The UI of You and I: The Use of Choice Architecture, Compromise Effect and Defaults in Design

Good design is akin to fresh air, unnoticed if high in quality and readily apparent if not. When designing the UI flow of an application there are ways to freshen users experience. Poor design comes at the cost of unplanned user behavior, whereas the goal of any ideal design system allows for users to flow through an application to a desired outcome seamlessly. By leveraging several techniques grounded in the principles of psychology, we can refine our applications to promote a better user experience.

1. Order Matters

Choice Architecture refers to the way in which the order of presenting options influences people's decisions and actions. Choices abound in our current society, so much so that important options can get crowded out, but by showing the optimal choice upfront we can nudge user behavior. For instance, a European law increasing taxes on sugary drinks prompted McDonald's to rearrange their drink selection to nudge customers towards lower-sugar options. When McDonald's implemented this change across 622 locations, placing Coke Zero as the first option and regular Coke as the third on their digital kiosks, there was a significant drop in sugary soda purchases.

On the internet, Choice Architecture plays a crucial role in shaping our daily interactions. For instance, in search engines, the presentation of search results heavily influences user choices. Research shows that approximately 27% of users click on the first organic result. The placement of content and options isn’t only important for helping users but also has a substantial impact on an organization's bottom line.


2. Going with the Middle Option

Another psychological principle that can be seen in design is the Compromise Effect. This is the idea that people often use heuristics (rules of thumb) to quickly arrive at decisions. This particular heuristic is that we tend to go with the middle option. This is fairly common throughout websites aiming to sell a certain product, with a “low”, “middle” and “premium” tier outlined for users to choose from. When these choices are distinct in their features and pricing, users typically gravitate towards the middle option, embodying the Compromise Effect by seeking a balanced and less extreme choice.


3. Make the Ideal Choice the Default

Defaults are just that, the default selection. Defaults help reduce the cognitive load on users by making choices for them upfront. A classic example of this is when the UK government changed automatic pension enrollment to the default, leading to an increase of contributions by 40% over a three-year period. We can apply this principle in our designs by using pre-filled, editable values in forms. This strategy creates a smoother user experience while still allowing users the flexibility to make any desired changes.


Applying Psychology to Real Situations

Crafting a user experience narrative can be a powerful tool in optimizing a user’s path throughout a system. Having metrics and key objectives that can be turned into definitive boolean outcomes (succeed/fail) will go a long way in aiding an application's success by allowing you to run A/B tests to optimize the application and user’s path.

For instance, if one of your KPIs is user sign-ups, you could run a test to determine the optimal design flow. One variant (A) might feature a single large call-to-action button, while another variant (B) could include three buttons to leverage the middle option bias.

Imagine you're building a marketing website and aim to ensure users absorb crucial product information effectively. Placing the tagline prominently at the top of the page (ordering matters) would likely optimize the key takeaway for every user, regardless of how long they spend on the page. As a control, another page might feature essential information positioned in the middle.

Another experiment could involve encouraging users to round up their order costs for charity donations. One strategy could be to default the checkbox option for rounding up (variant A), making it easy for users to opt-out if they choose. This could be compared against a checkout process where the round-up option is not preselected (variant B).

The iterative process of refining an application can be improved by using empirical practices of testing hypotheses with A/B tests. These in turn can prove (or disprove) that placing data in a certain order is more or less effective towards getting a user to perform a certain action. By integrating insights from psychology into these tests, we gain valuable insights into how users process information and respond to it. A/B tests powered by psychology can create a virtuous feedback loop in creating optimal UI/UX experiences for end users to achieve a better flow throughout the system.


 Menu positions influence soft drink selection at touchscreen kiosks:

 We Analyzed 4 Million Google Search Results: Here’s What We Learned About Organic Click Through Rate:

 Study on the Compromise Effect Under the Influence of Normative Reference Group: 



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Author Bios

Abby Rivera is a UI/UX Designer, and Ben Saddick is a Software Engineer at Jahnel Group, Inc., a custom software development firm in Schenectady, NY. At Jahnel Group, we're passionate about building amazing software that drives businesses forward. We're not just a company - we're a community of rockstar developers who love what we do. From the moment you walk through our door, you'll feel like part of the family. To learn more about Jahnel Group's services, visit or contact Jon Keller at

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