4 Factors That Affect How Users Make Decisions Inside Your App

Two really great decisions are better than dozens of okay decisions. And they certainly hurt less than a bunch of poor decisions.

Originally published in Bootcamp

I only wore black t-shirts and blue jeans for a few years. And most days I still do.

Reducing the number of decisions is key when designing interfaces.

Two really great decisions are better than dozens of okay decisions. And they certainly hurt less than a bunch of poor decisions.

How users make decisions

To help users make better decisions, it’s useful to understand the factors that affect the quality of their judgment.

When it comes to making decisions, there are four key factors

  1. Quantity
  2. Quality
  3. Risk
  4. Time

1. Quantity of information

We would normally think that having more data increases the chances of making a good decision. And that’s true, to an extent.

Beyond a certain threshold, though, more data can overwhelm a person. This threshold is, of course, different for everyone.

2. Quality of information

This is quite obvious but making a decision with misleading data -or a misleading interpretation of accurate data- will have a negative impact on even the best judgment.

3. Perceived risk

When stakes are higher, people will feel more pressure which will affect the quality of their decision. Whether it’s positive or negative depends largely on that person’s approach.

If risks are very low, users will decide based on the path of least resistance.

“A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion.

The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action.

― Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

4. Time

Similar to risk, the less time a person has to make a decision, the more pressure they will feel.

But why, though?

There is an old paper from 1955 by George Miller that estimates the average person can keep on average seven, plus or minus 2, elements in their head at a given time.

This tells us that reducing the number of choices for our users is almost always good.

A series of experiments showed that when people were able to resist eating M&M’s or fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, they were later less able to resist other temptations. — Scott Mautz, Inc. Magazine

It’s difficult to measure cognitive load.

This is one of the reasons it’s so difficult to program computers to design.

As a designer, you start to develop an intuition over the years that tells you, when the signal-to-noise ratio of a particular composition is affecting the user’s ability to make decisions.

The main takeaway I can give you is to consider the four factors above and always strive to present the user with only the most essential information to get them closer to their goal.

Further reading

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