense of it's so hard.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, but there's two reasons why I thought it would be a good thing to talk about on my thoughts for the day, is because it's hard, I've got some actually potentially useful things that I can share with people. But mores the point, it's taken a long time and there's a lot to talk about, and I can spread it out over a number of episodes.

Paul Boag: Ah, that's really inaudible 00:09:06. Yeah, avoiding work.

Marcus Lillington: I'm learning from you Paul.

Paul Boag: That is totally the kind of thing I'd do, yeah.

Marcus Lillington: This is part one all right?

Paul Boag: Okay. All right.

Marcus Lillington: crosstalk 00:09:17.

Paul Boag: Of 15 parts. You don't even know do you?

Marcus Lillington: I'll try. No, I've no idea. I reckon four maybe.

Paul Boag: Okay, all right.

Marcus Lillington: We'll see, but I'll try and spread them out a bit. I won't do it all in one go. If I can think of anything to put in between, then I will. Right, so where are my notes? Here they are. Setting the scene first, that's what I think we need to do. Our current website was designed and built-

Paul Boag: Is shit.

Marcus Lillington: Interesting, what I'm about to say, but okay, fine if you want to say that Paul. Was designed and built and 2014, during our last quiet, in inverted commas, period. That's the current site, the one of you go to, was a major change from the kiddie, chummy predecessor that had cartoon cows and cartoon people, and as we found out last week, it had terms like bragging rights instead of news on it, so yes, it's really painful. Makes me twitch just thinking about it.

Marcus Lillington: But the current site is actually still really good, and I think stands up really well, and Paul, you were raving about the design of it just the other day weren't you?

Paul Boag: Yeah. I meant the content was shit, not the design, because the design is the same design that I use on Boagworld. I feel so sorry for Dan and Ed. They go through this enormous effort to create a unified brand and identity across Boagworld and Headscape, to finally tie the two together after years of them being separate, and then I leave.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, but it's been fine to keep it that way for so long, and it does still stand up. There's things about the current site that I don't like, and I'm glad we've changed, but generally speaking-

Paul Boag: I've got to interrupt. Did you know, I, on a semi-regular basis, okay, it's happened two or three times, I get an email from someone saying, "Hey, have you seen this web design agency? They've ripped off your design." Sorry, carry on.

Marcus Lillington: No, so basically, the question after, or saying all that, is why redesign? I think there are three reasons. Number one is that our brand has changed, and I'll come onto that in a minute. Number two is that the connection with the Boagworld site has sometimes brought the odd headache with management of the site. It's stopped you doing your own thing to a certain extent, and it's made Ian, bless him, sometimes have to pull his hair out trying to sort things out. That's not a reason in itself, to change, but it's a bonus of if these things are separate, they'll be so much more easily managed.

Marcus Lillington: Number three, let's be honest, we needed a project this summer, because it's been quiet. Let's face it, the last three years have been absolutely mad and the chances of doing this, well we've talked about doing this, but nothing happens at all. But the main one is that we have changed a bit, but it's quite subtle, and I'm going to go into how we've changed.

Marcus Lillington: Visually, because Ed has been fiddling with the design a bit, or our brand, our visual brand if you like, over the last couple of years, which yes, that means it's been a bit designer led, but hang on, I'm covering up my notes here. Excuse me. It's been a bit designer led, but reflecting back on it, the changes that we've made do fit with the way our culture's changed. It's more minimalist. Even more minimalist. It's even cleaner, more basic, and it's the idea being that it's allowing mostly the client imagery to do the talking. The interesting aspects I suppose, or the rich aspects of the design. That's something we've done before, we did it years, decades ago with the National Trust and more recently with the National Parks.

Marcus Lillington: Our logo's been tweaked, redrawn. It's now black and white, it used to be gray, before it was brown, but now it's black and white, which that fits that ultra-minimalist thing that we've been doing. Okay, this is me looking back trying to fit how things have changed to this new look and feel, but the main, obviously the biggest thing that's changed for us culturally has been you leaving us Paul. Though you've not completely gone, you're not here every day, imparting your big personality on things.

Paul Boag: That was a very loaded way of wording that.

Marcus Lillington: But you could take the things I'm saying here the wrong way. I don't mean it. You are a big personality, and therefor being here, you're going to influence things more than if your not here. Simple as that.

Marcus Lillington: I think we're a more inward looking, maybe academic. Particularly now, there's more of a leaning towards Chris, that kind of more thoughtful, academic kind of look, which aren't necessarily good traits, they're just what they are. That's what we've become if you like. We're less outgoing. Also, as we discussed briefly last week, the conversation we had was about the change in tone of voice. Reading back a lot of the copy on the current site, it's not us anymore. It's too friendly.

Paul Boag: That's really badly worded.

Marcus Lillington: You know what I mean. It's too assuming.

