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When one option is too many

Sometimes, even one option is too many. A while back I watched a user test of the special offers section of a travel website. We asked participants to find and book a holiday. They easily found holidays that they wanted and announced they had made a decision. But next to the booking button was a link to “look for more deals.” This proved irresistible. Every time a participant came close to booking, she clicked that link. No one booked a holiday.

We’d assumed that the link would help people who weren’t quite sure. Instead, it undermined the confidence of everyone who came close.

When you’re offering a choice to your users, think very carefully about whether you’re overwhelming them with options or undermining their confidence in their decision.

Take a look at the design of the online checkout on any big site like Amazon or Best Buy. The checkout is where users have to make a choice: buy or bail. The retailers know that any doubt will undermine users’ willingness to complete the transaction. So in the checkout, retailers remove navigation links that are normally at the top and bottom of every other page.

I doubt most customers are aware that this happens; when they get to those pages, they’re too busy filling in forms. But retailers know that if they put those links back, customers will click on them and the sale will be lost. If this seems somehow underhanded, consider whether it is in the customers’ interest to waste time by constantly dithering between website and checkout.

Remember, mainstreamers want “good enough, quickly;” experts want “perfect in as long as it takes.” If you’re designing the kind of simple experience that mainstreamers love, then ask yourself if the options you’re giving them will sacrifice speed and simplicity for perfection. If the answer is “yes,” remove the options.

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