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Easier Is Better Than Better

In his book, The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz comes to an interesting conclusion involving human choice.

“People choose not on the basis of what’s most important, but on what’s easiest to evaluate.”

Common sense would dictate that if you were given a list of choices, you would choose the one that is most important to you, when in reality humans usually choose the one that is easiest for them to understand and evaluate. Very often we do so because we don’t have the time to put in the research necessary to make an informed decision. Politicians are rarely elected based on the majority of people doing research on their background and the policies they support. They are elected for the fact that people can relate to the message they are spreading and because we have heard of them before.

When it comes to our own designs, we imagine people being able to make informed decisions on what the next step should be. However, they are already making 400+ decisions throughout the rest of the day that are likely more important than what they will deal with in our design.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

Do you think most people realize there are benefits to driving a manual transmission car over an automatic? Do you think they care? Automatic is easier to pick up so why bother with any other choice? How often do we stay in relationships that we shouldn’t, simply because it’s easier to just deal with it than face the repercussions of having to confront the person?

Have you ever been to In ‘N Out Burger4? I’ve heard great stories about this place and their mythical burgers and fries. The catch behind this place is that they have a very limited menu5. You order a Double Double, cheeseburger or hamburger. You can add fries, milkshake and beverage to that if you wish. That’s all of your options (unless you know about the secret menu). Now, I’ve been there and tasted their food and it’s good, but it is not much different than Wendy’s. The appeal of the place is that your choices are limited. It’s easy to order there because you don’t have to decide which type of chicken sandwich you feel is the best option for you. In ‘N Out makes the fast food experience easy for you. Having it your way is not the way we want.

In 'N Out Burger6
In ‘N Out is known for their very limited menu. Too many choices are distracting and require more time for making a final decision what to order. Image source7

Woot.com8 is an online store with a twist. Instead of browsing through hundreds or thousands of items, you are offered only one item a day. If you like it, you buy it and if you don’t, you wait until tomorrow to see what is going to show up. The site is successful and yet the logic of it all seems backwards. However, if I’m running a store, does it really matter whether I’m selling 100 units of 1 item or 100 different items for 1 unit at a time? Woot makes the shopping experience easy by making our choice simply “yes” or “no”.

How much less fun would Angry Birds be if you had to select the birds you could use before each level? Taking away that choice and letting us focus on how to use the birds we are given makes the game much more enjoyable.

By not choosing which bird to play with in each level, one can focus more on how to use them. Image source10

How many of your friends choose to buy a computer for their home simply because they use the same one at work? Since they have been using it at work, it has become easy for them to use. Doesn’t mean it is the better computer  —  it is simply the one that is easiest for them. Our selections don’t have to be the best choices  —  they just have to be ones that we are okay with.

How often do you come across a site that offers you better features than their competitors, but they aren’t as easy to use. There is no reason to switch over to a service that is harder to use even if they have more features. If the features aren’t there to make my life easier then what good does the service do me?

Back when image hosting was cool, the sites that won were the ones that allowed you to upload an image without having to register or login. You simply uploaded your image and you were done. Imgur11 is a great example of this and has now become one of the most popular image hosting sites in the world. That doesn’t mean sites like Flickr12 couldn’t thrive  —  they just had to work much harder to achieve more users and show that going through the hassle of registering was indeed worth it.

User Settings And Choice Link

In a recent article13, Jared Spool did a study that found that only 5% of users changed their default settings in MS Word. Being a computer nerd, this surprised me because I like to dive into the settings of all of my applications to see what I can tweak. The large majority of people don’t seem to want to tweak though  —  they just want to use the application:

“We embarked on a little experiment. We asked a ton of people to send us their settings file for Microsoft Word. At the time, MS Word stored all the settings in a file named something like config.ini, so we asked people to locate that file on their hard disk and email it to us. Several hundred folks did just that.

We then wrote a program to analyze the files, counting up how many people had changed the 150+ settings in the applications and which settings they had changed.

What we found was really interesting. Less than 5% of the users we surveyed had changed any settings at all. More than 95% had kept the settings in the exact configuration that the program installed in.”

It is great to provide the user with the ability to make changes, but settings aren’t a must-have feature. Building a great product that just works should be priority number one and once you begin to understand what settings might be tweaked, should you then start to think about adding a settings panel.

Users assume you are giving them the settings that are best for them right off the bat. If you aren’t, then they might view your product as a failure.

The Paradox Of Choice Link

The paradox of choice says that the more options available to an individual, the harder it becomes to make a selection. For example, if there are free samples of jam being given out at the store, you are more likely to get people to buy a jar of jam when only six selections are available as opposed to 24. More choices don’t make the selection process easier for people, but having no choices takes away some of the freedom they believe they have.

Collection of crocs14
According to Barry Schwartz, it is much easier to find your pair of crocs if there are fewer color options available. Image source15

When deciding on which of the new iPhones you should get, you can either get it in black or white and three different memory options. Add in multiple carriers though and the choice starts to become a little more complicated.

If a client tells you that you can do their design any way you choose, it is more difficult than having to do a design with constraints because your options are endless. We need constraints, limited choices, to be built into everything that we do. This makes decision making easier and the benefit of this is an easier design to use.

