I'm working on a settings panel where the user can control what kind of content is displayed on a home page. These settings can be displayed in a positive frame (selecting what to include) or a negative frame (select what not to include). Using smart defaults will make the workload about equal between the two.

Is there anything I need to take into consideration to help choose one frame over the other? Wondering if there is any research on this, or previous work/case studies that anyone can speak to.

* Follow Up *

After some deliberation, we went with a 'negative' frame despite many of the response I received here. In case it's helpful, I'd like to explain why we did and give a few more details on the problem.

The 'home page' displays a large amount of content that is aggregated (and supplemented) from a user's own behaviors and data (via calendar, email, productivity tools, etc). One of the main hurdles is that there can easily be too much content. Filter out noise, or the content that simply isn't important, was the primary goal.

A positive frame for selecting which content to include is normally nice, for all the reasons listed below. However, we quickly noticed that providing options for granular control over content display often cause dependency issues. Including one bucket of content would require another option to be checked, or else would not fully deliver on what the user had selected. In short, using a positive frame would increase the complexity of the menu.

Using a negative frame allowed us to provide granular control over content while removing complex interdependencies. Coupled with default settings based on interviews, we found this to be more straight forward and performed better in user testing. It was more about 'adjusting' or filtering the content, rather than adding or subtracting from it. A negative frame enabled the user to do this in the most direct and simple way.

Hope that's helpful!

  • 1
    Checking a list to INCLUDE makes more sense to me than checking a list to EXCLUDE. Dec 1, 2016 at 19:45

4 Answers 4


A bare page with a list of items that can be added is much less likely to irritate than forcing them to exclude what they don't.

Nobody wants to move into a new flat and have to toss the previous tenant's rubbish into the bin as a prelude. It's the same principle.

  • but you would move into a new flat with your own furniture, only to decide that something doesn't fit or isn't necessary Dec 2, 2016 at 19:24
  • Quite true...but, continuing this analogy, you're trying to decide what "furniture" to leave for me to deal with, rather than leaving me an empty flat to populate as I choose.
    – MMacD
    Dec 4, 2016 at 18:15

From a psychological perspective, it seems that people gravitate more towards something they 'gain' (positive framing) as opposed to something they 'lose' (negative framing).

In your scenario, I would venture to say that users would enjoy identifying settings that help them gain functionality and accessibility, rather than removing it.

  • Could you add some sources?
    – Mayo
    Dec 2, 2016 at 15:06
  • @Mayo Kahneman and Tversky developed Prospect Theory (princeton.edu/~kahneman/docs/Publications/prospect_theory.pdf) which is the basis of the Framing Effect. It posits that people place greater significance on a loss as compared to an equal but opposite gain.
    – w0mp
    Dec 2, 2016 at 16:48
  • @Mayo in the context of UI development, you would be emphasizing the 'loss' of functionality rather than the end result, which is the settings you are left with after all extraneous options are removed.
    – w0mp
    Dec 2, 2016 at 16:49

Style guides generally indicate that settings should be worded positively; specifically, you shouldn't have a checkbox labelled "Don't do X", for example, as that is just cognitively confusing as much as anything. References include the Microsoft guidelines and the CBP Styleguide.

The Android Material guidelines, while not specifically in the context of settings, recommend writing in a positive tone as this is "reassuring".


I agree with the answers praising the positive framing approach but Facebook and Reddit might be proving it wrong. You approach is quite mixed actually, since you are positively giving the users what they are "interested" in (based on past behaviors), while giving them the chance of polishing that curation. I wouldn't call that negative framing at all, quite the opposite.

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