Let’s start with a simple question. What was the last meal that you had? How did you choose a dish instead of another?
If you are like me, you would have painfully scrolled through an endless list of restaurants and dishes on an app before finding the one for the day. If you were lucky, you’d have had your meal cooked by someone you love.
Every day we make thousands of choices subconsciously. Some of them are active choices but most of them are implicit defaults.
Influence of choices
Every choice that we make is influenced by someone who has made a conscious decision to communicate the options in a certain manner. Think about it.
- A supermarket displaying certain products at the eye level.
- A shop keeper pushing features of a certain mobile phone.
- A food ordering app displaying the bestsellers on top of the screen.
- An e-commerce store highlighting discounts on some items.
The individual who influences your decision in the above context is called a choice architect.
A choice architect has the responsibility for organising the environment in which people make decisions. In short, all designers are choice architects.
The responsibility of a choice architect
Every choice architect has an immense responsibility because they influence decisions made by others. They are expected to create those choices that are in the interest of the end user. Every insignificant detail can have major impact on people’s behaviour. A good rule to be able to do this job well is to assume that ‘everything matters’.
There are two schools of thoughts on how choice architects think about communicating choices to people.
One school of thought is to say that people are self-aware individuals and make the best choices in every situation and hence we lay out all the options and information in front of them and they make their own choice.
But in reality…
- In many cases, we are bad at making decisions. We wouldn’t have made a certain decision if we had paid complete attention and passed complete information and had self-control. We make better choices in familiar environments and not all environments are familiar.
- For example, we accept ‘terms and conditions’ on a website being unaware of the consequences of what we sign up for.
The other school of thought is that the choice architects choose exactly what an individual wants and put it in front of them so that they don’t have to make a choice.
But in reality…
- We equate ‘choice’ to freedom as it gives us the feeling of being in control of decisions that we make.
- In environments we trust, we accept the choice made by others. For example, the case where your loved ones pack a box of lunch and that makes us happy.
Is there a line that we could draw between the two schools of thoughts? Richard Thaler thinks so. He suggests the idea of libertarian paternalism.
Libertarian paternalism is a relatively weak, soft, and nonintrusive type of paternalism because choices are not blocked, fenced off, or significantly burdened.
Can there be a non-intrusive way of pushing people towards certain choices that might be beneficial for the individual?
A choice architect can ‘nudge’ an individual to make a certain decision without blocking him from choosing other options. Nudge, as defined by Richard Thaler
A nudge, as we will use the term, is an aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.
To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting the fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not. If you’re curious to know more, check this video out.
Nudge in action
To illustrate these ideas, I analysed the choice of architecture and nudges in the ‘choose payment method’ activity of some Indian apps. A payment flow opens up possibilities to analyse a wide range of examples.
A typical choose payment method screen
Swiggy’s payment method screen
Single time payments
As the name suggests, a single time payment represents any online payment where the money is paid upfront using a payment method. In recent times, the number of payment methods through which you could do an online purchase has increased. On average most of the platforms offer one or many of the following methods
- Credit card
- Debit card
- UPI (BHIM, Google Pay, PhonePe etc)
- Closed wallets (like PayTM, Ola Money, Amazon pay etc)
- Pay later (simple, lazy pay)
- Pay on delivery
- Meal cards (Sudexo, Zeta)
I have picked 10 tech companies that provide various services and allow their users to pay through multiple payment methods. The nature of choice architecture of the ‘payment method’ activity is mapped across a spectrum that ranges from the liberal to paternal. The ones that fall in the midway offer an individual an optimal ‘nudge’ to make a decision.
Mapping the nature of choice architecture in ‘select payment method’ activities across the mobile apps
From the mapping, it’s clear that the apps that fall in the mid-range push the users toward a non-intrusive influence as opposed to others.
Types of Nudges
I could sense a pattern in the type of nudges that these apps used to influence the individuals. The nudges in these apps could be categorised into the following
Some in-depth analysis of the payment method screen and my thoughts around it.
- Lays out all the options up front
- There is no clear categorisation in this type of listing. For example under the category, PayPal, the only option is PayPal
- UPI and Google pay are two different category
- The absence of a visual cue like a divider makes it even more difficult to scan the options
- Payment discounts are shown upfront but not highlighted
- Some of the major payment methods are clubbed into a single option
- All the other payments options are listed below it at the same level
This arrangement excludes visibility from all the possibilities (For example: Can Google Pay be used or not?!)
- No clear categorisation
- Payment discounts upfront
- A few payment categories are shown upfront and rest of them are grouped under ‘More payment options’
- Even though payment methods are categorised, it misses a nudge to choose one over the other
- Does not show the previously used method or details
- Previously used payment methods shown upfront
- Selects a payment method by default
- Explanatory text for how to use a certain method and why certain payment methods aren’t available
- Rest of the options below that
- Payment methods grouped under categories
- Payment options are shown as categories to choose from
- Tapping on each category gives the user more information about the particular payment methods
- Though it seems like a good option, it becomes intimidating when you see a large chunk of content opening up when you tap on an option.
- Takes a strong call in terms of the language used like ‘Default payment options’
- Categorises the payment methods a little different from the usual ones. For example here the categories are ‘Payment methods with offers’
- Once the user clicks on ‘Order and pay’, the order is placed first and in case of a payment failure the order is auto-converted into ‘cash on delivery’.
- How many times has your driver called and asked if its an ‘OLA money’ ride or ‘cash ride’, to realise you are not even aware of the payment method selected.
- OLA selects payment method by default and doesn’t allow the user to change it during the ride
- There are cases where you might have thought its an online payment to later realise the ride was a ‘cash’ ride.
- The fact that it auto selects the payment method without an explicit confirm makes the activity more paternal in nature.
A few more examples of a ‘choose payment option’ activity, which falls under one of the above-illustrated examples.
The next time when you design an activity which allows the users to make a choice, make sure your choice architecture provides a ‘nudge’ without being too liberal or paternal in nature.
The ideas discussed in this blog post draws inspiration from Nobel laureate Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein work on ‘Nudge’. Follow D91 Labs for exciting insights on financial inclusion, design and technology.
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