Paul Boag: Right. Personable.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: You're not personable.

Marcus Lillington: Well I am, but I think basically where we've gone-

Paul Boag: Are you saying it doesn't reflect enough, Chris' miserable attitude towards life? Is that what you're saying?

Marcus Lillington: No. What I'm saying is I think where we need to be going is just super clear, super easy to understand. Bit like the super minimalist design really.

Paul Boag: Absolutely.

Marcus Lillington: It's so one fits with the other. If you like, summing up this week's thought of the day is so why redesign? Wasn't really a question that was asked properly, it just happened, but on reflection, it was a necessary change. But comparing the change to what we did in 2014, it's much subtler. The new site isn't massively different, it's just we've done things like change the design a little bit so it is even more minimalist, and I think we've simplified things and we've simplified the tone of voice, just to fit with our culture more.

Marcus Lillington: But as I said at the start of this, we found some really quite useful lessons, maybe that's a little bit strong, but stuff that's cropped up, that I will be sharing over the coming weeks.

Paul Boag: What I think you're doing right is that you're evolving it rather than throwing everything out and starting again in terms of visual aesthetic, and also, you're not just slapping a new coat of paint on it.

Marcus Lillington: Correct.

Paul Boag: You are looking at the content and that's the key part. But yes, I think to say you're going less friendly is probably not the best way of putting it.

Marcus Lillington: You know what I mean. I wasn't finding the right words, crosstalk 00:16:58.

Paul Boag: More to the point, more straightforward, more task orientated.

Marcus Lillington: Less chatty.

Paul Boag: Yes.

Marcus Lillington: I guess. Less chatty.

Paul Boag: Unlike this podcast.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. That's fine. We'll carry on.

Paul Boag: Do we need to change this podcast to be on brand too Marcus?

Marcus Lillington: No, because crosstalk 00:17:14.

Paul Boag: We'll be done in about 10 minutes if we do. Right, thank you for that Marcus. I'm looking forward to what else you've got to say over the coming weeks.

Marcus Lillington: Cool. Thank you Paul.

Paul Boag: I know that I'm going to keep asking you questions Marcus, because I can now see you on video, that you're actually chatting to somebody off of mic, which is hugely amusing to know.

Marcus Lillington: Emma's mouthing things at and I've git no idea what she's saying. But if just asked and I'm now on 13% battery.

Paul Boag: We better get on with this show then.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. Well no, hopefully some nice person out there will bring me a battery, which is a much easier said thing than done, because they're all wired under the desks.

Paul Boag: Oh, okay. Good. Someone has to go scrabbling, that's always good.

Paul Boag: Anyway, let's talk about Balsamiq. Just to quickly talk about them because they're out first sponsor. They're looking to help improve your products and services, but not by charging you anything for it. Yeah, they've got, you should check it out and use it, it's very cool, but there's two ways that they want to help which won't cost you a penny. First of all, if you have an idea for a product and service that has some kind of social good behind it, they want to give you a free wireframing session where you can meet up with their UX team and they can wireframe something through with you and get some ideas up and running. If you'd like to give that a go, then you can do so by emailing That's two Rs, user research, all one word.

Paul Boag: Marcus is now totally distracting me by completely just crawling around under his desk. He's taken his headphones off. Hey, that means he doesn't know what I'm saying about him right now. That's fun. No, I'll be nice.

Paul Boag: All right, the second thing is that Balsamiq are also getting me to do some UX reviews for them, but we're hoping to do them semi-regularly, so there's a going to be a fair number of opportunities. If you're looking for some constructive feedback basically, on your site, how to improve it from a user experience and a conversion rate optimization point of view and all of those kinds of things, then you can apply to be involved with that at Two opportunities, wireframing and advice. Make sure that you take up one of those. It'd be silly to turn down that opportunity.

Paul Boag: All right, so I managed to fit in just a little bit about you Marcus, while you had your headphones off. It was good.

Marcus Lillington: All super complimentary I hope, or expect actually. I expect.

Paul Boag: Yeah, well you presume even.

Marcus Lillington: Yes.

Paul Boag: Yeah, absolutely. This week, well last week we looked at the subject of cognitive load, and how important cognitive load is and what difference it makes. This week, we're digging into that a little bit more. It follows on naturally because we're going to be looking at how to simplify your site, which obviously reduces cognitive load, and also how to match people's mental models. Obviously if the websites behaving as they expect it to or how they're thinking, then again, it reduced cognitive load. We're going to start off by looking how to simplify your site.

Marcus Lillington: I ought to say, the one thing I should say is I suppose by the time this podcast comes out, our site will be live, but I was saying it's not quite there yet. Probably next Monday.

Paul Boag: Oh, well it'll be live by the time …

Marcus Lillington: For those people in the room.

Paul Boag: Oh I see. Of course, it's live now isn't it? I forget to say that. You did actually say it wasn't out yet.

