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The Status Quo

Young woman sitting snugly

Image: Joshua Rawson-Harris, Unsplash

The Status Quo: Leave it - I like it the way it is

The status quo bias is tricky - people do not resist change. They just hate feeling worse off. So, they'll rather keep the default. Can this work for you?

Feb 19 4 min read Patterns

People would rather keep the default option; not because they hate change, but because they hate pain. Who likes pain? If a change would bring pain, ‘why, leave it, I like it the way it is!’

I once surveyed iPhone users in my neighborhood and where I once worked. I wanted to know why they “preferred” or loved the default ringing tone. I hated it and didn’t like that it announced iPhone iPhone every time your phone rang. What about them? Did they like it? Prefer it to other tones? I found out.

A hand holding silver iPhone X; Image Source: Kevin Bhagat, Unsplash

No, not really.

“How do you even change ring tone on Apple?” “I couldn’t see how to use my own custom tone.” “I couldn’t use my favorite music as ringing tone so I just left it the way it is” “I couldn’t be bothered with it, to be honest.” “Is it possible to change it?”

Those were some of the responses I got.

The status quo bias

My iPhone user survey was a classic case of the status quo bias. And from those responses, you can tell how it went down, right?

Status quo bias states that people would stick to the current baseline (the status quo) if they perceive available alternatives to cause them pain or loss. Consequent decision-making would now take this baseline as reference point, leaving people wary of deviation.

I’ve insisted that the popularity of Toyota in Nigeria has nothing to do with “durability, reliability, and fuel-efficiency”, but status quo bias. Car owners ‘weigh the potential losses of switching from the one make more heavily than potential gains’. Then choose not to switch at all. “What car do you want?” You know the answer. It’s familiar, it’s what they know. World Peace.

If you’ll do your own survey and analysis you’ll see this bias everywhere. You know the whole “devil you know…” saying? The bias is so strong researchers interpret that people may only ‘change course from their current state if they perceive the alternative to be twice as beneficial’ as the current. It’s that serious.

How to use status quo bias in your design

I’ll drop my caveat early enough - don’t give users so much cognitive load or limit how much they can explore your product that they resign to your defaults and hate you for it. Facebook is a big offender here. And, yeah, most of my respondents still love their iPhone but hate that they can’t do certain simple things with it compared to Android.

  1. Enhance the user experience. Assuming you know your products ideal customers flawlessly, which you should, give them default settings of the product - they don’t have to choose. Then show them they can be getting ’twice as more’ on upgrade, what their life would be like when they go premium. Then, of course, make upgrading as easy as tapping a button. Thus, they won’t feel a change of status quo. Evernote has used this approach best, for anyone who writes with the note-taking app.

  2. When you want people to subscribe to the business’s list, receive announcements on future updates, and more as they make a purchase, set the checkboxes to these options to checked by default. Except these customers strongly desire not to hear from the business, they’ll rationalize these options as the status quo and just go with them.

  3. When giving more than one option, like in presenting a pricing table, mark the one you want people to choose as “popular” (as if people’s default option), as you list similar features of all the other options side by side down the table. People will take this marked one as reference point and begin to wonder why bother with the pain of comparing and just select it. It will eventually become popular, or you’ll learn something new about your users.

  4. Make design changes to your app as slowly as possible, drip-by-drip incrementally, as if users should hardly notice additions or subtractions. This way, they maintain the status quo but with imperceptible changes. Apple tries here but can still cause pain. When the company moved the auto-brightness toggle from the screen where the Brightness setting dial is to so-called Display Accommodations under Accessibility under General, it caused a lot of confusion among iPhone users who cared.

    Search Result for "auto-brightness missing on ios 11"

    If you use the to-do app Todoist, check your app’s current version number! The app is my best example for drip-by-drip-by-drip imperceptible updates - almost daily, but you’ll hardly notice.

Have you used the status quo bias in your product design? Would you experiment with it in your next work? Why not share what you think in the comments form below.


  1. Status-Quo Bias (Design Patterns), UI-Patterns, accessed Feb 11, 2019.

  2. Actually, People Love Change, Tim Kastelle, accessed Feb 11, 2019.

  3. Status quo bias, Wikipedia, accessed Feb 13, 2019.

  4. How Powerful Is Status Quo Bias? Psychology Today, accessed Feb 13, 2019.

  5. How the Status Quo Bias Affects Your Decisions, Verywell Mind, accessed Feb 13, 2019.


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2019 Kabolobari Benakole (K16E) Version 1.1.0