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  • Writer's pictureRenate Ruby

Decision Fatigue & The Evoked Set in Design

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

What the hell is an evoked set?

To EVOKE is to "bring or recall to the conscious mind".

A SET is "a collection of distinct entities regarded as a unit, being either individually specified or (more usually) satisfying specified conditions".

So, your evoked set is ALL of the items in any one category you can bring to mind - all the items you can choose between.

The greater the evoked set - the higher the value of a selection. Interior designers spend hours and hours exploring and exposing themselves to new and different items that are potential elements to be used in a design. The sheer volume of items we can bring to mind means that when we make the selection of all the items to include in a design, those selections become more valuable than if our customer happened to stumble into the very same elements. The more you know, the more value your selection brings to the mix.

Let me underline that point - even if you and your client select the same thing - when you select it it is worth MORE than when your client selects it, because you are choosing 1 of 1000 and your client is choosing 1 of 10.

When you add the effects of decision fatigue into the mix your client is literally incapable of making the best choice for themselves.

Let’s consider Decision Fatigue and how it plays into client behavior and how it explains much of the degradation of our field. Here are some of the things we know for sure about consumer behavior and decision fatigue.

Decision Fatigue is a term created by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister. It refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after continuously making many decisions. Decision Fatigue may also lead to consumers making poorer choices with their purchases. Not only do the negative effects of Decision Fatigue not impact individuals when making decisions for others, there is evidence to support that making decisions for others is enjoyable, and leads to people making better decisions. (We designers already know that!).

When clients are presented with too many decisions they go through a predictable cycle of decline. At first - they cannot make trade offs, and thus make poor choices. When clients are trying to stick to a budget and also get what they want, they very quickly become overwhelmed and simply cannot make a good decision about how to proceed.

This leads to the second impact of Decision Fatigue - decision avoidance. People with more choices are more likely to choose none of the above. Even if they do make a decision from a larger set, they experience lower satisfaction with their choice than if they had chosen from a smaller set.(get that....they will be less happy with anything they choose themselves!)

The third thing people do when overwhelmed by decision fatigue is to make impulse purchases to take away the need to make a decision at all and end the pain. These impulse decisions are rarely a good decision - think chips and candy at the check out line - and often leave a consumer feeling worse about the entire experience and their eventual choice.

The last thing I want to discuss here that people do in response to decision fatigue is they seek to reduce perceived risk by making a familiar or “safe” decision. How many people just end up ordering the same dish every time at your favorite restaurant, or wearing almost identical outfits on a daily basis? There is a real scientific reason for this, when faced with too many decisions, we just can’t chose something that is unfamiliar while we are under the stress of decision fatigue.

This last piece is familiar to all of us who have come back to a project after a weekend to hear that our client has just been to Restoration Hardware and already has all the furniture for their project.... they could no longer tolerate the stress of decisions and needed it to be OVER with a choice they perceived as having lower risk because of it's familiarity.

How can we as designers increase our clients' happiness and lift their perception of the value they are receiving if we ask them to approve every small element of a project - especially if there is a price on every single element? The basic nature of this exercise is designed to lower their satisfaction, decrease their perceived value and leave them stressed out due to decision fatigue.

It's our job to help them.

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