Marcus Lillington: Did I? Oh, okay.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: That'll be the age then Paul.

Paul Boag: Actually, you encouraged people to go and look at the existing site to see how it's going to change, and they can't do that now.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah they can. Well no, some people can, some people can't.

Paul Boag: Yeah, the ones in the room can.

Marcus Lillington: Oh no.

Paul Boag: This podcast has always been like time travel. You always have to think when it's going out, but now it's even more complicated because it's happening in the future and now at the same time. It's a paradox.

Marcus Lillington: I always wanted to be a time traveler.

Paul Boag: Do you really? It depends whether you can change the past. I don't think I'd like the pressure.

Marcus Lillington: No, I think you could only ever go forward can't you? You can't go back.

Paul Boag: Oh, can you? Oh, you're going Einsteinian on me. Anyway, can we talk about the topic of the show.

Marcus Lillington: Yes Paul.

Paul Boag: Right, so talking about reducing, sorry, simplifying a site.

Marcus Lillington: That's what we've been doing. It was relevant Paul.

Paul Boag: Exactly. Very relevant I'm sure. Reducing clutter, let's talk about that.

Marcus Lillington: Yes.

Paul Boag: When I'm faced with an existing website and I'm looking to simplify it, I go through a process to reduce clutter because it's quite hard to know how to do that, in order to work out what can be removed and how you deal with it and everything like that. I almost take it on a page-by-page basis, so typically, let's say we're talking about a poorly converting website, the first thing you do is you dive into the analytics, you find out which pages are causing a problem. It may be that cognitive load is the issue from looking at that, and maybe doing some usability testing, you conclude that cognitive load is the issue, or you just guess. Whatever the reason, you end up with a page where you want to simplify things.

Paul Boag: I have a three-step process. It is so groundbreaking and revolutionary, it's just going to blow your mind.

Marcus Lillington: All right, I'm sat down.

Paul Boag: Are you ready? I ought to come up with a name for it. Let's call it the three laws of simplicity, because as soon as you give it a name, now it's suddenly legitimate and cool. Yeah, especially if it's got the word law in. Hick's Law, see, everybody takes it seriously.

Paul Boag: Anyway, the three laws of simplicity, number one, remove unnecessary elements. What you do is you go through your page element by element, and you say, "Can I remove this?" Wow. Profound. Who knew that removing clutter would involve removing elements? But the question you need to ask in order to say can I remove this? Is what would happen if I removed it, right?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: What would the consequences be? If the consequences is somebody in marketing would moan, not such a legitimate reason. If however, it would be a user wouldn't be able to complete a key task, then yes, more legitimate, okay? I find the best way of working out what you can remove is by asking the question what would happen if we did? My default position, when reviewing a website, is no element on that screen has a right to be there until it justifies its existence, okay?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: Can I remove it? If I can't, if there are real consequences to removing it, my second thing is can I hide this? For example, it might be secondary content or aimed at a secondary audience. Maybe your main thing is, I don't know, sell it … I'll tell you a recent one I came across, somebody who was selling a whole load of E-commerce produce, and it inaudible 00:25:00 be sold to a lot of audiences, but one of their biggest audiences is equestrians. But they don't want to limit themselves to an equestrian audience, but on the other hand they want to cater for an equestrian audience right?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: Really, the equestrian-specific stuff was secondary content. It was important, but not as important as meeting the mass audience. Can you hide that? Well, yes you can. You can move it deeper in the information architecture and create a separate landing page for a equestrian audience. Maybe you put equestrian information under a tab or a concertina, so you're de-emphasize, you're hiding it away. It's still there for your secondary audience, but it's not as important.

Paul Boag: Even better examples, when we used to work with NATS. Well you still do don't you? National Air Traffic Control?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. We're not on a project with them at the moment, yeah, but we were last year.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I remember when we were originally doing the NATS website, one of the things they were saying is the biggest audience that comes and uses their website are airplane enthusiasts right?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: But that's not really why the website existed. It's not meant for them, but they didn't want to ignore that audience.

Marcus Lillington: Correct.

Paul Boag: They would be a secondary audience with secondary content, therefor you hide their content away.

Paul Boag: The third thing, if you can't remove it, if you can't hide it, so in other words, if it is important to completing the primary call to action, but is not the primary call to action itself, so for example, supporting copy or that kind of thing, or supporting imagery, can you shrink it visually so it doesn't take away from the call to action, it doesn't distract the call to action? It's on the page, but it's less dominant than the most important elements. That is the three-step process I use.

Marcus Lillington: we have a-

Paul Boag: Really … Go on.