If somehow you can make the easiest product and the best product in the industry, you have yourself a winner. You have to consider how many choices we are given daily so it’s in your best interest to limit the ones your customers have to make because there is a good chance it isn’t the most important decision of the day for them.

What this means is that the design that is easiest to evaluate (less options to choose from) will win most of the time. Make your copy straight to the point. Don’t waste your time on graphics that don’t drive the point home. Funny t-shirts and bumper stickers are effective because they are easy to evaluate. I have a hard enough time picking my outfit in the morning  —  don’t make me try to decide which one of the 250 default avatars I should use.

What Do You Think? Link

This article is part of our Opinion Column section where we provide a platform for designers and developers to raise their voice and discuss their opinion with the community. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Footnotes Link

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Paul Scrivens is a passionate designer who runs Drawar and innovation consulting at Emersian. He loves design. He loves learning. He loves being wrong. That last one was a lie. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.

  1. 1

    Jonathan Wilcock

    November 28, 2011 4:43 am

    I 100% agree! Excellent article.

    If you’ve ever seen a creative department trying to crack an open brief with no constraints or guidelines, you’ll know that limitless choice makes the decision process almost impossible.

    Modern life is extremely complex, with the majority of us trying our best to multitask every waking moment. Anything that helps to simplify things, will invariably be a winner. Give your clients simple choices and they’ll thank you for it.

    • 2

      I tend to think that easier != fewer choices. Having all the choices is still important, but having an interface that guides users to the right choice is required.

      Anecdote: I used to work in an oriental rug store. Literally every rug was different. Choices abound. We killed our smaller competitors who had fewer choices. We did it by having salespeople who could look at your color swatches and immediately take you to the 3-5 rugs that would work best with those colors in the desired size.

      Rugs were aranged by size and type, but that was mainly to help sales find them. In fact, the rugs were moved around the store regularly to keep the appearance of moving stock. Customers would never find what they wanted alone.

      The business fell apart when we got a new manager who thought the best approach would be to reduce the selection to the best selling machine made rugs, arrange them on racks in some rigid categorization, never move the racks (getting rid of stock help), and reduce overhead (get rid of sales people). Sales went through the floor and that store still hasn’t recovered.

      Translated to the web, our salespeople were the search box. Type in what you want, we’ll find it for you. Designers are the stock help, they keep things moving around and looking fresh.

      If you’re arranging your products behind huge lists of categories, you’re just doing it wrong. The number of choices isn’t the problem. The user doesn’t know or care what category you’ve selected for that piece of info or merchandise. They want to tell you what they are looking for and you produce your short list of *relevant* choices.

      • 3

        There are certainly cases where more choice is better (combined with the right UI, of course); Amazon is a great example. But there are also times when more choice is just distracting and actually painful. Neuroscience tells us that rejecting an available option causes us some level of discomfort. More choices generally means more discomfort, which means less happy customers.

        The point of this article is that more choice isn’t always better, and I think the neuroscience of human decision making backs up that conclusion.

        • 4

          I tend to buy products with lots of choices over few choices. Limited options often make choices more difficult for me because I often don’t like any of them when they are limited. I guess I’m different than most people.

      • 5

        well, let’s see, you just exemplified this article, your rug store had a filter for the client called an informed sales rep who presented 3-5 options based on that filter. Same for the site, it should be capable, based on initial input (how the user ended up at the site, basic funneling) to leave clients with as few choices as possible. I can’t stand going to restaurants that require you to name your condiments and toppings, it’s so annoying, anyone can get a bunch of toppings and force the customer to decide what works best together. But to have a signature sandwich that always works the way its structured is art. Say you want a particular item but you don’t like onions, just ask to omit them. I’ve always liked whoppers but without onions. I’m fully capable of ordering one without onions. Ask me all the ingredients in a whopper and I’m sure to miss some and miss out on the total experience I wanted (I can name all the ingredients in a big mac but that’s another story due to my generation.) It shouldn’t be my job to know what works best, it should be the business and that’s what makes them successful.

  2. 6

    Niels van Tilborg

    November 28, 2011 4:52 am

    Great article. I think the real challenge is to find the right balance between the variety of options and the feeling they have enough choices.

  3. 7

    Another remarkable observation along the same lines of this subject is the fact that most people who make a choice among a large number of options are less satisfied with their decision than people who chose among a small number of options. This is due to the idea that people tend to second guess their choices, wondering if they had missed out on something better. In our commoditized economy, we can assume that the feeling never really goes away even if they are allowed to change their minds.

  4. 8

    Nice article. Simplicity is the most sophisticated thing

    But if we are making the choice limited then the foremost thing is to have a good product backing it up. That Burger Joint, iPhone, Angry Birds, Croc are good products to start choice makes the shopping experience even easier and of course eventually better.

    Thanks for sharing

  5. 9

    Great article. I find that this “fewer is easier” approach is something clients often need to be reminded of when assessing what options should be presented in a site’s navigation menu. The temptation is to provide top-level links to lots of pages to “make it easier” for users to get what they want with 1-click, but the reality is that the abundance of choices often overwhelms users instead of helping them.

  6. 10

    Very well put. However, I believe that limiting the choices is the right decision mostly if the user is in a browsing mode, (i.e.) they don’t know specifically what they are looking for, hence are more open to suggestions we can impose as designers to make their choices simpler. If the user is looking for a specific item or service I would consider it beneficial to give them plenty of options to choose from and customize the product to their need.

