Choices, not Decisions

October 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

An entrepreneur recently told me, “we try to give our customers choices rather than forcing them into decisions early on in the process.”  I can’t think of a more perfect way to frame the design of User Experience.

In this context, the word Choice is used a little differently than the common definition. Choices are low friction options in the user flow (not necessarily multiple options as the common definition suggests).  Choices are activities that seem like no brainers and carry little (or no) cost to the consumer.  By contrast, a Decision is a user activity that causes you to pause and say “hmmm, Is the benefit of that step really worth the cost?”  The obvious example is a forced log-in.  On our team, we call decisions “Gates.”

Our team’s rules with gates are:

  1. Never gate unless you have to.
  2. If you think you have to gate, see if there is a way to not gate and still provide the appropriate user experience
  3. Never gate early in the process
  4. Always show the user what is on the other side of the gate…and that better be damn compelling.
  5. Always offer an escape hatch for the User.

When building a product, it is very easy to get sucked into designing a flow to match the corporate goals rather than optimize for the user’s experience.   The classic example: We want to grow, so let’s put a page early on that asks you to invite your friends.  Invite my friends?  Are you kidding?  I just signed in, I don’t even know what your site does?  You want me to invite my entire facebook friend list?  Fuck you…I am out of here.

Our VP of Product said it better, “treat your customer’s time preciously.”  Boom!

It is harder than it sounds.  The dark side of corporate goals are always pulling you to think selfishly.  But a good product is one that is optimizing for the consumer, yet finds ways to achieve its corporate goals within that framework.


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