Marcus Lillington: I was going to say, we have a, it's not quite the same thing, it's more like looking at it from another point of view, but it's about prioritization. What we'll often do is list all of the different elements that could appear on a page, so at the start of it you just say, "Whatever you want." All of the things that might appear here. Then hopefully you've got a big enough group and you split people up into groups, and you'll just get them to maybe do a design a mobile version of this page, effectively getting them to list everything, because a mobile version of a page has to be linear, so you're forcing them to prioritize the content. Basically, just do a simple mass thing back on the results that you get, some people will order them differently, but you can average out those numbers or the priorities that people give you, and you can get a prioritization across the room, that most people will go, "Well actually, yeah, that seems fair." It's a way to get agreement. Slightly different crosstalk 00:28:00.

Paul Boag: That's very similar to my user attention point exercise, where people basically can buy UI elements using attention points. There's an article I wrote on that and I'll put a link in the show notes if you want to check that one out.

Marcus Lillington: Cool.

Paul Boag: Yeah, so what it all boils down to is creating an obviously hierarchy, so that your page, you're telling your user what's most important, what's least important, and you need to do that with obviously not just screen elements, there's, other forms of hierarchy as well. There's hierarchy in your messaging, so as you write content, headings, pull-out quotes, those kinds of things have got higher priority than body copy, so you want to make sure your key messages are in there. Then down from that, you have things like bold, italic, bullet point lists, they tend to get scanned more, so again, those are higher than body copy, but less important than your headings.

Paul Boag: Then even like at the top of a page, having things like a summary, so if you go to any of my articles on my website, they've all got a nice summary at the beginning, and even the first sentence within each section of the site should be a bit of a summary as well. You do it with your copy, and then you even do it with your calls to action as well. I'm amazed at how few companies take the time to prioritize and clearly tell users the priorities of calls to action.

Paul Boag: Typical example is you arrive on a website that immediately displays a big overlay asking people to sign up for the newsletter. This is taking the entire screen, it's dominating visually, so it ends up making you think that signing up for the newsletter is more important than buying something on the site. Another example is social media icons. We whack on these social media icons, oftentimes they're branded and styled differently to the rest of the site, which makes them pop out visually, so they look more important than the actual native calls to action. Little things like that make a big difference.

Marcus Lillington: Yes.

Paul Boag: That's all I wanted to say on that really. Think about your visual hierarchy, think about how you're going to clear and simplify your site and those kinds of things.

Paul Boag: Let's talk about our second sponsor. What are you grinning about?

Marcus Lillington: Oh no crosstalk 00:30:19, Cat, I hate SM icons, blur face. It's a funny one isn't it? So many clients of ours insist on them being at the top of pages. That's another thing, it's like do you want to share this? At the top of an item. It's like well, I don't know do I? How do I know if I want to share something if it's at the top of the page? Yes, it's an ongoing fight that we all have to suffer.

Paul Boag: There are so many problems with them, even beyond … Look, another big problem is if you're doing embedding the official ones that show X number of people have shared this page and all of that kind of stuff, the performance hit is enormous. They're a absolute bugger in terms of performance, so that can cause a huge issue as well.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: I've not got a problem with asking people to follow you on social media or share this post, but it's about picking your moment, which is something … Have we already covered picking your moment? I don't know. If we haven't, well we can cover it.

Marcus Lillington: Well kind of, yeah, you were implying it with the newsletter that pops up as soon as you've arrived at a site. That's a really bad case.

Paul Boag: No, I meant I think we're going to get into it on one of the shows, in more detail, and I'm just trying to remember when-

Marcus Lillington: You haven't, no.

Paul Boag: When that is. No, that's later in the season. Because that's an enormous issue as well. Just time it, pick. If you want people to follow you on social media, the best time to ask them is when they reach a dead end. When they've done what they want to do, now they're receptive. Oh, this is a whole rant. We'll save that rant for another day shall we?

Marcus Lillington: Save it for another day.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Talk about Fullstory.

Paul Boag: All right, let's talk about Fullstory, our second sponsor, very quickly. For me, this whole season is about conversion rate optimization, and this is something that I'm really into. I have convinced myself that I'm much cooler than I really am, because I've convinced myself-

Marcus Lillington: For years and years and years.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've convinced myself that doing conversion rate optimization, trying to improve your conversion rate is like being a private eye. I'm a detective.

Marcus Lillington: You are a detective.

Paul Boag: I am all right?

Marcus Lillington: Yes.

Paul Boag: Because you have these clues that you have to track down.

Marcus Lillington: You need a hat Paul. Need a little hat.

Paul Boag: You haven't got a hat, no. I've got a badge.

Marcus Lillington: PI Boag.

Paul Boag: PI Boag, yeah. You've got these clues you have to track down. You have to find out where the problem is with conversion rates, so it's a series of clues that leads you to that point. The first step is to identify where in the user journey, this is tying up with Fullstory eventually. Fullstory, don't worry, this is going somewhere if you're listening to this. The first step is to analyze what the units inaudible 00:33:28 journey and identify those drop-off points. Where are users abandoning the site? Now analytics can help with that, but only if you've installed the right trackers in order to be able to track the different events that are going on, and that is one reason why I love Fullstory because they are recording every session, every dom event across the whole site, so it means that it's tracking everything by default anyway, so you don't need to have thought ahead. You can just follow the clues.

