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I came across this TED talk given by Sheena Iyengar in New York on November 2011 about choice overload. It's a short, eloquent talk about the plethora of choice that we are faced with as consumers in this day in age. Grocery aisles are filled with an overwhelming number of choices for any given product based on brand, flavour, packaging, etc.
Sheena talks about reducing choice overload for your consumers and how that can have positive effects on your business. She revealed several studies which found that reducing the number of choices has increased sales, profit and productivity.
She offered some strategies for business to apply to help make choosing easier for their customers:
1. Cut - less is more
It is easier to make a decision when there are less choices.
2. Concretize - make it vivid
It is easier to make a choice when you understand the consequences of each choice and they can be felt in a concrete way.
3. Categorize - more categories, fewer choices
We can handle more categories than we can choices. Categories help people identify the differences between their choices.
4. Condition - presenting low to high choices is more engaging than high to low choices
It's better to provide people with increasing number of choices step-by-step than to start with a large number of choices right off the bat. Starting people off with lower choices allows them to prepare for their decisions and keeps them engaged.
As I listened to her talk, I realized that some of the lessons and takeaways she presented also apply to design...
Less is more. Clearing clutter in your interfaces and in your web design helps to clearly communicate your intent and also helps your users to navigate your interfaces and understand the tasks they need to accomplish.
Every action in the UI should be clearly labeled so that the consequences of each interaction is clear. Or else allow users to revert the interaction and return to a previous state. This makes your users feel safe while navigating your UI and allows each action to be clearly identified.
Do not overwhelm the UI. For complex interfaces, it can be better to divide tasks and present them to the user one at a time or step-by-step instead of all at once. Overwhelming your users is the surest way of losing them.
Guide new users through your UI. Help users familiarize themselves with your UI whenever possible, this can be done through a quick tutorial/callout or by using in place help as needed. Make it easy for users to learn your interface.