This video demonstrates some of the flaws in human perception: We miss a lot of what is going on around us. Some participants in the original experiment refused to believe they were looking at the same video clip when they saw it a second time.
When we create personas to better understand our users, behavioral economics—like psychology—can help us to understand the common baseline for human behaviors and capabilities, particularly as they relate to decision-making. Let’s look at some examples of this in action and see how we can use behavioral economics to design more effectively.
Opt-in Versus Opt-out Questions in Web Forms
Rates of organ donation in different countries are remarkably consistent. Within a given country, there is very little deviation, though in some countries, it’s around 80%; in others, around 20%. It turns out that the key factor is not cultural or religious or any of the other factors that might seem apparent. The most important factor is the way a Web site poses the question about organ donation. Where organ donation hovers around the 20% mark, users must opt in to donate their organs. In countries with 80% donation rates, people must opt out of donation.
Deciding whether to donate one’s organs after death is a complex and important decision, and this is a decision most people simply don’t want to have to make. They need to consider the impact their decision will have on their family and friends and confront their own attitudes toward giving their organs. These are considerations that are applicable to all users. Designing a Web form that asks users complex, personal questions requires a designer to make ethical choices and protect users’ best interests.
Problems of Excessive Choice
One of the reasons the Web has done so well as a sales medium is the abundance of choices etailers can offer. However, a study of jam shopping demonstrated the hidden risks of offering too much choice. Experimenters found that when they offered shoppers a choice between a larger and a smaller assortment of jams, people showed much greater interest in the larger assortment, and many more shoppers came over to browse. But this greater interest did not translate into additional sales. Shoppers were 10 times more likely to make a purchase if there were only six types of jam on offer rather than 24.
In another study that looked at participation in 401(k) retirement plans, researchers observed a similar trend. These plans offer huge incentives to participate, including tax breaks and employer contributions. At the same time, they typically present a huge amount of choice. The researchers observed a similar pattern: with just two choices, 75% participated, but with 69 choices, only 60% participated. The 401(k) study demonstrated problems similar to those that people encountered with the organ donation form—considering one’s own mortality, as well as an overabundance of choice
A UX designer can manage problems of excessive choice in several ways—for example, by providing good defaults. However, as with the problem of opt-in versus opt-out questions in forms, it is essential to consider the use of defaults within an ethical framework. Designing an effective information architecture for a Web site or using design patterns such as Faceted Search can also help in managing complexity.