Paul Boag: When you finally work out what page has gone wrong and where things have gone wrong on the site, you then need to work out what exactly is happening there, why it's going wrong at that point, and that's where watching user sessions, like Fullstory provides you, gives you insights into okay, what is actually happening there? It's actually a really good tool for helping you track down these points of conversion.

Paul Boag: Somebody has just said, an endorsement from the chatroom, thank you Paul, "The great thing about Fullstory is it's actually fun to use," and it is. It almost feels like-

Marcus Lillington: Voyeurism isn't it?

Paul Boag: Okay. I'm sure that wasn't where Paul was going with it. Yeah, he's rightly going, "Er." No, it's like Wikipedia. You know when you start, you dive into Wikipedia, and you go from-

Marcus Lillington: Oh right, and then you get lost in a rabbit hole. An endless hole.

Paul Boag: You lost, endlessly pulled down, it's like that. You go into one user session they do something, and you go, "I wonder if anybody else has done that," so you click on that and you find half a dozen of them. You watch those half a dozen and you notice three of those people are doing this particular thing or clicking on here, and so you then follow that down, and so it goes on and on and on. It's great fun to use.

Paul Boag: Anyway, you can sign up today and get a free month of fun entirely free.

Marcus Lillington: Fun, yeah.

Paul Boag: You get to use their pro account free for a month. No need to enter a credit card. Unlike most sites on the internet, you don't need to enter a credit card for fun. Then, at the end, you can continue to use it up to 1000 sessions per month. You can find out more to going to

Marcus Lillington: Cool.

Paul Boag: Done. Right, next. That's a different kind of voyeurism, yeah, so that's what I was hinting at that Ben. That was what I was implying by not having to enter your credit card. Yeah, you can see what I was doing there.

Paul Boag: Anyway, right, stop chatting with the chatroom, because there's a lot of crosstalk 00:36:03.

Marcus Lillington: This is great for the listener isn't it Paul? Big, long gap.

Paul Boag: What's that?

Marcus Lillington: Great for the listener to the podcast. Big, long gap while you're reading the comments.

Paul Boag: Then talking to someone where they can't see the other half of the conversation.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. It makes for a much higher professional, I can't even put words together now, a much more highly professional show.

Paul Boag: Absolutely. Right, talk about mental models. How we think about the world is not logical. Let's get that out of the way first. If the way we think about the word is logical, tomatoes would sit with the fruits in a supermarket, but they don't.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, or they just wouldn't be called fruits in the first place. Would they?

Paul Boag: No.

Marcus Lillington: They would be called vegetables.

Paul Boag: But they're called fruits because they have seeds in. Is that right? There is a reason why they're fruits.

Marcus Lillington: I don't know.

Paul Boag: Anyway.

Marcus Lillington: But there's probably some other vegetable that has seeds in as well.

Paul Boag: Probably.

Marcus Lillington: But that's, you know, yes. but yes, I take your point.

Paul Boag: All right, whatever. Either way, the world isn't logical, or at least our interpretation of the world is not logical, or different people have different interpretations, and that is the big thing. Everybody has what's called a mental model, a picture, a framework of the world, right?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: That framework, that way we view the world is based on our experiences, which is why you can look at someone else and go, "They are being such a dumb arse," but from their perspective, they're being completely rational and reasonable, right?

Marcus Lillington: Okay, yeah.

Paul Boag: Don't make any comments at this stage Marcus. I know there's some rudeness boiling in you. I could give you an example, and Marcus, I'm going to use you as a guinea pig. Heres a question for you, and you can answer this in the chatroom as well, Jill is going to the bank, what is Jill going to do?

Marcus Lillington: Get some money.

Paul Boag: Okay. Anybody in the chatroom want to make any suggestions there? Deposit a check, pay in a check. Checks? Who does checks anymore? That's an American thing isn't it? They still do checks I think.

Marcus Lillington: They do still do checks, yes.

Paul Boag: Ben, he must be British, he said, "Complain." Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so yes, activate a bank card, and get the kind of thing. However-

Marcus Lillington: But you might be going to the bank of a river.

Paul Boag: Oh. Have I already told you think before Marcus?

Marcus Lillington: No. I'm just clever.

Paul Boag: Really? See, there you go. If you were a sailor or a yachter, or a yachter wouldn't go to the river would they? A sailor or a fisherman or something like that, you might think oh, Jill's going to the river bank to fish right?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: That's how different mental models work. They're still going in the chatroom about things that they're doing in the bank. Apparently Ben wants to rob it now.

