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

  1. Prêt à Voyager / Anne says:

    First off, congrats on the new site, Michelle!

    This post is the first time I’ve heard the term “choice architecture.” I think it’s a really fascinating concept. It reminds me a bit of the work of Edward Tufte. When he talks about the evils of powerpoint he uses the example of the Columbia space shuttle mission and how the unclear powerpoint slides with incomplete bullets only blurred the information instead of making it clear. Definitely an example where the poor “choice architecture” led to a poor “decision” (or rather disaster in this case).


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