The Balance between Choice and Perceived Control

Posted on 07. Mar, 2012 by in Digital Marketing, Thoughts

A foundation for good usability?

When faced by too much choice we are shown to make fewer decisions.  Why?  The more choices we have (be those visual, image, auditory, written text etc.) the more we begin to feel overwhelmed and our decision making process becomes more difficult – a reaction commonly referred to as ‘choice paralysis’.

The question here is…how do we create a balance between optimal choice and perceived control? In doing so, how do we create a good user experience across ever changing digital platforms while catering for the user?

Choice paralysis

Choice paralysis played a significant role in the physical world when defining the layout of supermarkets, but what about online?  The online environment (retail or otherwise) has the same mental constraints on our capacity to make a decision and should be addressed in a similar manner to ensure online environments not only provide us with the optimum amount of choice but also a structure that allows us to mentally calculate that choice – in doing so maximising perceived control.

Perceived control (that we can take action to get a desired outcome)

If we cannot make a decision due to information overload from more choices than we needed or could mentally calculate (Miller’s Law), we feel like we’ve failed.  Feelings of this ‘failure’ can be caused by a reduction in perceived control.  Even when we go looking for a set goal, an overabundance of choice can have us doubting our original choice, again leading to anxiety – effectively offering a poor user experience.

So, how do we create the balance between choice and perceived control?

Create control without reducing choice

It is fair to say that we all want to be given as much choice as available.  The question here is how to structure that choice.  As perceived control is central to a good user experience and a variety of desired health outcomes, it is important that the online environments we design cater for this condition where visual data overload has the same effect.  One example among the many ways this can be done, is through the use of a clearly structured navigation that differentiates similar items through a well-designed navigation and search.  Secondly, utilise your call to actions as directional elements to limit the amount of choices facing the user.

Mobile platforms

With the development of mobile platforms the online landscape has changed yet again.  Now new screen resolutions provide smaller size constraints affecting the availability of choice.  With this, brings the challenges of alternative navigational systems.  Once again it is important that we provide users with a good experience yet still giving them optimal choice.

Maximise choice without inhibiting control

Inevitably good user experience design, in part, is about giving the user as much choice as required through a well categorised and structured navigational frame.  In the ever changing world of mobile experiences, this is never more so important than now.  When designing for the web at any level, the user is at the centre of the process.  It’s not only in understanding their capabilities and stretching those further, but also in developing for the users limitations.

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