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Smart defaults

You can reduce the number of decisions that a user has to make by choosing smart defaults.

Many car manufacturers’ websites allow you to compare the model you’re viewing with similar models. Click on the “compare” feature and you’re asked to add two or three other models into a comparison chart. Lexus’s European website doesn’t do this. It prefills the table with the car you’re researching and the two closest models. Often, the models it chooses are exactly the ones you need to make a useful comparison.

Some people may have to change the default selections, but they’re no worse off than if the table were left blank. Overall, Lexus is saving time for its customers.

Smart defaults are ones that suit the largest possible number of people. Customer data, such as log files, provides a wealth of useful information for smart defaults.

  • Popular documents (“Top news stories”)
  • Similar items (“Customers like you looked at...”)
  • Personal information (“Auto-fill the form with your address”)
  • Common choices (Putting “USA” at the top of an alphabetical list of countries because most of your customers come from there)

It’s worth remembering that when a customer returns to a website or an application, he frequently wants to pick up where he left off.

  • Recently saved documents (“Open hello-world.doc”)
  • Resume a process (“Continue your game from level 3”)

A complaint I hear frequently from users of travel websites is how tedious it is to re-enter the same information every time they visit. Imagine how much simpler it would be if travel sites remembered the routes you typically fly or the hotels you usually visit.

Defaults are a powerful way of saving users time, effort, and thought, and a great way to remove speed bumps from your design.

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