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I'm building a web app that requires a lot of information to be input by the users before they become "fully fledged" members. There's maybe 30-40 fields (of varying types) split over a few pages, and the pages are split into sections. It's probably a 10-15 minute job and it's in the new users' best interests to enter the information to the best of their ability.

What if one of those sections is suspected to be off-putting to users. Would it be wise to have that section early on in the process? Or hold it back to near the end so that it would be a larger effort wasted if they decide not to proceed at that point? (and hence they're more likely to decide to carry on anyway)

I've tried to remain objective about this because I have my own feelings about it. I'm hoping that the wider community (you guys) can offer something to either validate or invalidate my feelings.

Edit: The section in question is one where users are required to invite a number of friends (by entering their names and email addresses).

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    I know that this wasn't actually asked, and that perhaps it is not within your control. But a 10-15 minute form is extremely demanding on users and likely to have a high exit rate unless what you're offering is super-duper critical to users and there are no alternatives (channels or compatitors). To give a personal example, when I tried to get an online quote for insurance, a particular site asked so many questions, that after 10 minute I decided to abandon and call them instead. As it was outside working hours, until this day I haven't called. – Izhaki Jun 1 '14 at 21:30
  • What do you mean by 'off-putting'; is it not well designed, is the content off-putting? – Möoz Jun 2 '14 at 1:52
  • Sorry, I've clarified that now in my edited question. It's a required 'invite your friends' section. – Matthew Jun 2 '14 at 7:08
  • @Izhaki I'm aware of the extent of the demand put on the user in this case. Users can save where they're up to at any point and come back later though (whether or not they will is another matter). Simply put, it is a client requirement in this case. – Matthew Jun 2 '14 at 7:10
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Put the off-putting section towards the end, if not at the very end. The IKEA effect, Loss aversion and Cognitive dissonance are all cognitive biases that provide the backing for this.

The IKEA effect

To quote Wikipedia:

The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias that occurs when consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created.

In your case, users will attribute more value to the work they have already done, and the more work the more value.

Loss aversion

Kahneman popular definition is focused on gains and losses that are similar. Although you can interpret it that way in your case, it is safer to define loss aversion simply as:

People's tendency to avert loss

This in itself can be explained by either pain aversion or cognitive dissonance.

Similar to the IKEA effect, after doing work filling many details, abandoning the process would be considered loss, which users are likely to avert.

Cognitive dissonance

An excellent example for this is given in Universal Principle of Design1:

Perhaps the most successful use of cognitive dissonance in the history of advertising is the AOL free-hours campaign delivered on CD-ROM. The incentive to try AOL is provided in the form of a free trial period. People who try the service go through a set-up process, where they define unique e-mail addresses, screen names, and passwords, investing time and energy to get it all to work. The greater the time and energy invested during this trial period, the greater the cognitive dissonance at the time of expiration. Since the compensation to engage in this activity was minimal, the way most people alleviate the dissonance is to have positive feelings about the service—which leads to paid subscriptions.

Suspected?

I'm a bit worried you suspect rather than know that the section in question is off-putting. In my view, something like this should go through evaluation using analytics.

1William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill Butler (2003) Universal Principles of Design: 100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design, : Rockport Publishers.

  • Wow - really not the way I thought this would go, and thank you. What would you say about the misleading nature of taking advantage of loss aversion? – Matthew Jun 1 '14 at 21:41
  • Not sure what you mean by "the misleading nature of taking advantage of loss aversion?". It's just that averting loss is an observed part of our behaviour. Kahneman definition is largely behavioral economics focused, and is (some will argue by large) the popular one for loss aversion. So I just felt I needed to clarify whether it's Kahneman definition or the more general one. – Izhaki Jun 1 '14 at 21:52
  • In my example it is the case that want buy in from a user so that they don't exit when they get to the tricky part. If they knew up front that the tricky part was coming they might not waste their time in the first place. That's the misleading part I mean. – Matthew Jun 1 '14 at 21:55
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    Well, then it really depends on the context (which is still quite vague). If users get annoyed or upset, putting things at the end can only increase their dismay, as they will feel they have been tricked. I suspect there is no clearcut answer to your question - you really need to run some A/B testing and analytics. – Izhaki Jun 1 '14 at 22:01

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