People stick to default values

In The Power of Defaults, Jakob Nielsen comments on a study of how people use search engines. The study shows that people tend to click the number one result returned by a search, regardless of how relevant it is to their query. Jakob then mentions form fields as an area within user interface design where users rely on default values for instructions and guidance.

I’d say that the power of defaults extends far beyond user interface design and computers. Look at just about any aspect of life and you’ll see that where there is a default, that is what most people (including myself) use, even if there are other options that actually would have made more sense.

Posted on October 1, 2005 in Quicklinks, Usability


  1. Now the question is: Do we use the default settings because it functions just enough to accomplish what we need? or are we all really too lazy to define our own settings?

  2. I’m not sure it’s due to being too lazy. More likely just too busy to spend time checking out the full options pack. It’s just a web site, not a car purchase.

  3. October 2, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    In some cases it may be because we’re lazy, but most of the time I think it’s lack of time. We just don’t have the time to make sure we make the best choice in all situations, so if there is a default we often use that if it’s “good enough”.

    That can be applied to everything, really. Cars (here in Sweden, especially in Gothenburg, “everybody” has a Volvo, so that’s what most people buy), computers (“everybody else” has a Windows PC so many think it’s good enough for them), music (Britney and the other howling women pushed out by the music industry get played a lot on the radio so that’s gotta be good enough music, right), beer (going to a pub and asking for “a beer” instead of “a Guinness”)…

    Default values are very powerful and often good enough for a lot of people, but very rarely the best or highest quality choice.

Comments are disabled for this post (read why), but if you have spotted an error or have additional info that you think should be in this post, feel free to contact me.