Marcus Lillington: crosstalk 00:39:06 Ben's, "Rob it."

Paul Boag: Yeah. It's escalated quite quickly. He went in to complain and is now robbing the place. Right, anyway, you get the idea. Mental models. Play with the little pen on the chain.

Marcus Lillington: Do they still have those. I don't think they do. Banks are weird places now, with lots of people just standing around that can't do anything for you. That was my recent experience of going into a bank. I go once a year, and there's just lots of people standing around.

Paul Boag: I feel like we've lost … This conversation has somewhat derailed at this point. I was trying to explain mental models, and all of a sudden we're talking about banks and playing-

Marcus Lillington: You started it Paul. You really did.

Paul Boag: I know I did. I didn't expect us to be robbing them and playing with their pens. Oh dear. I don't know if I like this live show thing anymore.

Marcus Lillington: I do, it's great. Keep coming. There's more people, is there more people in this week? Dangerous thing to say.

Paul Boag: Yeah, there are. Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. 750? Wow.

Paul Boag: Only you and me can see that number because I'm ashamed of how low it is, so I've hidden it. At least I think so. I can't remember whether I did or not. Anyway.

Marcus Lillington: Even I can't see it Paul, so …

Paul Boag: Can we please focus on what we're talking about?

Marcus Lillington: Yes.

Paul Boag: Right. Jill, bank, fine. Right, different mental models. I wish I hadn't used that example. Now, this is where it's interesting because a lot of you go, "Well yeah, all right Paul, I accept that, but if we're talking about using the average website, most of us share the same mental model." Fair enough. Again, you can quibble over nuances, but generally speaking, I'll give that to you. Lot of us share a similar mental model when it comes to working on websites, but there is one exception. The exception comes with the deeper you have an understanding of a subject, the more your mental model about that subject differs from other people's. If I'm talking to a mate that doesn't work in web design, his mental model of how the web works will be radically different to mine. All right? make sense?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: Now, if you are therefor a client of a website, the way you talk about and think about your products and services is going to be radically different to that of your customers, so that means that the vast majority of stuff you hear a client say about their websites, and the content and when they're working on content isn't necessarily inline with the general public, their target audience's mental model, because those mental models-

Marcus Lillington: They know too much.

Paul Boag: They know too much. You summed it up beautifully. I could give you a great example of this. I don't know whether you remember this, but do you remember back in the day, see time travel, when we worked with, I can't remember what university it was.

Marcus Lillington: You've got hair Paul.

Paul Boag: Ha ha ha. So funny.

Marcus Lillington: Mine's all dark.

Paul Boag: Yeah. We worked with a university where we did some usability testing, and we were testing undergraduates, or testing with undergraduates should I say. We were asking them to complete task, and a task, I can't remember, about something to other. It doesn't matter what it was about, but they kept going into the alumni section. Do you remember this?

Marcus Lillington: I don't, no.

Paul Boag: No. They kept going into the alumni section, which was not relevant to what we were asking them to do at all, and so I got to the point where I actually was asking them, "Hang on a minute, why are you going into this section? What does alumni mean to you?" They said, "I've actually got no idea what alumni means, but I can't think where else this is in the structure, so I thought I'd have a look in here." Right?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. Curiosity I suppose.

Paul Boag: Well, or desperation, depending on how you look at it. But the point is we were using terminology they didn't know, and your reaction is, "Oh well, if they don't know what alumni is, then it's not relevant to them and it doesn't matter." Well, it wasn't relevant to them, but they still ended up going into that section because they thought it might be.

Paul Boag: I worked with another client recently who has a navigational section called explore, and everybody just went in there because …

Marcus Lillington: That's where everything's going to be.

Paul Boag: Anything could be in there. Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, I could find anything in there.

Paul Boag: You could have absolutely anything. Mental models are incredibly important when you're looking at this kind of stuff, and that means, by extension, your user research is really important. We have to be using the terminology that people are using.

Paul Boag: Now I know that I'm preaching to the choir here, but hopefully I'm giving you a language and a way to explain this to clients and stakeholders, and explain why they can't use their jargon, they can't use their terminology et cetera.

Marcus Lillington: But is alumni jargon?

Paul Boag: Well it is if your main target audience does the understand it, yes.

Marcus Lillington: It's a tricky one isn't it? Because all alumni who your aiming it at, know exactly who they are and therefor, you know.

Paul Boag: Absolutely. That's absolutely fine if alumni are your primary audience.

Marcus Lillington: For that section.

Paul Boag: No, but for the site as a whole. If other people are seeing it and it's causing confusion, you could quite easily call it former students.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, but maybe that's dumbing it down.

Paul Boag: Ah, now.

Marcus Lillington: I'm playing devil's advocate Paul.