  7. 11

    Gordon McLachlan

    November 28, 2011 5:36 am

    So basically people are lazy but still like the illusion choice? :P

    I would agree with that and it’s probably why companies like Apple are so successful. They offer a modicum of choice and personalisation in all their products but ultimately it’s very limited yet incredibly easy to use. Google are taking a similar approach with their tools such as Google Docs and offering a vastly reduced set of features when compared to MS Office.

    Personally I’m all for it. Give people good, simple, restricted stuff rather than overly complicated choice and variety. The latter doesn’t seem to offer any benefits to anyone.

    • 12

      Albert Einsteins quote holds true: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I think that what “as simple as possible” means varies in different domains. Different cultures, industries, skill levels, etc might want different amounts of complexity and choice. A highly advanced music player supporting many formats, configurations, would be overkill for the casual listener. But for a sound engineer it is a must.

  8. 13

    I think it might hold true but in some niches, that won’t work simply because the consumers are looking in having as many options as possible.

  9. 14

    Has anyone here been successful at convincing his/her boss that we should be pushing less?

    I tried that once, using the same intelligent logic presented in this article – among many more, and even some Malcolm Gladwell works.

    My response was, “Are you kidding? We should be pushing more!”

    Designers try to understand human thinking and optimize. Managers only understand the dump-and-discount method. Shove tons of crap down people’s throat and quickly remove the items not swallowed.

    If anyone knows a place where this isn’t the case, please share.

    • 15

      Steve Jobs. Apple. ’nuff said.

      Haha… OK, just so that I don’t sound so much like an Apple fanboy, one of the first things that Jobs did when he came back to Apple was to rationalise and simplify their product line. Look at Apple’s choices (or rather, lack of choice) now: each product in their line-ups offer 2 or 3 models with very limited options for customisation.

      There’s really no arguing that this strategy has not been successful.

      • 16

        The lack of an option for a slideout keyboard is why I have an Android phone.

      • 17

        So basically people are lazy but still like the illusion choice? :P

        / / Dead on. It’s the reason Apple is a massive company and Tom, below, is getting thumbs down for his Android comment. Apple puts out a phone that essentially doesn’t work because of where its antenna is but who cares? Any other product and the company would have been crucified.

  10. 18

    Lucas Gomeslalau

    November 28, 2011 6:27 am

    Nice article!!!

    But I think that simple is better than easy. Easy is subjective, easy for me may not be easy for you… While simple is objective to everyone.

  11. 19

    Excellent Article!!!! With a bit of philosophy that we can add to our designs. Thanks!!! =)

  12. 20

    I usually say to my colleagues (programmers) that if the elevator were made for these fellas it would have a “cancel” button aside of each number/floor button, maybe together with a “trace route” and a “memorize”, who knows, even with some state-of-the-art face recognition! So it would be over-complicated, but it would have all the features one could think of to “help users”… it would be as paradoxal as our current interfaces (most).

  13. 21

    Marios Lublinski

    November 28, 2011 7:01 am

    Great article, I do agree with everything in this article… people say they want all the features and options but in reality they want simple and quick…

    This article kind of remind me of the book “Don’t Make Me Think!” by Steve Krug…

  14. 22

    Great article bud! Good reading material..

  15. 23

    I completely agree. When I go to a sushi restaurant, I am always overwhelmed by choice. I always end up picking one thing I know I like, even though I would like to try something different. I even tell the waitress at times that I have no idea what I want, after looking at the pictures of all the beautiful sushi rolls. Sometimes I want her to just pick for me. haha

    I have also noticed this with my small business. We have a huge assortment of products but when a smaller selection is offered, we tend to have better sells. When a large selection is offered, people tend to just walk away because they are overwhelmed.

  16. 24

    Cassaw Creative

    November 28, 2011 8:23 am

    Great article. I agree with everything except the In-N-Out’s food isn’t much different than Wendy’s comment. WAY better and fresher lol.

  17. 28

    I’m sorry but you lost my attention after you said that In-N-Out isn’t much better than Wendy’s. I can’t take this article seriously anymore. You have lost credibility

  18. 29

    Yeah, the article content was fine. But comparing In-N-Out to Wendy’s? Really? In-N-Out burgers are fresh and you can tell on the first bite. (Plus, if you every DO try anything from the secret menu, you’ll never want to eat anywhere else ever again.)

  19. 30

    Subway is the obvious counter point.

    • 31

      Not really, I suffer the same issue when I go to Subway, there are so many options that now I just stick with what I know because I can’t decide otherwise. However, Subway helps this process a little bit by breaking down your choices…

      -What Bread? 4 options
      -What Size? 2 options
      -Extras? 3+ options
      -Veggies? 8 options
      -Sauce? 4+ options

      By doing this, at each step you are only faced with a few options. If they asked you all that information first thing, then you would be overwhelmed. But instead they walk you through the sandwich building process and break it down into simple steps.

