We’ve all had a good laugh at this sort of video online – Dog gets hundreds of tennis balls for his birthday, and the reaction is one of complete bewilderment and confusion. The poor dog is just so confused over which ball to choose. It got me thinking about how users can feel overwhelmed if there are too many choices, and how this can have a negative impact on the usability of a website.
It is a widely held assumption that giving a user a greater choice will give them a better experience.
I recently had a chance to read The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz, which argues that while we may think a wider choice gives users a better experience, the reality is that they are likely to be less content with the decision they actually make.
Hick’s Law states that increasing the number of possible choices will increase the decision time logarithmically.
Giving a user more choices not only slows the user journey down, but according to Schwartz, they are less likely to be happy with their decision.
It’s Called Choice Overload
Dr Sheena Iyengar held an experiment where she set up 2 tables of jam. The first table had 6 different types of jam, the second had 24. It was noted that more people stopped to try the different jams when 24 different varieties were on display. However, when it came to purchasing, customers were 6 times more likely to purchase a jar of jam from the table that had less options.
Her research has found the following 3 negative results from giving a user too many choices:
- they are likely to delay choosing
- they are likely to make worse choices
- and They are likely to be less satisfied with their choices.
This is contrary to a popular assumption that more choices will give the user a sense of freedom. In fact, they are paralyzed and would prefer not to make a decision at all.
Dr Iyengar outlines her experiment in this Ted Talk.
But What Does This Have To Do With Design?
Certain websites that may have large amounts of data, vast array of data types and dozens, sometimes hundreds of different categories. If your job as a User Experience Designer is to make an application easier to use, it’s important to make sure you’re not paralyzing your users by giving them enormous decisions to make at each stage of the journey.
How to Solve This Issue
1. You Cut Back On The Number Of Options
How do you know which items to cut?
Are you able to tell the difference between the different items? Are your users able to tell the difference? Are there any redundant terms that could be normalised? Be ruthless and logical. Think how this is impacting the user. If you take a minute to consider the options from the point of view of the user, you’re likely to be more sympathetic to their needs, and not the internal rational that has probably lead to bad content decisions.
If you can’t cut any more items, it might be time to consider categorization.
Meaningful categories can really help a user to break the decision down.
But how to decide on which categories to use? One way to solve this would be to conduct a Contextual Inquiry, such as an Affinity Diagram, with your users. Performing an exercise like this within the company with colleagues will not work, as internal personnel will have their own bias and their own particular rational as to why certain items belong together.
The categories need to say something to the chooser, not the choice maker.
An Affinity Diagram, or the KJ Method, requires an individual (or small group of people) to organise each element into groups that they believe are logical. Perform this exercise 5 or 6 times with different users, and patterns will start to emerge.
3. Gradually Increase The Complexity
Once you have defined the different categories, maybe add filter options (ask the user what colour, size, brand, price range) to each category based on the specific criteria of the data. For instance, if the user has selected ‘Shoes’ you could ask them to to specify colour or style. If your user looking at games for the Playstation, you might ask what type of game they are interested in, or to specific an age group.
Why Are You Making Such a Big Deal About This?
Because if you work in ecommerce, you’re most likely losing money.
KissMetrics wrote a great blog post outlining how, contrary to popular belief, too many choices can be bad for online marketing and sales. If you’re making life difficult for your online customers, they’ll shop somewhere that will make their lives easier.
Stop making the life of your user difficult, and sort out your data.