“… and we allow the user to choose …”

At a recent startup event, I asked one of the founders to talk about their product; it was a consumer focused web application. During the description I was struck by the number of times she said “… and then we allow the user to choose…” I appreciated the freedom they “allowed” me, but I was exhausted!

What really struck me was the dual-nature of providing user choice. One perspective is that it exposes functionality and customization to the user, which sounds like a good thing. Alternatively, providing choice is just avoiding making a decision for the customer. I mean, ideally, I’d start to use the product and the experience would just be intuitive; I wouldn’t have to choose.

It is easy to see how a company gets stuck in the providing functionality mindset instead of delivering an intuitive solution. Engineers solve problems by delivering new functionality that overcomes challenges. They are proud of this functionality and want to expose it to the world. Business people see functionality as opportunities to earn revenue. More functionality == more opportunities == more $$$!

There is another dynamic that counters this thinking. Each choice is a friction point, a point where the customer has to exercise their reasoning and focus on some trade off. Each user has some threshold over which there are just too many decisions and they lose interest in the product. The decision costs outweigh the feature benefits.

The key to channeling the functionality into an intuitive solution is end user research, likely qualitative user experience research. This is a multi-stage effort where you present the functionality to testers, refine the exposure of functionality, repeat…

Don’t make me choose, just make it work!

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