When using technology to bring about change or to make the world a better place, the single biggest barrier is getting people to use the new solution. The main barrier is that people are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of technology in their lives.
Currently, there are almost 2 million apps available for download from the Apple Store, and nearly 3 million in Google Play. An average mobile user has about 80 of these apps on their phone, but only interacts with an average of 9 apps per day, and only about 30 per month. For your solution to be one of those apps that people actually use, it has to be what designers call “sticky” – there has to be a reason people keep coming back to it.
As a Behavioural Economist, understanding what makes apps sticky is part of my job; I look at the ways people behave and help to develop systems to make desired behaviour the easiest behaviour to engage with. In this article I’d like to share what makes an app sticky, and how Sea Green in particular ensures that its solutions are as sticky as possible.
Understanding motivations is key to comprehend why Sea Green is already showing signs of succeeding where their predecessors did not. Previous solutions have asked seaweed farmers to undertake a significant amount of cognitive load to gather and input the data necessary for the platform to add value, but the return for the farmer’s additional effort did not directly address their needs.
The very first, and most important thing that makes an app sticky is whether or not it is easy to use. Behaviouralists have a term for measuring that ease of use; we call it cognitive load. Since the brain works through neurons firing electrical impulses, it is useful to think of the brain as a “thinking battery” which has a limited capacity. It will need to be recharged after being depleted due to higher attention to a specific task.
Cognitive load is impacted when you engage in any kind of problem solving or decision making; these choices can range from “trivial” to more crucial. For example, deciding when to harvest your crops or how to run your operations are tasks which can have significant impact on your business. But cognitive load is also easily depleted by daily trivial decisions; how to dress or what to eat for lunch. President
Barack Obama boasts that he went through his presidency with 2 suits and 1 tux, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook famously only buys one colour of jeans, t-shirt, and suit so that he doesn’t have to waste his cognitive load on decisions that don’t add value.
A solution should therefore maximize the delivered value and minimize the cognitive load – or a combination of both. A key way to do this is through repetition, as the former president and Facebook billionaire do. In terms of app design, this is expressed through clear and consistent branding, including icons and language. An app that keeps its interface coherent with its message ensures credibility and drives brand loyalty, or, “stickiness”.
The other key thing to understand about cognitive load is that it is measured on a scale relative to the importance of the task. Psychologists refer to a pyramid called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to illustrate the different levels of importance. Thus, it is only after one has met their lower needs that will they allow higher cognitive load to accomplish another task. For example, a seaweed farmer who has not received their pay to put food on the table will focus exclusively on fulfilling that need before they can allow more effort into growing their business or learning new software.
Technology can provide a solution to the most fundamental levels in Maslow’s pyramid. The Sea Green app thus reduces cognitive load by:
For a farmer, this means easier access to the environmental factors weighing on the quality of their product, plus a digital wallet ensuring immediate financial benefits. This system aims to provide transparency and improve commercial connectivity across the value chain, starting with those who need it most. Coupled with the design excellence of the app, the Sea Green solution is quite excellently poised to succeed. It has been an absolute delight to work with them, and I can’t wait to see the impact their solution is going to have on the world.