  20. 32

    Stefano Bussolon

    November 28, 2011 9:13 am

    Interesting article.
    Things, however, are a little bit more complicated:
    – customers prefer to choose among fewer options if they have to decide;
    – paradoxically, however, they prefer to choose among a large number of options if they already decided what to take.
    See Chernev, Alexnder (2003), “When More Is Less and Less Is More: The Role of Ideal Point Availability and Assortment in Consumer Choice,” Journal of Consumer Research, 30 (2), 170-83.
    I gave a talk about what I called choosability at the last european summit of information architecture. The slides (if I can advertise, but it is in topic):

  21. 33

    Good article but you are overlooking the difficulty in implementing your advice. While more choices do make decisions more difficult, most people still prefer to have more choices. It is related to the misunderstanding people make about robustness in an application based on how much it does rather than how well it works. So if you’re considering offering fewer choices upfront you might follow the n’out example and provide a means to get more choices or your clients (users).

  22. 34

    Thierry Koblentz

    November 28, 2011 10:11 am

    Great article!
    I think if it had been published *before* Thanksgiving we would have less people this week trying to make sense of the new browser UI they have to deal with since their children or grand children decided it was good for them (sic) to upgrade their browsing experience :-(

    I decided to go against this trend (even though my in-laws are using AOL) because I think at a certain age, the last thing people are looking for is more cognitive challenges.

  23. 35

    These are great points. Very thoughtful indeed.

    Would you say that choice (complexity) is available only if the user wants the option? Basically, the options are optional? ;)

    • 36

      Sometimes, the user MUST make a choice. But I consistently hear and give the advice that if any choices can be entirely removed, do so. Then try to assign reasonable defaults to anything else that remains. Oftentimes users don’t need the level of customization that we might prefer ourselves as designers and implementers.

      Leave the options in a menu somewhere, so users can access them, and remove as many as possible from the main area.

  24. 37

    Limiting choices is a great design strategy, but it can make it harder to protect your brand by allowing your competition to easily copy your ideas.

    Simple business formulas can lead to your audience to confuse you with your rivals because of the work of copycats.

    Case in point, the picture of In ‘N Out Burger above is actually a picture of Fast & Fresh, a NYC area knock-off.

  25. 38

    Amazing Article thanks!

  26. 39

    Patrick Samphire

    November 28, 2011 11:40 am

    Excellent article. But it’s worth remembering that people like to be given the idea that they will have a vast amount of choice, without ever having to actually deal with those choices.

    Take premium WordPress themes, for example. Successful themes offer a vast number of potential choices: 30 colour schemes! 15 different skins! 20 different fonts! And so on. They are using as a selling point the number of options available, even though, when faced with those options, most people will not actually want them or use them. Same with stores that advertise thousands of products, but which only put a few of them in prime display positions, because they know most people will respond to the *idea* of choice, while not actually wanting to use that choice.

  27. 40

    Though I know it to be true, the concept of most people being weary of too many choices still boggles my mind. For me, the more options, the better and on the contrary, if computer related services don’t offer a high level of customization, I go elsewhere.
    This sort of thinking often dictates the direction of my design, so reading this article was very beneficial in helping me re-see that not everyone(95% it seems) thinks the same way.
    Less is more when designing for others.

  28. 41

    I absolutely agree with this. People are not looking necessarily for choices, they’re looking for solutions. If you’re going to offer a large variety of choices, you need to be able to defend each of them as a profitable decision not just something that a customer asked for. Keep your business lean and simple.

  29. 42

    The In ‘N Out example is just so much b.s. The appeal of the place is because it has a limited menu? Yeah, I’ve had a bunch of friends do the, “Oh, let’s go to that place… I forget the name… you know, the one with the limited menu?”

    Taking it to the limit, we all want to go to the “Cheeburger, cheeburger, cheeps, pepsi” place. Oh, that’s only on SNL? My bad.

    And remind me of Woot’s page-ranking again?

    The paradox of choice may be a good book, and there is something to picking the “easy to evaluate” vs “better”. But this review/article sure didn’t advance the cause.


    • 43

      The “Cheese Burger, Cheese Burger, Chips” place is real. It’s called Billy Goats and it’s in Chicago. Their menu is sprawled out on the back wall and you couldn’t read it all if you wanted to. Those who try to order something from it quickly learn that they are getting a Cheeseburger and chips.
      So in a way, they play both sides… they pretend to give you all the options in the world, but they know that all anyone wants is a cheeseburger.

      Restaurants that have huge menus never do anything really well… restaurants should have 5 or 6 items… and do them great!

  30. 44

    Justin Hubbard

    November 28, 2011 1:12 pm

    This phrase, “but having no choices takes away some of the freedom they believe they have.” hit a nerve my friend.

    Great article on the concept and how we might apply it but to make it sound like we only THINK we have freedom is atrocious, you have freedom if you want it but people can take it away from you through conditioning just like you talk about in your article. People have become conditioned to take the easy road because that’s what they’ve been presented with for the past 150 years or so. People have forgotten how to think for themselves and this is where web designers can or anyone starting a business can flourish. Just tell people what they need and you can easily become successful, but is it right? That’s a topic for another discussion but in my opinion no it’s not. I would rather see people come out of their daily television and limited choice trance, rather than put them deeper into it.

    Just my thoughts :) May not sound like it but I rather enjoyed your article.

