Author Archive for: Michelle

Decision architecture goes door to door

Shortly after I wrote about Decision Architecture/Choice Architecture (in the previous post), someone appeared on my doorstep to demonstrate.  A volunteer canvasser rang my doorbell, and encouraged me to vote.  Some details are changed here to protect the innocent.  Here is the conversation:
me:  “Yes, thank you for volunteering.  We plan to vote.”
her:  “Great!  Do you know where your polling center is?”
me:  “Yes.”
her:  “Great!  Will you be voting in the morning or afternoon?”
me:  (confused, then annoyed with what I initially perceived as invasion of privacy) “We’re voting!  Why do you ask if it is the morning or afternoon?”
her:  “I don’t know.  I’m just filling out this form they gave me.”
The decision architects set up the form in such a way that the cavasser’s question made me picture the location of the polling site.  She (courtesy of the form) then had me think about when I would complete the task – turning it into an action that I had to do either in the morning or afternoon.  Before I (or any other survey respondent) would be able to answer, I would have to imagine my upcoming day, and whether fitting the voting task in the morning or evening would be better, thereby mentally cataloguing it as a “to-do” on that day!  And on top of all of that – verbally commiting to it, and seeing it written down on a form – well – the survey architects just clinch the deal.  Without even the least bit of assistance from the unknowning canvasser!
I was very impressed with the simplicity and expected results of this.  I wonder what the statistics have to say about the results?  I suppose if it wasn’t effective they wouldn’t be doing it, would they?  Any one have any data or experience with this?   I’m going to be watching out for more examples as this is fascinating to me!
Oh yeah.  The election.  Oh well.  Maybe the technique didn’t work quite as well as they expected:  Scott Walker wants national role.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO as “choice architecture” or “decision architecture”?

Yes, I’m late to the party, but I recently picked up the 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Cass Sunstein and economist Richard Thaler. (And the whole truth is that I’ve only skimmed a bit of it, but I won’t let that stop me!)

Choice architecture describes the way in which decisions are influenced by how the choices are presented (in order to influence the outcome). The book proposes that default outcomes of a situation can be arranged to be the outcome desired by the person or organization presenting the choice. This can be used with a micro (small individual decisions, like how much popcorn to eat) and macro scope (social policy, encouraging retirement savings through taxation rules, etc.).

I found myself thinking that those of us involved in consulting, coaching, change and communication do a lot of “choice architecture”. I was musing along these lines to a friend, and incorrectly remembered the name of this concept as “decision architecture”. Later I googled or wikipedia’d these terms and was surprised to see that they are used very very differently!

“Decision Architecture” doesn’t exist on wikipedia (fancy that!), but is used here in



User Experience Magazine to describe how to design a website to guide the users’ choices of clicking and navigating and buying. Quite a micro scope indeed – or on second thought, maybe I’m quite mistaken – could be a big deal if you’re designing for amazon or ebay.

Check this out….the eponymous company Decision Architecture Associates describes themselves as…”specializes in the application of advanced quantitative methods to business decision problems”. It takes the term in a whole new direction, doesn’t it? Oh, but on second-look, the website hasn’t been updated since 2008, so maybe this definition didn’t have legs.

Now, all this lead in to ask the question:

Can we usefully employ these terms
choice architecture or decision architecture
to describe aspects of our work?


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