How to destroy user experience with too many choices

Maybe I'm alone on this, but I hate those kinds of restaurants, where they have like a hundred different dishes on their menu. Because of the terrifying number of choices, I get decision paralysis and I usually end up ordering grilled cheese with potato on the side. This phenomena is described in Hick’s law and plays an important role in the process of designing an application or website. Having forgotten about it can destroy the user experience of an otherwise good product, and this is what almost happened to us.

Automizy is a marketing automation software, that helps marketing professionals to save time: you can build custom automations in a visual editor. A typical workflow looks like this:

automation

There are many different automation softwares on the market, but they are usually not very user friendly. During the client interviews we agreed that our main goal was to design an app where even the less experienced users could build their workflows. One of the most successful competitors in this field is Autopilot, in which you can build your workflow with a visually appealing drag & drop editor. This means that before connecting the elements, you need to drag them into a working area. We really liked this concept because it seemed easy to use and it provided you with an extremely wide range of options. The finished automations look nice and are easy to understand with the flowchart-style result.

autopilot

The real problem with drag & drop

At the beginning we weren’t absolutely sure that this was suitable for everyone, so our main concern was the drag & drop process itself. As a designer, I use it all the time in different software like Axure or Photoshop, but for a general user it can be inconvenient. So we decided to test the competitor to find out how it works in real life.

The result was surprising: we realised that the problem is not the drag & drop process itself, but the fact that this kind of approach implies too many choices during the journey of building an automation. In the start screen you can see all the triggers, actions and conditions in the same place. This means that you have 30+ choices right from the beginning. Another pain point is connecting the elements: since you can connect almost everything, this leads to constant uncertainty whether you are doing the right thing. This happened to our test users as well, they had their doubts during the entire process and they couldn’t even build the simple automation that we gave them as a task.

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Fewer choices are more

After the shocking test results we decided to simplify the builder as much as we can. We designed a process in which the user can build an automation step-by-step. After each element, there is a plus button that brings up a menu with the types of elements that you can add. Each element has its own menu: for example the delay won’t show up after a delay because it is not necessary.

example-menu

This way the user only meets choice options that they actually need. The wireframe tests were promising from the beginning, after some minor iterations we managed to build a prototype that every persona could use from beginners to marketing professionals.

Conclusion

Simplifying or narrowing down the choice options is evident in many cases, a typical example is when you are designing a navigation system for a website or an app. But it is equally important to keep this in mind when you are designing the core functions themselves.

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