    PS: To Kevin above me, Woot’s page rank is an 8

  31. 45

    Great article, and it really drives home the case for A/B testing. What I’m currently pondering is how many logo mockups should I offer a client in the initial proposal for a new logo design? What about website design mockups? Two options…three? I wonder where the sweet spot is, with balancing out the perception of value vs. ease of choice.

  32. 46

    This reminds me of a similar article I once read that said being rich is tougher, because you’re forced to consider a larger number of options when you can afford more. Hence if you shop on a budget it can be easier to make a decision. They called it “paralysis of analysis” or something like that.

    • 47

      Michael O'Neal

      November 28, 2011 2:37 pm

      Many people have nothing better to do than shop. Being rich is good for them because it displaces the boredom that comes from having nothing upstairs to play with.

    • 48

      And that’s the reason why these little rich girls buy most articles in all colours and flavors ;o)

  33. 49

    Michael O'Neal

    November 28, 2011 2:31 pm

    I very much believe limiting choices has its place. Several people have purchased Chromebooks with the Chrome OS on my suggestion and they are all still friends.

    I suggest it to those who don’t have the technical savvy to make heads or tails out of all the choices nor do they desire to have 300gb worth of stuff on keep track of.

  34. 50

    Limiting choice in itself isn’t the answer – reducing clutter / distraction and making available clear and *meaningful choices* is the key.

  35. 51

    Very interesting article. When you begin a large project you want begin to think of all the thousands of things you could do and sometimes it leads to the project getting away from you. I tend to get over excited about new programs and all the settings, but having parents who aren’t computer gurus helps keep my designs and navigation grounded. Excellent article, was a great reminder!

  36. 52

    Very well written. The more you reduce the friction between your product and the user, the better it is for the user.

    This may sound easy but it is very hard to sacrifice something when it comes to product design.

    Default the best settings for the users that aren’t techies and allow flexibility for techies is probably the sweet spot for the web product.

  37. 53

    Great article, thank you. I agree with the idea.
    Nevertheless it is still wondering for me, why don’t they tweak their apps? It is so appealing :)

  38. 54

    Although it seems reasonable, this whole article needs a [citation needed] tag. It sounds like these things are based on formal academic research; but I could be wrong.

    The text of the article refers to books and other articles, but I’d really like a (short) bibliography of selected references at the end so I don’t have to hunt and peck through the text if I want to find out more.

  39. 55

    Mark Eberhardt

    November 29, 2011 6:51 am

    Couldn’t agree more… people usually take the path of least resistance. In sales this means giving great service and making it easy for customers to deal with you. In marketing it means simplifying your message so people can easily understand why they should choose your brand or specific product.

    I strongly disagree however, with your characterization of In ‘N Out burger as “not much different than Wendy’s.” I LOVE In ‘N Out, Wendy’s doesn’t even make the top 5 burger joint list!

  40. 56

    Raymond Rogers

    November 29, 2011 7:05 am

    There is a small thing I noticed while designing a expert system for troubleshooting. In a large number of choice situations (say selecting the next test) there are actually two parameters of interest: information and cost. The selection of greatest “bounce/ounce” almost always leads to minimum cost (say time to isolate a problem).
    The costs for a given test is usually constant; but the amount of information derived from a test varies with accumulated information; and where you are on the information tree.
    The point is that perhaps the psychology involved in selecting from a small set versus a larger set might be a attempt by the mind to optimize things like this.
    Perhaps the psychological testing might be trying to evaluate a single measure; while the mind is trying to apply a two variable algorithm.
    Then things might seem more reasonable.

  41. 57

    I have translated this article into Vietnamese. You can see it here.
    I love your opinion and examples you wrote in this article. Really great! And I think it will support my work in the future.

  42. 58

    “If a client tells you that you can do their design any way you choose, it is more difficult than having to do a design with constraints because your options are endless.”

    It is perfectly right ! To me you should ask the client to state his intention before diving into the project and in any case the client should be involved. If he gives you a free hand how can you evaluate your ability to meet his needs?

  43. 59

    Kind of sounds like common sense to me. I think it’s pretty common knowledge that most people choose the path of least resistance/easiest choice as a matter of course. This is not to imply that this is the best way to make choices but that it’s pretty evident (if you’ve circled this planet enough years) that this is how many people operate. Nothing earth shattering in this revelation.

  44. 60

    P. A. Mendelsohn

    November 29, 2011 10:07 am

    Good article. Brings to mind the cell phone industry. I am still waiting for the manufacturers to go back to working on the original function – a telephone with good sound quality. I am not interested in having a toy next to my steering wheel while I drive (I can drive a stick shift, which means my cell would stay off while all hands and feet have something better to do.) I am not interested in a blindingly small laptop in my pocket. What I do want is a phone that works as well as my “vintage” land line phone with wires. As the largest demographic starts to lose its hearing (all those loud concerts and headphones) they will clean up with simple high quality sound and amplification. Cells are going the way of cable: 150 channels (apps) and nothing good on tonight.

    P.S. I love a new toy, ie. gadget, when I get one. I play with it to change default settings. But once I put away the manual, I rarely make any more changes. Or remember what else it can do.

  45. 61

    It’s worth noting that the book, the Paradox of Choice, actually explores a number of issues, including risk aversion, a tendency to fret that we aren’t choosing “the best,” and decision fatigue.

