Book: Nudge

December 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

Humans are confronted with hundreds of choices every day. The way objects and messages are arranged affects these choices, and the people who arrange these objects and messages can be considered “choice architects.” For instance a cafeteria manager can decide to arrange food in a way that makes it easiest for customers to reach for healthy choices, that maximizes profits or that reflects the choices that people would most commonly make on their own with no encouragement.

The book “Nudge” by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein ( tries to alert decision-makers that they are choice architects who must understand how humans behave. Without this awareness, the result can be apathy, confusion and harmful choices, such as bad investments, ill health and – as the diagram below shows – burnt pots.

In this example from the book, the most common design for cooking range burners and their corresponding knobs is shown at the top. Since the layout of the burners does not reflect the layout of the knobs, people can get confused about which burner they’re firing. (I’ve done this countless times on electric ranges.) Two alternatives are shown. I prefer the middle one, in which the burners and knobs are most closely mirrored.

I recommend this book to information graphics specialists. We need to think of ourselves as choice architects and understand how regular people interact with our designs. Will they read the intro first, or will they go straight to the chart? Should we be showing how the Libor (London Interbank Offering Rate) moved during the credit crisis, or do our readers just need an explainer on what Libor is? If we use the color red, will the readers think it refers to danger or decline? How can we design the graphic to lead the reader through its components in a logical sequence with intuitive symbology and colors?


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