in UI Design

Psychology of Choice applied to Web & App Design: Convince Clients!

psychology of choice

What Options to Provide to Clients and Prospects

Modern customers are overwhelmed with product and service options forcing any software designer or developer to plan carefully what features and options to provide from the very beginning of a project.

When you are drafting a concept or you are working on a client’s project, unexpectedly the initial option can receive negative feedback… It might be small design changes requested by the client, or your customers do not respond as expected to the features provided by your software application.

Should you present the client with a few more options and should you add further functionality to your software for the clients to be happy?

Should you offer more or less options from the very beginning?

If you know your clients and customer base fairly well, then you can stick to a predefined plan that will require less marketing or development efforts.

But there is also something called “psychology of choice” and both designers and marketers are trying for years to figure out how this mechanism is working.

Address Your Customer’s Basic Needs

In 1998, William Glaser published a book titled “Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom” where he states that each person’s choice is determined by five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun.

So, according to this Psychology of Choice, which of these basic needs should you have in mind when creating your app, service, or mockup?

How can you manage these basic needs to provide a service offering that will be accepted at once and without further requests for changes or complaints about features or design?


Survival and love are not a topic today, because they are very specific needs and only niche marketers exploit them. In fact, since quite often two or more products will provide the same level of power, fun or freedom, the single major factor that determines one’s choice, is preference.

This is one of the things which makes Psychology of Choice an interesting topic. Choices are often irrational and based on preferences that cannot be described within the framework of the basic needs. Preferences are personal and will highly differ from one person to another, and can be as elusive a preferred colour or a combination of words – that have nothing to do with any basic need.

Choice is Complicated

If you develop and market a free application, it definitely provides a certain level of freedom.

But does it provide enough power compared to paid apps within the same market? It is a bit tricky and you should find the right balance from the very start.

The same applies to working with clients: is the client expecting more power, more freedom, or expects more fun?

You can analyse the basic needs of any client based on their initial requirements, but it can’t work all the time. For example, most designers accept that the choice of colour in web applications and websites is a very important factor.

Nonetheless, researchers have found that the name of a product is often more important that the colour of your “Buy” button. Psychology of choice, you say?

The same is true when you work with clients. You can offer a client plenty of options and features that are really useful but he might not like the colour or the button labels of an app. It is your choice how many mockups to provide to a client, but a rule of thumb is that more than three options are overwhelming, and will be counterproductive.

As we said before, choice is hard and both developers and marketers should know that.

That is why it pays off to explain to your customers, whether as a software designer or marketing person, why the provided choices are good.

Do not wait for their feedback but act proactively and describe why you have proposed any feature or design element. People love to hear they are making the right choice that is also a professional one.

One-option Proposal Requires Extensive Research

Less is always more but if you want to present a customer with only one option, then cover and plan in advance all the details.

Ask people in your target, to whom you present your concept, to show you designs or apps they like. Moreover, and equally important, ask them for designs and apps that they do not like! Discuss the desired outcome and start gradually presenting a single version of the website or the app.

This approach is using the findings of the Psychology of Choice theory.

Presenting clients with fewer choices at the start and then slowly building up to more complex decisions will make them happy. They will engage more, and this approach will satisfy their basic needs for freedom and fun.

The power will come with the final version of the product you develop for them.

Three Options: Relax the Client

A standard approach in software design and development is to provide the client with three initial options.

This method is suitable for first-time clients, and although it requires more efforts, you eliminate the possible negative feedback by providing enough, but not excessive number of options.

Most large clients will also ask for more than one option, so you should be prepared to provide them with more choices. The trick is to provide versions that cover the entire spectrum of expectations:

Make the first option in a quite traditional style, draft the second option as a more adventurous one, and present a third option that represents something in the middle.

Why should you draft these three options this way if you have a client that is a large and conservative company, for example? Because even the most traditional businesses sometimes want to have a trendy design or product – this is your second option. The traditional option is the safe bet while the third option gives them a more unconventional choice that is still within their comfort zone.

Simple.

Two Versions, But Quite Different

How about two options?

According to the psychology of choice, this is a backup variant where you actually present the client with one option first, and immediately give him a second option in case of negative feedback.

You should be aware that the second option works only if it solves issues related to the first option, so keep it for yourself if it is quite similar to the first one.

A good approach is to analyse beforehand possible objections based on past projects by this client or similar project you have already completed. This way you will be well prepared to provide a second option that rectifies the client’s disapproval.

To Remember

Regardless of the number of options or versions you provided to a client, there will be situations when, after working on the project for a while, a client will come up saying he prefers one of the other options or an earlier version of the same option.

This is a common scenario and you should know that choices are not always rational.

However, such a situation should not scare you because you are already hired to do the job.

Instead, try to dig deeper into the preferences of your client and, if necessary, make an effort to convince him that the current version is a better choice. The choice can be influenced. Do not force the client, though.

And remember the key of the Psychology of Choice: bet on the basic needs for freedom and fun and you will get customers having their need for power satisfied.

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