    The point is that more choices may *seem* freeing, and many people will say that they prefer dozens or hundreds of options, but the reality (and user testing bears this out) is that people tire quickly from having to weed out all those wonderful options that don’t really interest them, and then feel pressure that they should be able to find “the perfect fit for me” simply because the dozens of options seem to imply such a thing exists.

    It’s probably worth looking up the NY Times article on decision fatigue for a terrific example of how auto showrooms can add up to $2000 to the purchase price of a car simply by presenting the car configuration choices in a particular way — fatiguing the buyer on simple trim choices and then “defaulting” an expensive engine option as the last choice to make. The buyer frequently tires of deciding on small options, and then simply “picks” the expensive engine because it’s easier to “choose”…

  46. 62

    Nice article! Really interesting.

  47. 63

    Perhaps it’s just me but I feel as if I just read a Malcolm Gladwell book. That is, packed with hypothesis and then supported with selective—if not questionable—reference points. (Angry Birds? Really?!?)

    That aside, the more pressing question for me is what is the relationship between choice and customer retention. I’m certainly not going to debate the value of easier. By definition easier is easier. Duh?

    On the other hand, perhaps there are times less isn’t more over the long term? For example, the (impulsive) buyer chooses me because I have a selection of two widgets, while my prime competitor has a selection of five. Great! I got the sale—another customer for life. Unfortunately, my brand’s lifespan is only two widgets deep. Johnny B. Quick eventually realizes the flaw in his decision and buys his next two or three widgets from my competitor. In the meantime I’m forced to acquire yet another new customer because old Johnny left as quickly as he showed up.

    Or perhaps my sales process is easier than my competitor. However, once post-impulse reality set in my customer decides she didn’t want the widget after all and returns it. Obviously, there’s a loss associated with that sale/return. Maybe I should have held out for a customer with more digression and true motivation.

    Again, I’m not disputing the value of easy. I’m simply questioning if the model is universal, as well as wanting to explore the impact of setting the bar too low.

    Your thoughts Paul?

    • 64


      January 20, 2012 8:51 pm

      Mark. I’ve read Gladwell’s books, and I know he has been cited for using a lot of conjecture in his claims. However, simplifying things by limiting choice I think is a good concept, but I don’t think it’s universal like how you brought out.

      I think if people are informed, then choice is easier when there’s less while if they’re unsure, choice opens up avenues. Then again there’s other factors to consider a sin how impatient/patient the person is, the product and so forth, but then maybe it just takes a trial and error process to determine it.

  48. 65

    I agree, use it in every situation as possible, and always try to spread these words… Very nice article.

  49. 66

    It would be interesting to do a study on icecream shops. Start with X number of flavours, then gradually reduce or increase them and gauge how long it takes people to make a decision.

    The key would be in finding out the optimal number of flavours that balances a quick decision with having an adequate range to bring in the crowd.

    • 67

      Mark Simchock

      December 1, 2011 6:48 am

      Yes, that would be interesting.

      I would be even more interesting to see how presentation/organization of the menu effected choice. For example, Top 10 Classics (e.g., van, choc, etc.), Current Top 10, Exotic, Staff Picks, Sweet, Fruity, Kidz Faves, Adult Faves, New, Multi-dimensional (i.e., multiple ingredients). etc. It would seem to be the issue here isn’t really selection but choice and how that process is guided (or not).

      I also think there has to be a difference between selecting from (for example) 50 *different* flavors of ice cream (i.e., “what am I in the mood for?) and standing memorized at the supermarket trying to pick one peanut butter from a selection of 50. Which leads me to: if websites can have “most popular” etc. why can’t the supermarket? Why am i forced to take in the whole universe of choices when at any given moment only a subset applies to me?

      Again, the root issue here is about choice, not selection. Which I’m not so sure the article highlights.

  50. 68

    Great Article. Something which everyone can relate to in their day-to-day experiences..
    I think it can be applied in a lot of domains like “Sales”, “Designs” and even Exercise regimens..

    I enjoyed it and do agree with it..
    Simple is best..

  51. 69

    The MS Word example is interesting. Perhaps it’s the case that the default settings cater to the vast majority of users. Therefore, there’s no need for most people to change them.

    Ever used Lotus Notes? I’d imagine 95% of users change the default settings but not because they enjoy having the choice.

  52. 70

    Human Factors has been dealing with this for years. It is not as simple as just take away, or hide options. It is still dependent on the product and it’s uses. Yes, I’m all for making it as enjoyable as possible for the user and as easy to use as possible but there is a bandwagon starting after Steve Jobs’ death that is looking for easy, cookie cutter answers.

    Hiding infrequently used and unimportant options, having good defaults, etc. are all
    important guidelines that have been around for a long time (The military has been doing Human Factors research for 70 years) but it’s not always that straightforward.
    You still have to design your product and do research. You can’t just make it simpler.

    And In-n-Out is consistently rated as the best tasting fast food burger. The amount of items in the menu has nothing to do with that.

    @Mark Simchock
    Perhaps it’s just me but I feel as if I just read a Malcolm Gladwell book. That is, packed with hypothesis and then supported with selective—if not questionable—reference points. (Angry Birds? Really?!?)

    I agree.

