Default choice(s): types and how to use them

Defaults are now widely used as a Choice Architecture tool, and rightly so, as they’ve demonstrated robust effects across many industries and many different media through which they are implemented. Most people do not change from the default pre-set for them.

If the touchpoint you are analyzing involves a choice then you need to analyze:

  • whether there is an existing default choice set
    • even if no, whether the choice involves alternatives that are hidden, in which case you have effectively a default choice pre-selected for the agents, which can lead to reactance or other negative externalities
  • what choice is set as the default
  • what type of default would be the most efficient
  • how the default is implemented in terms of user experience, and this depends on the media used
  • any backfiring risks that come with using defaults

Caution: defaults are powerful tools but they come with a risk. If part of the population targeted thinks you’re restricting their choice of freedom by defaulting them to an option that is not the most favorable for the majority of the population, then they can deliberately choose to switch away from the default selected, even if it’s the most favorable for them. This is due to Reactance.

There are many types of defaults at a conceptual level:

No default, no forced choice

No defaults here and no forced choice either, so agents can ignore this choice.

No default, forced choice

No defaults pre-selected either, but agents have to make a choice to use the service/product, be employed, etc…

Simple Default

Default choice is pre-selected, and everyone has the same default choice

Random Default

Random defaults set among all possible options

Personalized Default (Sensory defaults in academic speak)

Default preset based based on characteristics known about you.

Defaults applicable to repeated behaviors

They can be either: persistent, reverting or predictive

Some relevant case studies (if any):