Paul Boag: Yeah. No, you play devil's advocate. But again, that's another great example. I've had that from academics before, "Oh, well if they don't understand what alumni is, then we don't want them at this university." Oh.

Marcus Lillington: Oh yeah, it's all the things between programs and courses.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: The same thing.

Paul Boag: Okay. Mr academic, are you saying you don't want foreign students that don't speak English as their first language? Are you saying you want to make your website purposely harder for people to mentally process? It takes more effort to think oh, alumni means dot, dot, dot, than former students. Are you saying that you want to purposely exclude people with a cognitive disability like dyslexia? Obviously you don't talk like that to them because that just puts their back up, but actually, this whole thing about well, we're dumbing it down, yes, you should be dumbing your website down for the reason that we talked about last week with cognitive load.

Paul Boag: Users never give your website their full attention. They're always distracted, they're always doing other stuff, they're always scanning content rather than actually reading it, so you have to make it as dumb as possible, because people are cognitively impaired when they're suing your website because they're not concentrating on it. Rant over. Breathe.

Marcus Lillington: It's so interesting. It's because I know some of the people in here are actually at HE, work in HE, so it's always an interesting one isn't it? Alumni, courses, programs, all of that stuff.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, I think the choice of word dumb is not good.

Paul Boag: No.

Marcus Lillington: Because you want to make it clear, and dumbing it down, making it dumb suggests making it kind of-

Paul Boag: Yeah, but you were playing devil's advocate weren't you?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. I'm crawling back out of hole, that's all it is.

Paul Boag: Yeah. In my opinion, the best way of dealing with this is to find out what terminology people use, right?

Marcus Lillington: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Paul Boag: Find out. If the majority of people know what alumni means, then yay. Perhaps we just got a peculiar batch when we were doing the usability testing. What you do is you look at social media, the terms that they're using on that, you look at search and the terms people are doing on that, and then you do things like card sorting exercises. Card sorting exercises are a great way of beginning to understand the terminology that people use. You give them cards, they organize those cards into piles, they label the cards so that you can learn what terminology people use to create these piles of cards and group them together, and then if you then create an information architecture out of that and you're a bit unsure, do people understand it or do not, then do another card sorting exercise, a closed card sorting exercise where those top level buckets are set as alumni to whatever else, and people are dropping things into those buckets, see if they drop them in the right place.

Paul Boag: This is not complicated. We need to be thinking about user's terminologies and the needs they use. Kate has just posted something. Yeah, writing well for specialists. That's interesting. Kate, that's a-

Marcus Lillington: Kat. Or kat even.

Paul Boag: Kat. I am so … Because you know why? Because my cognitive load is being spread.

Marcus Lillington: It is. Really this is quite serious isn't it? I'm trying to listen to you and I can't finish my sentence.

Paul Boag: Kat has shared a link from the, about writing as a specialist.

Marcus Lillington: crosstalk 00:48:44 specialist, yeah.

Paul Boag: What I'm going to do is I'm going to post that in the show notes if you want to check it out, because that, no doubt, is really good.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, cool.

Paul Boag: Sorry Kat, for calling you Kate. Yeah, and of course this doesn't apply just to the labeling of information architecture, it's about also … Oh very funny Kat. She just called me Phil. It's also about how people complete tasks on your website, so let me give you an idea about how so many websites I come across don't match somebody's mental model. I want to give you two examples from the tourism industry, I really should be wrapping it up, but I'm on a roll now. Example number one, when you go to book flights okay?

Marcus Lillington: Yes.

Paul Boag: You're going on holiday.

Marcus Lillington: Often a painful experience.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Let's forget business traveling a minute, let's just think about a family holiday. You're going on a family holiday, you want to go to, let's say Barcelona. You want to go to Barcelona, you want to do it in the summer holidays, but that's pretty much it. You know that you and the kids want to go together. You go along to a flight site, and to be honest, it might even be vaguer than that, it might be well, we quite like Barcelona, but we quite like the look of Venice as well. They're both nice cities. Really anywhere. A city that's Mediterranean and in the summer, it'll be lovely. You go along to a flight booking site, the first thing it asks you is what dates do you want to go and where do you want to go? But you don't necessarily know the answers to either of those questions. You can't say, "Well, whenever's cheapest in August," and have to systematically go-

Marcus Lillington: Wouldn't that be really useful?

Paul Boag: I know.

Marcus Lillington: Whenever's cheapest.

Paul Boag: I know.

Marcus Lillington: Oh yes.

Paul Boag: Why don't they do this? I'll give you another example. You've ended up, you've decided you're going to Barcelona, or let's go London or New York. New York, we'll go New York. You're going to New York, you've booked your flights, you're sorting it out, you're now looking for a hotel. Think about what you care about with a hotel. You want a hotel that well positioned in order to get to the key attractions right?

Marcus Lillington: Correct. Well, yeah, probably number one thing, yeah, location.

