Myth #12: More choices and features result in higher satisfaction

Having choices is considered a good thing. We are used to choices and we value dearly if we can be in control.

However, the more choices a website or web application offers, the harder it is to understand the interface. Studies show that having too many options often leads to decision paralysis and frustration. As a general rule, people only value an abundance of features before they actually start using the given product. After they have started using it, the simpler solution wins with higher satisfaction.


On choice and features:

  • A classic example of the paradox of choice shows that people are more likely to make a purchase when offered only a limited number of choices. What’s more, they will be more satisfied with their selection in this case. – When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?
  • Barry Schwartz’s bestselling book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less discusses his research on the problems of too many choices. Watch his TED video or read a good summary of Schwartz’s talk on UI11.
  • The research Feature Fatigue: When Product Capabilities Become Too Much of a Good Thing (pdf) shows that “Before use, capability mattered more to the participants than usability, but after use, usability drove satisfaction rates. As a result, satisfaction was higher with the simpler version of the product, and… the high-feature model was rejected by most participants.”
  • Neuropsychologist Susan Weinschenk suggests to “Resist the impulse to provide lots and lots of choices to your customers. Remember they will SAY they want lots of choices, and you will think that lots of choices is a good thing (because you like them too), but too many choices means they won’t buy at all.” – You Want More Choices and Information Than You Can Actually Process
  • Hick’s law states that the time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices. And as the decision time increases, the user experience suffers.
  • When continuously improving a product, the number of features easily starts to creep and the product loses focus, becomes bloated. It results in poor UX as “there is simply too much stuff for users to comprehend.” You should be comfortable killing your features.
  • Joshua Brewer argues that “Designers can dramatically affect the experience of the user by paying attention to the tasks common to their product and knowing when to eliminate multiple options in favor of a single, clear action. One of the best examples of this is Apple. Apple has consistently produced products that are minimalist in design, task-focused and consistent. The iPod, iPhone and recently the iPad are all amazing examples of this and obviously the result of the constraints of designing for portable devices.”
  • In his book Sketching user experience, Bill Buxton says that the business model built around the development of n+1 products – a core product with new releases of additional features – is not sustainable in the long run. After some releases, the improvements cost more than the perceived value a customer is willing to pay for the new options.
  • Also pay attention when adding features that it might be very complicated to delete a feature once it has been released: Netflix tried to cut a function that they thought was confusing and useless but users strongly objected. The company eventually kept the feature – Features are a one-way street
  • Jason Fried from 37signals discusses that features must be edited (like a book or the items for a museum exhibition are heavily edited). – Is it really the number of features that matter?
  • 37signals’ book, Getting real discusses their view on implementing only the necessary features and shipping a minimum viable product.
  • Using smart defaults is a good strategy to make numerous choices seem simple for users. See for example Smart Defaults in Travel Booking Forms.