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The Paradox of Choice

by Barry Schwartz

Choice is good, therefore, more choice is better. Not so, says psychologist Barry Schwartz. When faced with an abundance of choice, for example, when deciding on a cellular phone plan, choosing the best alternative becomes difficult and daunting. There is an “opportunity cost” associated with choosing any one alternative, namely, the fact that we must forgo the benefits of all the others. The more alternatives there are to choose from, the higher the opportunity costs and the higher the potential dissatisfaction.

In contrast, when the number of alternatives is limited, we can quickly choose the best alternative among them. This simple fact has far-reaching consequences for product and experience design. For example, when designing an e-commerce website, it is best to minimize the number of choices immediately presented to the user. Additional choices should be located on additional pages, so that users who want to can “dig down” to find more, but the rest of us are not overwhelmed by too much choice.


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