Decision-making (part 2): when design influences our decisions

How much does the design of the world around us influence our decisions?

What would you say?

After all, everything that isn’t natural is designed, so we are surrounded by (for want of a better word) ‘unnatural’ influences, whether we like it or not.

Here’s an example to help explain what I am talking about:

Our Driving Licences include a photo of the holder, and have to be renewed every 10 years. At the time of renewal, we are also given the option to enrol on to the Organ Donation Register.

Take a look at the graph below. It shows the rate of organ donation enrolment at Driving Licence renewal, for a number of European countries:

As you can see, there are two distinct groups: a group with a relatively low enrolment rate (on the left), and a group with a relatively high enrolment rate (on the right).

You will have spotted that the differences between the groups are significant. So what is the cause?

Could it be, for example, to do with an individual’s beliefs, or could it be for cultural reasons?

After all, by the time we donate our organs, we are no longer ‘here’ to be concerned by it.

Even countries that you might argue are culturally similar have very different enrolment rates:

Denmark (4.25%) vs Sweden (85.9%)

Germany (12%) vs Austria (99.98%)

Netherlands (27.5%) vs Belgium (98%)

and, depending on your view of cultural similarities across Europe:

UK (17.17%) vs France (99.91%)

But, what has caused these differences?

Well, it turns out that it was almost entirely caused by the design of the renewal form.

The group on the left, with the low level of organ donation enrolment, had a form which included a box similar to this:

As we have all done when filling in a form, they didn’t check the box, so didn’t join the Register.

The group on the right, however, the group with much higher enrolment, had a slightly different box on their form. Something like this:

Just as the lower enrolment group did, the people completing this form still didn’t check the box, but, in this case, they joined the Register!

It really was as simple as that!

But, why didn’t they check the box in the first place?

Could it be because they considered the decision to enrol as, for example, trivial, or too easy, that it was simple, or could it be that they didn’t really care that much about it?

In fact, it was the opposite of these things.

They found the decision to be extremely important, very difficult indeed, highly complicated, and they actually cared so much about it that they couldn’t actually decide on which decision they wanted to make.

As a result, they just left it to the ‘default’ decision that was being made for them…and how many of us have done exactly the same?

So, there you are. Design can, and frequently does influence our decisions!

Along with a number of other influences (which I shall keep for future blog posts), our intuition, which we rely on heavily when we make decisions, is being led astray in a consistent, predictable, and repeatable way by the world around us, so much so that we do not always clearly understand the decisions we want to make.

A thank you: I’d just like to give a special mention to Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University, whose work and research has been of great inspiration in writing these articles.

To find out more about how to develop your decision-making, and the the benefits of professional executive coaching and mentoring, particularly in developing leadership, strategy and growing a business, please contact me:

t: 01242-672440

e: click here

© Adrian Malpass 2017. All rights reserved.

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