Daily UX Crash Course — User Psychology: 20 of 31

Regardless of what you are designing, it’s only a matter of time before you have to let your users choose their own adventure. Maybe it’s a menu, or a set of prices, or a list of products. That makes it important to understand:

The Illusion of Choice


(Just starting the User Psych Crash Course? Start here.)


Many new designers think about user choices as a random event. They could pick anything! 

Well, sort of.

They can choose randomly, but they won’t. And they shouldn’t.

Sometimes it really doesn’t matter (to us) what the user chooses. But sometimes it is the difference between success and failure.

Always give users the options they need, and make sure everything is easy to find, but — as UX designers — we can also maximize our own goals, without sacrificing anything for the user.

Here are four good principles:


1) The Paradox of Choice

In theory, choosing nothing is always an option.

The more options you offer someone, the harder it is to choose. That’s called the Paradox of Choice. If the user can’t decide, they will leave.

Providing lots of options might feel like “something for everyone”, but you’re actually giving every user a small aneurysm. 

Choosing from 3 things is easy. Choosing from 30 things is impossible.


2) What You See Is All There Is

Most people will only consider the choices that they are offered, even if other possibilities exist.

On The Bachelor you never hear him say “The second rose goes to… the camera guy, Bruce.”

Bruce might deserve that rose, but he’s not an option. If The Bachelor could still choose from everyone on Planet Earth, it wouldn’t be a good show.

Whether you’re designing shipping options, or subscription features, or survey questions, this is important.

All choices should take the user closer to their goal, and ours. Then we can lead the user to choices that are best for us.


3) Choose Defaults Wisely

Dan Ariely’s Ted Talk about decision-making includes one of the best examples of good/bad defaults that I have seen.

In a nutshell: countries that made people choose to be an organ donor got very few people to do it. Countries that made people choose not to be an organ donor had more than 90% organ donors.

It’s easier for a user do nothing than to do something. The lazy option should be the best one for your company.

If the user can truly choose “anything” — like a pay-what-you-want situation — then anchoring is the way to set a default in their mind.


4) Comparisons are Everything

Users are choosing things based on comparing their options. Therefore you should create comparisons that make your preferred options look better.

Yesterday we learned about the Decoy Effect. That’s one way to make an option look better.

You can also point out which option is the “best value”, or the “most popular” or “most edible”.

Subscriptions can be presented as “per month” or “per day” prices, so users can see that yearly subscriptions are cheaper per month, even though they are more expensive in total.

Describe which type of people should choose each option. Which one is more you? Many products have a “pro” version so it comes with some status. Are you an amateur or a pro?

Put your features in a list so the user can see what they “lose” by choosing the free version instead of the premium version.

Have a sale! Forever! Include the “regular” price so users can see how much they are “saving”. Make sure they save the most on the most profitable option.

I could go on… but you get the idea.


Tomorrow we will learn why "less is more": Attention.