Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I just finished reading "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness" and attended an interesting UX Book Club meeting where we discussed various details. The meeting itself was much more engaging than I expected as I don't consider myself much of a reader. The book goes over a number of findings around how people tend to react better to suggestions or nudges rather than mandates. I recommend the book to anyone who is designing anything that involves user response.

As a very brief overview of the book, Nudges are contextual design decisions that aim to maintain choices for the users. Instead of mandating that users select a specific item, the better choice is defaulted, positioned or socially associated in such a way that will lead the user towards it. As you might imagine, the "better option" is difficult to define and is extremely contextual. How much you should nudge is also a delicate balance, but one thing that is clearly spelled out in the book is how important these nudges end up being. Intentional or not, the way we present options has a huge effect on the outcome.

One of my biggest take-aways was the scenario where users fail to answer because they either forget or because the options are too complex. Many times, the designer or choice architect at they refer to it, can make an educated nudge as to what the answer should be. In certain situations, no decision can have a devastating result, while an educated default answer will be right 90% of the time. The book uses extreme examples with topics such as health care and retirement investments, but the nudges are still relevant at lower level options fond in software.

Another very interesting point was how people make automatic and reflective decisions. People want to be good, but in the heat of the moment bad decisions are sometimes made. Nudges made during reflective moments, when people think straight, can affect decisions during automatic or impulsive moments. I can see this affecting impulsive online purchases or frustrating moments with software. Perhaps help options can be introduced earlier when the user is in a calm, reflective state. Inevitably, the user will hit some road block and become frustrated. If they are already familiar with the help options and structure, they may be more likely to find the help topic rather then jump straight to the more costly phone help support.In turn the software company does not have to charge for phone support because call volume is maintained lower.

I've always looked at the world through designer goggles, but this book has given me an extra view into how my designs WILL affect outcomes to people's goals. The simple decision of default option is not so simple anymore.

1 comment:

Peter said...

Cool stuff! Well said.