Exhibiting information in a clear, yet compelling way is one of the more challenging nuances of UX design. As users become increasingly reliant on technology to provide answers in a given situation, designers come under more pressure to play the role of the choice architect. There’s a conflict between the task of the product or service provider (assuming impartiality) who wants to display all the relevant information as clearly as possible; and the user who wants to filter out the extraneous possibilities and get right down to a smart selection. Given that the average person makes over 200 decisions a day just about food in our choice-riddled society, it’s no wonder users want the burden eased when it comes to choosing the right product for them – (on that note, skip straight to end for the 5 key takeaways).
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Often, the intention to provide users with all options results in a choice-paralysis which can both hinder customers in their journey, and harm your conversion rate – potentially sending users back a step and opening them back up to your competition. Alternatively, misrepresenting, or failing to emphasise important factors going into the decision-making process may cause users to overlook these factors, and adversely impact the eventual outcome the user ends up with. Let’s first look at this in the context of the transport industry, where the user literally just wants to get from A to B.
Metro maps and schematics have been the go-to solution for route planning since transport lines began to converge – the earliest map for London transport was published in 1908. They are integral to the smooth-running of big cities – particularly when you consider the growing population and the suburban sprawl of city workers. The trouble is, public transport maps do not scale with geographic reality. A recent study found that this distortion affects travelers perceptions of relative location, route selection and associations of different routes – e.g. train journeys that look ‘long’ are often actually quicker on foot – seemingly small oversights that can actually have quite significant consequences on efficiency among other success factors, when applied at such a large scale. The study uses an example of a passenger travelling from Paddington to Bond Street with a choice between two seemingly equidistant routes according to map A – either travel to Baker Street and change to the Jubilee line (Path 1), or change at Notting Hill Gate for the Central line (Path 2). Path 2 is about 15% slower by time on-train, and actually starts in the opposite direction to the destination on a geographical map, however the experiment found that 30% of passengers chose path 2, probably because on the schematic tube map, path 2 is about 10% shorter than path 1 and Notting Hill Gate is shown to the south (not west) of Paddington. Map B shows the map scaled to London’s geography.
Another example is that Baker Street is shown slightly south of Marylebone and significantly further away, when seasoned Londoners know the two are actually situated only 5 minutes apart on foot (and are on the same road).
Some app designers have already begun tapping into this opportunity to more intelligently guide users’ transit decisions. Apps such as Citymapper and Tube Map provide additional insights to help users make contextually informed judgements, such as approximations of taxi fares, walking times or weather-based alternatives such as ‘rain safe’ options:
This is something UX designers will be tasked to consider increasingly as the discipline evolves and matures. User interfaces need to make it easy for users to choose, not just to use, and having this practise baked into web and app designs is guaranteed to be the difference between those who grow and those who stagnate, especially in competitive market spaces.
The e-commerce, travel and SaaS sectors are choice among those to start putting serious weight behind their online choice architecture.
Littlewoods and Very.co.uk have confronted the barrier of an expansive clothing catalogue and indecisive female shoppers (need I say more?) with a ‘style adviser’ – a super smart backend system courtesy of Dressipi designed to narrow and intelligently guide womens online fashion shopping, based half on self-preference and half on insider stylist tips and tricks.
For hip traveller types who know that location is everything, Airbnb allow (even encourage) you to search by map, turning the selection process on its head by honing in on their users’ priorities. Custom filters can then be added by region, amenities, and user generated keywords to further refine the options, continually driving users towards their end goal. In future, a nice touch might be to extend the crowd-sourcing with user-generated contextual cues within the map for different areas and districts – e.g. good for shopping, coffee shops, nightlife or museums – but I digress (occupational hazard!).
In the SaaS space, Rackspace know their visitors are arriving with a diverse array of needs, and realise the importance in getting to the bottom of that quickly to avoid losing out on custom.
By guiding users through a smart flow of options, the urge to overload visitors with a comprehensive range of services is removed, and you can avoid confounding users who aren’t really sure what they need yet. For more complex hosting problems, the flow diverts to live chat or callback, whilst the outcome and final CTAs leave users assured that they’ve taken positive strides towards resolving their specific needs which are now ready to be picked up on the other end.
The key to solid choice architecture, whatever your business, is quite simple: know your customers. Anticipate their needs, and learn to see things through their eyes.
Don’t know who your customers are or what they need? Ask them. In the long run, gathering a little intel is better than leaving your customers alone in the wild. Package it up in some effortless UX and users will feel like it’s part of a bespoke service tailored to their needs.
Here are some golden rules to set you on the path to informed, but guided customer conversions:
- Ask the right questions. If a user can see why you’re asking, and what’s in it for them, they’ll already be bought in to the process. Make sure the user benefits and can see the rationale behind every question – if they can’t, lose it, because it’s not helping them.
- Don’t tell your customer what to do. Choice architecture is not a substitute for effective information architecture – make sure that you’re only ever guiding your customers decisions and not shoehorning them into buying something they didn’t want. Let your users know you understand them and are there to give honest and impartial guidance to help them reach the best outcome for them. The alternative could erode trust and potentially hurt your future relationship.
- Set clear progress indicators. Answering a few intelligently structured questions is all good and well, but if your user can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, they’re likely to lose hope and abandon the process. Make sure the method is organised and transparent if you really want your customers to engage.
- Refine choices, but stow the rest away somewhere that’s visible and organised. No-one likes to feel that they might be missing out and some users may prefer different ways of navigating through your site. Sometimes it’s curiosity; sometimes a need for confirmation we made the right choice – we want to be able to see what we didn’t go with. Keeping this transparent is key to a healthy customer lifecycle.
- Make alternatives omnipresent. Ultimately, the customer knows best, and if they lose faith in your site’s ability to meet their needs, make sure they have a jumping off point to avoid losing their custom altogether.