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Paradox of Choice

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Exposing your users to too many choices could prove catastrophic. We have to hit that sweet spot to optimize the experience.

Barry Schwartz explains in his TED Talk The Paradox of Choice. He says, having too many options or choices available to choose from have 2 negative effects:

1. Paralysis, rather than liberation With a lot of choices available, it is so hard to make a decision, that the users pass up for the next time, or don’t make a choice at all (for the fear of making the wrong choice).

2. Decreased satisfaction after making the choice With a menagerie of options that were available before you made your choice, its easy to imagine that you could have made a different choice that could have been better. This leads to regret that subtracts from the satisfaction you got from your choice. With a large number choices available, it is easy to imagine that you have rejected attractive features of the other options in order to get what you chose, hence there was an opportunity cost, which leads to dissatisfaction.

With all the options available, our expectation about how the final choice would be goes up, leading to so called escalation of expectation. This leads to a degradation in satisfaction when the final choice does not meet our expectation. So, in this scenario, we will never be pleasantly surprised.

People ending up blaming themselves (self-blame) for not being able to make the right choice, even when they do which further leads to unrest.

Hence, this is NOT true: More Choices means more freedom, More freedom means more happiness.

We can leverage this knowledge in providing a good user experience:

  1. Provide limited number of options to the users. Not too many, not too less. Just the right balance.

  2. Make sure your options exceed the user expectation giving them a pleasant surprise.

  3. Make the users feel good about the choice they made. Let them share it, let them get social proof.

Hitting that sweet spot (of perfect balance) might be tricky, and only user testing or research would give you the right numbers. So go, research, test, get it right!



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