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I absence of data to decide a good default, would it be good practice to remember the users last choice in a dialog box and use that as default the next time the dialog box is opened?

Context

I have an dialog box with three different options, represented by radio buttons, for how the system should create a specific object.

Currently, the default option is the one I believe is used the most. However, this is not based on hard data, since that is unfortunately not available. And I have heard comments that indicate that different users prefer different options.

The suggestion has come up is to simply remember the user's choice and use it as the default the next time the user opens the dialog box. This would seemingly solve the issue of users preferring different options.

However, I'm not sure that is a good idea:

  • It would confuse users that are used to defaults that do not change without active user action, both in the system in question and in Windows in general.
  • On a more general level, defaults should help users to decide on the best, most common, option and changing defaults don't do that.

So basically, I'm looking for arguments to confirm or challenge my initial feeling on this.

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I think you only need to seek making an informed decision about this, I'll share a couple of questions that i would ask myself when deciding on this in general:

  • On average, how accurate is the default for the user?
  • How likely is the user going to reuse the same input from the last time?
  • If the user is going to change their input, which would require the least actions to reach the desired state, our default or the user's last input.
  • Pain vs Gain, how much pain does it solve to provide this solution vs adding extra layer of thought/wonder for the user, is there lots of input, dates, text etc... for the user? or is it simply one click away?

Assuming that you've concluded that using the last input enhances the ux instead of the default, then your next concern is confusing the user:

for a Dialog Box, you could simply offer a "remember my choice" option, with it enabled by default at the very least, you are informing the user about it, and you are leaving a backdoor for the user to uncheck it, reopen the dialog to get the default value instead.

in a different case such a long form you can make it more explicit and provide the user with the action to reset the values:

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PS: I wish within the context you had provided a bit more about the use case itself since it can guide us to think from the same boat, e.g. it might indicate how frequent will the user use this dialog, how frequent do the answers change, can the user access the dialog on-demand or is it a one time thing etc...

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    As I understand this answer, it's a 'no' in regards to the question I raised. Changing the default without a clear explanation (the "remember my choice" checkbox) would indeed not be good practice, which (luckily) confirms my suspicion. However, you also make the valid point that the use case is important and could in some cases lead to a different conclusion.
    – Thomas H.
    Apr 12 '19 at 12:46
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This depends heavily on what the form is creating. If there is an option with associated risk it is rare that you would want it defaulted. The default in most systems should be a "safe" choice.

It also depends on how consistently you use it. I would curse defaults restoring previous settings in many programming tools, but I would welcome it in things like meal tracking as i do tend to eat certain things on a fairly regular basis.

From the comments you already received it sounds like different users already use it differently so I would suggest you talk to the users who have not complained to see if they like it as it is before doing anything, but if there are enough users with different use cases this would be an excellent place to let the users set the defaults in personal preferences or through the use of templates.

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