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Archive for March, 2006

The Paradox of Choice: Why less is more

I read the book and I saw Schwartz speak at GEL last year, but it was much nicer to have him delve into his research to an audience of 50 people. The notes aren’t so great, most of the context is not there. But since I took them I figured I might as well post them here. (At some point I’ll transfer my old blog’s posts here and link to my previous thoughts on his work).

Notes from Berry Schwartz’s talk at the Free Library of Philadelphia
Thursday, March 02, 2006

The official syllogism

  • freedom = welfare
  • choice = freedom
  • more choice = more welfare

People are attracted to capability not usability. There is a trade off between perceived capability and usability. People ask for simpler things, but make a decision about offers based on what’s most complex (more = better).

“Patient autonomy”, forces the patient to make choices it’s not equipped to make. {Same as users in an online environment: user autonomy means pushing a of lot features and maximizing the potential of choices, resulting in dissatisfaction because of the frustration of not being able to handle them}

In Information occupations: Because work is easily accessible (online, phone, etc), people make the decision to work or not to work at any time and can’t take for granted the fact that there is work and non-work time.

In appearance: people are only ugly if they want, there are millions of ways (choices) to fix it.

In identity: family tradition is not required, you can be whoever, but you also don’t have any guidance on how to decide who to be.

Americans (research findings):

  • Richer than ever before
  • Freer than ever before
  • Sadder than ever before

Consequences of too much choice

1. Paralysis: possibilities result in not making a decision
Research: Speed dating: more choice, less decision

2. Decision and Performance Quality: Impacts people’s ability to make a good decision
People simplify the task of making a decision by basing it on face-value, but result doesn’t align with original goals (getting the best).

3. Satisfaction: Even when good decisions are made, there will be less satisfaction if the options were too many

Research: Choices made make people miserable.


• Regret and anticipated regret (another dish would have been better, other hotel would have been nicer) – Regret detract satisfaction out of the resulting choice, regardless of its quality
• Opportunity Cost (all decisions involve trade-offs) – The prospect of what could have been is overwhelming. People are tortured by the possibilities.
• The escalation of expectations (More offers increase expectations of a better result) – Evaluation of a result is not about objective qualities, but how it measures against expectations

Research: Do better, feel worse
Fact: Once people cross subsistence needs, GDP doesn’t affect well being

Take away: Making any decision is better than making no decision

Modifier: Maximizing and Satisficing

{Introducing a behavior modifier: the book’s proposal}

Two ways to approach a decision:

• Maximizing: You want the best > How do you know what’s best? > Examine all possibilities available

• Satisficing: You want good enough > How do you know you have it? > Examine one possibility at a time until you find good enough.

Research fact: Satisficers are happier than maximizers.
Schwartzman’s proposition: “There is no decision in any area in life where looking for the best is a good idea”
Research: What makes people happy? > close relations {community trumps features}

Libertarian Paternalism (See: Richard Taylor, Kess Sunsteen)

Take-away: Attention to what the default option is when offering multiple options. It drives adoption of the default choice. Always. {Address ethical implications of making decisions about what default to offer}

This isn’t stated often enough

“[...] if you’re genuinely interested in making design techniques a bigger part of the business, maybe you can be more effective if you move elsewhere in the organization so that you are not a designer or not in the design department” – Jeff Lash in the new discussion list for AIGA’s Gain, Journal of Business & Design.

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