About the Session
The entire portrait-taking session lasted about one and a half hours and consisted of two parts—20 minutes of picture taking, then 70 minutes of determining which pictures to keep or discard to arrive at our final package.
During the picture-taking part, the photographer coached us into a variety of poses and positions—each one warranting three consecutive clicks of the camera, which yielded a total of three shots of each pose. The number of poses—and pictures—quickly mounted because several shots included different numbers and combinations of family members, as well as a variety of different backdrops.
Once the picture taking was complete, they beckoned to us to gather around a large monitor, seating us in chairs so all of us could view the digital representations of all of the shots they had taken. This is where the 70-minute decision-making part of the session would take place.
To Start, Many Easy Decisions
The studio had architected the decision-making process so we would move from making many easy decisions in the beginning, to making progressively more difficult decisions later on. The salesman began the process by showing us each set of three shots that the photographer had taken of each pose. Our task was to choose the best shot from each set.
Now, this was an interesting process because there were four of us who needed to come to a mutual decision about which was best. (Thankfully, there weren’t more of us. I could empathize with the group of 15 who had gathered around the monitor adjacent to us!) Plus, each of the three shots looked remarkably similar to the others. The process of whittling down this superset of about 48 photos to a third of its original size was time consuming.
It occurred to me that the process would have been much easier if the number of photos we had to choose among had been more limited. But in hindsight, I’ve realized that the process of viewing and selecting photos from such a large set served the purpose of building our investment of time. This was important. As UX designers, we know that, as people invest more time in something, they become more committed to it and less willing to walk away.
Anchoring and Loss Aversion
There were two other very important decision architecture concepts that came into play during this whittling down process: loss aversion and anchoring. As you know from my previous columns, people have a hard time with loss. They have difficulty giving up something—especially something that is deeply personal and meaningful to them, as in the case of their having to reduce a collection of personal photos that they already, by virtue of the very nature of the items, envision collectively as theirs.
Certainly, this concept was not lost on the salesman who, once we had finished the process of sorting through all of the photos and selecting the best one of each pose, told us that we could have the entire collection of photos we had chosen for a price of about $300. This package included a collection of all of our pictures on a CD-ROM—and, as an added benefit, we would be eligible to receive some of the photos in the collection at no charge.
From a decision architecture perspective, there are a number of reasons why this type of presentation was effective. First, the strategy leveraged the fact that, as an outcome of the picture-selection process, we already thought of the entire collection as a package, and we already saw it as being ours because we had created it ourselves.
The CD-ROM and the freebie photos were frosting on the cake, but they also served an important purpose. To customers, the CD-ROM represented a safety net—a means of minimizing any potential feeling of loss due to poor choices that might later lead to regret.
Nevertheless, in our case, since we had walked in with our $9.99 coupon, the thought of parting with $300 seemed a bit much. I believe the salesman realized this. In making his initial offering of the total package costing $300, he had laid the groundwork—though subconscious for customers—for a couple of important things.
First, we now had the $300 price tag in our heads as the anchor, or reference point, against which we could compare all other potential package deals. And second, he had established a starting point for a further whittling down process, thereby setting into motion another series of decisions involving loss—requiring us to select which additional pictures we would remove from the collection to lower the cost.
At this point, the decisions to remove pictures became more difficult because we had to choose between different types of poses and backdrops, as well as which individuals were in each picture. As I’ve explained in previous columns, decision making becomes more difficult when it involves difficult tradeoffs—and especially when the options are difficult to compare because they lack some common attribute—for example, comparing three shots of the same people in the same pose versus comparing photos of different combinations of people in different poses against different backdrops.