  53. 71

    An astute understanding of the common psychology of ‘choice’. But, understanding the basis of this ‘syndrome’ is, i think, very important.

    People are taught from birth “not to think”! But rather to choose the “standard default” when faced with a life decision. The institutions [schools, churches, commerce] all profit greatly from individuals not thinking about the actual underlying importance of choosing well, but choosing instead to ‘default’ to the common/standard/popular choice, most accepted by society. [‘popular’ trumps ‘wisdom’]

    Hence all the pressure is (to quote Albee in “tiny Alice”) “accept Julian, accept”.

    We accept the existence of deities, over the more likely situation that things without any proof of any kind, don’t actually exist; it’s the popular ‘position’ keeping the bulk of people on the planet living in limbo.

    We cloak the school history version of the treatment of aboriginal societies by the wave of (in effect) ravaging hordes from Europe over running the NA continent in a cover story of protecting settlers from ‘savages’ and ‘winning the west’ (finally this is being questioned).

    We allow vapid low quality entertainment on television (etc.) to fill what could be interesting and productive lives, rather than choosing how we can effectively spend our leisure time. [TV in the 21st century has taken the place of the church in previous centuries]. And, of course while having our lives stolen by these organized forms of “crime” (if only dishonest manipulation), we spend our time and resources deciding on “what ‘stuff’ to buy”!

    [“default thinking” is not as benign as these authors seem to imply, but definitely true.]

    • 72

      Richard Calvert

      December 19, 2011 3:07 pm

      Cool. Write us a book BoGoWo. “Thou shalt not think: The spread of Default Standard Syndrome”

  54. 73

    Nice article. It was very interesting. It doesn’t apply to all of course like everything in life.

  55. 74

    Excellent. A very good read.

  56. 75

    Though I am not as Tech as the rest of the readers. I come from the old world of Sales and Marketing and I throughly enjoyed your article.
    I find you are right on the money with offering too many choices. Henry Ford and the Model T was perhaps the first to practice this in the early 20th Century when after a few years of different colors decided to only offer only the color Black for his Model T’s and it was a hit for awhile.
    But, a good example is in everyday life is to ask your friends, “where do you want to have lunch or dinner or what movie to see”, etc. It always seems to come back to one member of the group makes one suggestion and most agree that is the place they will go! Human Nature…what a trip!

  57. 76

    The guide for future programs (and websites):
    as simple, intuitive, and straightforward as possible, so anyone can use it straight away.
    BUT, very important: never block the possibility to edit all options, to tweek at will.

    That way all techies are happy, and my grandparents are too!
    (My grandpa takes notes with a pencil on his white Macbook, so you see what I mean…)

  58. 77

    I sometimes think that when a site, restaurant, etc… offers too many choices, it’s because they don’t want to make the choice themselves. Sometimes offering too many options is just a design choice the developer didn’t want to make.

  59. 78

    Chipotle is a good example of a place that offers numerous choices but presents them in a simple way. Looking at the menu there are only a few options, but then once you pick something, like a burrito, the workers guide you step by step, asking what kind of meat, beans, rice, salsa, etc…

    Contrast this to a menu that displays all the various combinations and it would be extremely hard for one to decide what one wants.

  60. 79

    Bruno Belluomini

    December 1, 2011 11:03 am

    Great article! Thanks!

  61. 80

    This concept applies to designing for print as well. Present a limited choice to the client, but always have back-up options.

  62. 81

    The quick and simple solution is preffered by life in the Nature.

  63. 82

    It’s very useful and inspiring information

  64. 83

    Thank you so much for your insight. I have been dealing with landing sites and rates pages for three websites and your article really demonstrates that I should elaborate more on less. Thanks.

  65. 84

    Good points, but, being an In N’ Out fan, I have to disagree that it’s the simplicity that makes it so appealing. It’s the burgers — which are amazing! The simplicity is refreshing, and makes it easier to come back and to enjoy the place, but is not the reason In N’ Out is so successful.

    I’d say the “secret menu” is more appealing than the limited “official” menu, since it rewards regulars and makes them feel special. I’d be interested in an article on that!

  66. 85

    3 – 5 choices ( not 4 ) and the option of mix n match of those and they seem happy.

  67. 86

    They want to have the option and we have to give them options but as designers we have to control the process.

  68. 87

    I agree with the larger message. However, In-N-Out is NOT like Wendy’s.

  69. 88

    I’ve just seen that in my life. Everytime I went to a fast food restaurant I needed like 5 to 10 min to select something from the giant menus they have nowadays.
    Then I became a vegetarian and ba-booom theres just 1 burger and 1 salad left that fits into my new lifestyle. Now I’m done with my order in a sec^^

  70. 89

    Wendy’s is as good as In ‘N Out Burger? No way, if I was in the mood for a burger In ‘N Out would win over Wendy’s in less than a heart beat.

    As others have noted, hard to pay attention to the rest of the article when that comparison was so bad.

