The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More in UX Design


Nick Patel

November 9, 2017

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From the moment you wake up, your brain consciously or subconsciously starts making decisions. It can be anything, from debating if you want to sleep for another 5-minutes to deciding if you want to get a beer with your colleague after work or simply go home and watch the latest episode of Stranger Things.

These choices are merely 2 out of the 35,000 decisions that you unconsciously make every day, not to mention the ones you really need to rack your brains for.

So, it’s safe to say, by the end of the day you’re pretty tired.

The paradox of choice

The society we live in is ruled by choices. From the clothes you wear to the selfies you post, there are a million choices available in this technology-driven world. However, more options don’t necessarily mean better options. On the contrary, having too much to choose from is exhausting.

Too many choices can lead to decision fatigue – deteriorating the quality of decisions made by a person. This is because the human mind finds it overwhelming to process a lot of information at once.

What’s more, when the human mind finds it too hard to process a decision, it chooses the easy way out i.e. decision avoidance. People would rather not make a decision than making a half-hearted choice that they might regret.

This concept was proved by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper in 2000 with the, now infamous, jam experiment.

the paradox of choice

One day, people visiting a food market were offered a sample of 24 different kinds of jam. On the following day, the same activity was carried out but this time visitors only had 6 jams to taste. When it came to making a purchase, those who had only been offered 6 options were actually 10 times more likely to buy a jam than those who had 24 options in front of them.

How choice affects UX design

The paradox of choice plays a significant role in UX design since websites are often a place where users are offered a large amount of choice, e.g. an e-commerce or fashion platform.

Now, you might think that offering as many options as possible makes the user more likely to purchase at least one thing from your website. However, it often distracts the user who will then put off the decision-making process and end up buying nothing at all.

Excess choice leads to anxiety and customers may eventually start focusing the cons of your service/product more than the pros.  

the paradox of choice

Let’s take a look at some of the most common ways UX design can trigger user anxiety and, in turn, the paradox of choice:

CTA Explosion

When there are too many CTAs on one section of a website, the user doesn’t know where to click. Alongside this, too many CTA buttons can draw user attention away from the main content on the page.

Content Overload

Too many things being explained at once makes it difficult for the user to focus on just one piece of content. Instead of taking the time to process all the information, a user is likely to simply switch to your competitor’s website.

CTA Chain

And endless chain of CTAs is not only confusing, but it’s frustrating for users who just want to get to where they need to be. Plus, it makes your site feel spammy and less trustworthy.

Social Circle

Placing an excess of social sharing buttons not only distracts the user from converting but it already creates a negative association with end conversion as they are likely to be asked to share their purchases on social – also bringing up concerns about privacy.

Saving users from decision fatigue

You can proudly boast about the success rate of your business only when your users are happy about their decisions. And to make that happen, you don’t necessarily need to reduce the number of choices.

the paradox of choice

Instead, what you should be doing is delivering the options in the smartest way possible. Below are some tips to reduce excessive choice, creating an effective web design that converts.

  1. Create a consistent section for CTAs i.e. CTAs must appear only in that particular section on all web pages.

  2. Try not to run too many offers and promotions at one time.

  3. Use anticipatory design to reduce the number of choices required to be made by the customer.

  4. Avoid content overload and don’t give away too much information at once.

  5. Make sure your CTA design is appropriate and that it doesn’t immediately lead to a second CTA.

  6. Only display the social sharing buttons of the social media platforms that you regularly monitor.

  7. Save your customers from anxiety by being crystal clear about the options that you give. If you beat around the bush, customers will leave.

  8. If you own an eCommerce store that sells products belonging to different categories, reduce user anxiety by making sure you provide various product filters and sorting options.


Excessive choice exhausts the human mind. However, it also diminishes the quality of an individual’s decision making which can lead to post-choice regret and, as a result, customer dissatisfaction.

Implement the tips mentioned above to reduce excessive options in your UX design and encourage higher conversion rates.

Unsure if your current website is overwhelming users with choice? Start by simply reaching out and asking them.

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