Paul Boag: Number one, and money, fair enough. They're pretty good with money, you can filter your hotels or order them by money, so that's good. A lot of them also allow you to order by distance as well. How far you are from certain postcodes or key attraction or whatever else, but here's the problem, in a major city like New York or London or something like that, the distance as the crow flies to an attraction means nothing. If you can get a hotel that's further out of Manhattan, but is on a tube line that goes directly into key locations, it actually will be quicker to get to those locations than it will be to walk on foot to them and have to pay the price of a central location.

Paul Boag: I have this problem all the time when I book hotels in London, because I know I'm speaking at a venue, I want somewhere that's quick to get to that venue, but it's not just a matter of looking at ones immediately round the venue, it's you've got more flexibility of that because of the tube. There are all these complexities in our mental model, how we are approaching problems that are just not represented on websites, and yet, what do travel websites do? They resort to suing dark patterns and saying, "Rooms about to run out and all of this kind of crap."

Marcus Lillington: Every single bloody website you go on now does it. It's like, oh, we need to be doing that.

Paul Boag: I know. It's so frustrating because they don't need to do that. All they need to do is match how people actually think about the world and facilitate that, and their sales would go up. They don't need to do all of this other manipulative crap.

Marcus Lillington: I've got to the point now where I actually think that people completely … There's a form of banner blindness now to two other people are looking at this room.

Paul Boag: I know.

Marcus Lillington: Just I ignore it now, because you'll go back three days later and still two other people are looking at this.

Paul Boag: I know, yeah. It's all lies.

Marcus Lillington: It's like yeah, nothing ever changes.

Paul Boag: Anyway.

Marcus Lillington: Did you have another example? I thought you said you've got a couple of examples Paul.

Paul Boag: Couple of examples within tourism, the hotels and the flights.

Marcus Lillington: Ah right, yeah. Okay.

Paul Boag: I've done them both.

Marcus Lillington: You need a joke then don't you?

Paul Boag: Michelle's talking about if you're disabled and there's further complications involved with that. Okay, immediately, if you're a hard inaudible 00:53:38 businessman, you turn round and go, "Well, we don't care, we're trying to reach the mass audience." Well frigging everybody sometimes breaks their leg, sometimes breaks an arm, sometimes they lose their contact lenses. I've got myself so wound up.

Marcus Lillington: Chill out Paul. I thought we were by the fireplace?

Paul Boag: I know.

Marcus Lillington: Mind you, I wouldn't want to be by a fireplace at the moment. It's very hot.

Paul Boag: I've now, I've obviously downed a couple of pints and I've got a bit rowdy.

Marcus Lillington: You've got ranty. Been on the whiskey.

Paul Boag: I've got ranty and rowdy. Tell me a joke Marcus, to get me past my rantingness.

Marcus Lillington: Okay. This one is from Dan Edwards.

Paul Boag: Oh, cool.

Marcus Lillington: Who's been on the show before. Thank you Dan, I like this one. I've just fallen through the roof of a French bakery. I'm in a world of pain.

Paul Boag: Er.

Marcus Lillington: Come on, that's quite good.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Not sure that works out loud. Yeah, all right. Come on. Give me more jokes then.

Paul Boag: Yeah. That, Kat's like-

Marcus Lillington: I could say a world of pain.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: I'm in a world of pain, how does that work? Any better?

Paul Boag: It's a written joke isn't it? Dan gave you a perfectly good joke for a written format and you've tried to use it on the podcast. Did he post that in Slack or on Twitter?

Marcus Lillington: Bothered? No.

Paul Boag: No. You're never bothered.

Marcus Lillington: Slack.

Paul Boag: Right. Well he should have known better shouldn't he? He knows it's for an audio podcast. Dan, I'm disappointed in you quite frankly. I ought to get him back on the show.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: I like Dan. I was chatting with him yesterday actually. Okay, yeah, so if you were inspired by my rant and not utterly put off, or if you would like the rant in a less ranty form and slightly more coherently, then do check out the masterclass by going to

Paul Boag: All right, I think that about wraps it up for this week's show. Thank you very much for listening. I'm not going to thank the people in the chatroom because today, they've just totally ruined it for me. I've had trouble keeping up, it was distracting, they took the whole show on a tangent, but I love them really.

Marcus Lillington: It could be much worse. This is only going to get worse, you do know that Paul.

Paul Boag: I know, because they now know they're going to get a response and they're cheeky and they mess around. It's like disobedient children where you've humored them. Now you've just encouraged that bad behavior.

Marcus Lillington: What have you done Paul?

Paul Boag: I know. I don't inaudible 00:56:15.

Marcus Lillington: crosstalk 00:56:16.

Paul Boag: But anyway, thank you for listening, and we'll talk to you again next week. Good bye.

Thanks to ktsdesign from Shutterstock for allowing me to use this image.