It turns out that there’s an easy way to increase the likelihood that people donate their organs in the event of their death: Go from an opt-in system, where the default is that people don’t donate their organs, to an opt-out one, where people have to specify that they don’t want to be donors.

Why is this important for you? Because, chances are, IT often ends up being the “choice architect,” or the source of the choices and defaults, as described by Cass Sunstein in his new book, Choosing Not to Choose: Understanding the Value of Choice. And the choices and defaults that you give your users, whether they’re employees or customers, can make a big difference in how people perceive your organization and use its products and services, he writes.

Keep in mind that people don’t always like making choices, and companies are increasingly looking for ways to simplify the choice-making process for their users, including using defaults. Moreover, once people have made a choice, they don’t always change it, even if it would be better for them if they did. You begin to understand why designing your defaults carefully is so important.

For example, we already know that, faced with a picklist of states, many people will simply select the first one because they don’t want to deal with scrolling down to the correct one (which is why Alabama erroneously ends up with so many people). But since people often need to enter their zip code as well, why not just use the zip code to calculate the state, rather than make people choose it? That’s an intelligent use of defaults.

On the other hand, hypothetically—particularly with smartphones and other devices that have GPS built in—you could automatically populate the address field with information drawn from the GPS, giving users the option to change information if it’s incorrect. Depending on your audience, that may go over well, or they may decide it’s too reminiscent of Big Brother and want nothing further to do with you. (This is a good time to incorporate A/B testing.)

Alternatively, even if people don’t mind your using their location information to populate these fields, if they find themselves having to correct it too often, they may decide your site is more trouble than it’s worth.

Properly defining defaults is also useful in situations where people might not know all the technical details, or not be able or want to take the time to familiarize themselves with them, Sunstein writes. Examples include when people are setting up their PCs or smartphones for the first time, or choosing various privacy and security settings. Wouldn’t it be better to pick those out ahead of time and let those users who really want something different change them?

(At the same time, we’re also faced with the annoying situation of software such as installers selecting defaults that change things we don’t necessarily want to change, like which browser or search engine we want to use.)

One of the choices Sunstein suggests, in fact, is asking users whether they want to choose options for themselves and or use defaults. And what if they don’t want to choose whether to use defaults? What should the default be in that case? It’s enough to make you dizzy.

The other interesting aspect of the book in the context of IT is how companies can use big data to predict the choices customers might make in the future, and either encourage users to make those choices themselves, or actually go ahead and use the predictions as the default. This offers your company the possibility of new kinds of business.

For example, sites such as Amazon use the purchases you’ve already made to decide what they think you might like in the future. Similarly, for some staples that need to be replenished regularly, Amazon allows you to tell it to automatically place orders for such products.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should start defaulting to automatically sending customers new shipments of products, leaving it up to them to tell you to stop if they don’t want it, Sunstein warns. (Though, surprisingly, as many as 32 percent of people he surveyed indicated they wouldn’t mind such a service. And how many of us ended up owing money to Columbia House Records, which operated on this “negative option” model?)

On the other hand, if your customers do regularly buy products from you, they may well appreciate being offered the choice of getting regular shipments—or, if not that, perhaps even just regular reminders that they might need a new shipment. Again, depending on the product, customers may welcome such a nudge, or might find it creepy.

So we won’t just send you the book. You’ll need to choose to buy it yourself.

Related Posts