The UX of Choice

I had a great design session with Tyler Ziemann of Yozio. I presented some designs and he continually asked me questions about how I could help the user make decisions in my screens. I realized I had planned for what information we needed to gather but I didn't think about what it would be like to provide that information as a user. How do they choose what to select? How can we help them choose? Can we bypass any fields entirely by gathering that data in some other way?

I started thinking about fields and how I should create a rule of either providing suggestions (either by helping or by autofilling a value) or automating that step and removing it all together. Then I stepped back and started to think about choice. 

What else can I do to help users make a decision and what factors come into play with decision making?

I watched Barry Schwartz's TED talk again about the Paradox of Choice. He goes on to explain that the more choices people have, the more paralyzed they become in their decision making (sometimes to the point where they make no decision at all). He then goes on to say that not only do people slow down when there are more choices, they're more dissatisfied when they make a decision. Because there were more choices, they have more alternate scenarios to envision as they walk away with their final decision.

I read "100 Things Every Designer Should Know About People" by Susan Weinschenk. She went on to support Barry's research with similar findings. There was a jam study where they sold one table with four jams and one with twenty. She pointed out that because people want more choices, more people went to the twenty jams than the four jams. However, because more choices paralyze people, more people purchased jam at the table with four jams.

I thought about Des Traynor's talk on how to make product decisions. He talks about scope creep, giving the example of a scalpel. It's easy to market, easy to explain, easy to make, and easy to use. Unlike the scalpel, the swiss army knife is hard to market, hard to explain, hard to make, and mediocre to use. While this wasn't Traynor's point, I reflected on how, by choosing a scalpel model over a swiss army knife model (fight scope creep), one could limit the choices more for the user and therefore cause less paralysis, more happiness, and potentially more adoption.

I thought about Virgin America's sexy site redesign and how it became a super simple, one step per screen experience to book flights. I always hated booking flights because there was so much noise on every page and it was always hard to verify my details among all the clutter.

I thought about a talk at the Warm Gun Design Conference in San Francisco. The speaker gave the example of a product created around World War II when instant, cheap food was highly valued. Instant food was a new thing and the company was excited to create a cake mix that was simply powder and water. To their surprise, the consumers of this product bought less because it was too easy and non involved. They wanted to still feel like they were baking. So the company redesigned their product again to make the baking process more complicated-allowing them to add eggs and other things. Weinschenk's book also related to this example-stating that people feel they're more in control when they make more decisions.

Clearly, creating a good decision making experience is much more complicated than I thought. Due to the many factors mentioned above, it definitely needs some serious, thoughtful consideration.