  71. 90

    Decent article but flat-out BAD comparison re: In-N-Out Burger vs. Wendy’s. While the limited menu is a big part of the overall In-N-Out experience, there is FAR more to their success than just that. The difference between those two places, to me, is HUGE. As I mentioned, there really *IS* an “experience” at In-N-Out burger, as opposed to almost every other fast food joint in the country. For one thing they’re limited to the West Coast, so they’re far more rare and “exclusive” than the others. One of the reasons for that is due to their food – they don’t freeze any of their food during shipping, which means they keep their distribution chain small and limited to a certain area. When you get a burger there vs. anywhere else, you are immediately impressed by the high quality of the vegetables. They’re big, crispy, and fresh like they’re always portrayed in the pictures. Their fries are hand-cut on the premises and fried using a healthier peanut oil. Not only that, but the place is CLEAN – almost sparkling clean. That goes to a long-standing idea about fast food places being perceived negatively, so they really put a lot of effort into making sure it’s always looking good, both behind the counter and on the eating floor. The employee’s are well-trained and operate on a level of efficiency and pride that you just don’t see in fast food places today. Working there isn’t looked down upon the way a job at McDonald’s is – they have maintained their old fashioned traditions and kept a high level of quality as their standard. While I have given up eating at most fast food places, the one exception that I make regularly is In-N-Out burger, and it’s because of the overall difference in taste, quality, and cleanliness. I like the simplicity of the menu but to be honest I have, on occasion, been upset by them not offering at least a fish or chicken sandwich along with their standard items. Their limited menu is probably the one thing that I would prefer they expand on or change.

  72. 91

    Marc Haunschild

    December 7, 2011 12:35 am

    Thanks for showing once more, that it all leads to: “Don’t make me think”

  73. 92

    Anirudh K. Mahant

    December 9, 2011 8:42 am

    I watched the whole video on “Paradox of Choices” by Barry Schwartz a few months back on TED.

    It was both entertaining and informative on how the world around us has infamously sky rocketed into changes. In his speech he implied on a very good example where 10 years back when someone wanted to buy a simple pair of Jeans. It felt so good to hear about the experience of buying a new pair of simple Jeans for god sake, most astonishingly because all there was just “A Jeans”, same buying experience goes into spiral today when walking into a store to buy a new pair of Jeans when your flooded and clouded with choices.

    Back then people had Easier/Simpler choices. They only get a pair of Jeans and yet they felt gratified somehow? Its as if Patience, Virtue (Most importantly) and Ethics have left planet earth a long time ago when “we” welcomed these changes around us. Somewhere down the line we made choices that should have been limited or restricted to keep things simple. But who needs that these days ;)

  74. 93

    Maicon Sobczak

    December 13, 2011 2:33 am

    The dangerous part of this is think: if the industry standardize this way of think and limit even more our purchase options. Our life would be easier but extremely limited. Creativity suffer.

  75. 94

    This is “Don’t Make Me Think” ten years after. So true that users and clients will choose easier over better.

  76. 95

    It doesn’t matter that 95% of the people using word DON’T change their settings… as with any software, customization features should be invisible when you’re using it, there when you need it.

  77. 96

    This is a great post, thank you!

    I completely agree, simplicity is always going to be the best option, we have companies like Apple that are striving so hard to make things intuitive for the user. Although limited by settings they get the fundamentals right every single time, probably why they are so successful.

  78. 97

    James Hartley

    February 7, 2012 4:35 pm

    Lets get to the real issue… In n’ Out burger is NOT comparable to Wendy’s! I don’t know who this guy is and by what authority he makes such claims, but I can no longer trust his advice. I was enjoying this article because I am a huge believer in the “less is more”. I mean, that was Steve Jobs’ life goal. One button, and it seemed to work for his company…. Anyway, after reading his evaluation of In n’ Out, I started to doubt everything he said… even though I previously supported his argument. In n’ Out is WAY better than Wendy’s. And also WAY better than Shake Shack too; if you live in the New York area…

  79. 98

    Too many choices are the reason why I don’t buy any cereal.

  80. 99

    Anna Rudashko

    March 13, 2012 1:15 pm

    great article indeed.

  81. 100

    Excellent Article!!!! With a bit of philosophy that we can add to our designs. Thanks my friend

  82. 101

    I thing peoples refrain themselves from setting up an application to match their tastes because most of them don’t know they can tweak it. As of Microsoft Word, most user are not power-users : They just want to enter text, put some pictures, add some styling to make headers, headlines and stuff and save the document.

    Maybe it’s a good idea to notify user at first run, and help them locate the settings section so they can get the most of their application without feeling lost or disappointed.
    We can for example ask the user to set some basic options at first and offer him a chance to go one step further by redirecting him to a more advanced setting section.
    I think, It is although necessary to give them the choice to skip this step because some users don’t feel like messing around and some may want to use the application as if.

  83. 102

    If I go somewhere and there are only 6 choices, and I don’t want any of them, I will go somewhere where they have greater choices — in both senses of ‘greater’.

    Ultimately, fewer choices for the individual leads to a world of philosopher-kings who make all the decisions for the stupid dumb mass, all wearing compulsory Mao-suits to save them from the tyranny of choice each morning.

    I’m not arguing that the mass may not be stupid, merely that they have the right to be as stupid as they wish. Locking them in designer-built boxes merely induces the designers’ dream of universal mass-conformity.

  84. 103

    Victoria Casey

    May 13, 2014 4:56 am

    I totally agree that easier is better than better. Having said that, I highly recommend collate box as a better and easier tool than google docs. Try it !


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