Call to Action vs Mental Models

After reading John Gruber’s post An Ode to DiskWarrior, SuperDuper, and Dropbox over at Daring Fireball, I decided to give Dropbox a go.

So I went over to their site for a look:

Nice and clean looking. I watched the video and was sold – sign me up! But, this is where the trouble started. The service is subscription based (with a free option). So I started looking for a link so I could “sign up”. There’s a big download button…. no that’s not it (I need to sign up before I download anything surely!)…. there’s the log in fields in the top corner (so I certainly need to sign up before I can use those) …. but nope no option to sign up there either…. a big list of links at the bottom of the page… still no sign of a “Sign Up” button!

The problem is the wording of the main call to action (the big button in the middle) – it says “Download Dropbox”. However, this is not what my mental model says my next step should be.

A mental model is built up in your mind as a representation of how you perceive something works in the real world. It is based on conventions and previous experiences. It gives your brain a short cut to understand new things. It’s why people who use computers a lot “know” how software they’ve never used before works – their mental model sets expectations and as long as they are met it’s easy to just focus on the differences.

In this case – my mental model was based on using many web based systems in the past. I expected the following:

  1. Sign up
  2. Download software (if applicable)
  3. Start using the service

When your mental model isn’t matched by what you encounter, it takes some time whilst your brain reconstructs a new model based on its input. But your brain doesn’t like forming new models so all along the way it’s trying it’s hardest to try and graft the new information on to the old model. This takes time and leads to feelings of confusion whilst it’s going on.

The big button in the middle of the page is great – it should be obvious that you click it – but because it didn’t match my mental model the thought didn’t occur to me immediately. By saying “Download Dropbox” it is forcing an implementation detail to be my next logical thought. But it isn’t.

It turns out that you actually sign up when you run the application the first time through the software itself. Given this, I accept labelling the button “Sign Up” would also be wrong. I’d recommend that the main call to action button should be relabelled “Get Started” (or similar) taking you to a page that explains how to install and sign up. Then maybe have a separate link for people who know how it works and just want to grab the installer. I think this would make it clearer what you should do next, regardless of any preconceptions.

In fairness, when you click the “Download Dropbox” link you do get shown a list of your next steps for installing the product. However, even this page doesn’t tell you that you sign up during the first run!

This example illustrates that when you are asking people to do something, before you’ve even asked them anything they have built up an expectation of what you will say. If your proposition does not match their expectation they will have a few moments when they feel confused – and confused people often don’t make the decisions you want!

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