Decision Fatigue and UX

I just recently came across a really nice article by The Atlantic about decision fatigue. This is the concept of a person trying to make a decision between more options than their brain can process – resulting in no decision at all. Read it here. Among the great comparisons to real life, I think the following principles referenced from the psychologist Sheena Iyengar can be used as an excellent UX tool.

Choice is a complex process that requires that we

  1. Know what we want
  2. Understand what makes the choices different
  3. Can evaluate the trade-offs involved in choice A over choice B

The Atlantic article touches only a bit on the web, but this idea is crucial to consider when developing UX/UI. Our short term memory capacity allows us to simultaneously consider 6-9 choices maximum without suffering decision fatigue. The more choices we are presented with, the more difficult it is to resolve the above criteria. I recommend walking through your UI as a user to see how well your UI accommodates this checklist. Choice also doesn’t only relate to content. The more complex your navigation and interface overall is, the more time it takes a user to understand how it works, and what to do next. If it takes too long, you’ve got a nasty bounce rate.

A popular solution to this problem is a concept called progressive disclosure. This method is a stepped sequence of decisions that presents users with only a handful of options at once. It takes more clicks, but every decision is manageable. Hover states and even scrolling are forms of progressive disclosure, but I am always looking for ways to innovate this this space. Svpply does this brilliantly with their filters, take a look.

Some more excellent reads on descision fatigue in this quick reference list from UX Myths.