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This chapter is from the book

Decisions

We often focus on giving users as many choices as possible. But choice can easily overwhelm users.

In 2000, Dr. Sheena S. Iyengar and Dr. Mark R. Lepper set up a tasting booth at Draeger’s Market in Menlo Park, California. Hundreds of people walked past the booth each day. One weekend, they put out a selection of twenty-four varieties of jams; on another they set out six. The wider selection performed badly. Only 2 percent of passersby bought the jam. When there were fewer options, 12 percent of passersby purchased the jam.

Iyengar and Lepper repeated similar experiments in a number of settings, and found that people were more likely to make a purchase when given a handful of choices than when they were overwhelmed with dozens of options.

They also found that people who were given a limited choice were more satisfied with their selection than those who’d been given more options.

Offering people a choice gives them a sense of control, and people prefer some choice to no choice. But when that choice exceeds a handful of options it becomes a burden, especially when the options are similar.

You can see something similar at work in people’s attitudes toward technology. Most people are anxious when faced with a massive array of options and buttons. Every time they pick up a complex gadget, there’s a nagging sense that they don’t fully understand it, and that a slip of a finger could easily make things go wrong. People can easily distrust choice.

When you’re next looking at a long feature list, a web page with dozens of links, or a computer menu that’s full of choices, it’s worth remembering how easily this choice can undermine your design.

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