The Devil is in the Detail – what does a default state say about you?

Last week I commented on Michael Wilson’s post about ‘sort by default‘ as an option when customising search results or product listings. I shared my personal experience with a recent client and thought it was worth sharing here too.

Intelligent defaults

In short, the point Michael made was that sites providing the ability to sort content without setting a relevant default are missing a trick.

An example of how ASOS don't set a default 'sort' state

Michael used the example of ASOS. Although they include a sort feature with the options ‘what’s new?’, ‘Price High to Low‘ and vice-verse they don’t explicitly set a default state. This raises the question of how the products are currently sorted, is it editor-defined, chronological, alphabetical or something else entirely?

Although this is a valid issue and something, as User Experience professionals, we need to be aware of it’s a relatively quick fix. The complexity is in understanding what the sort says about the website in the first place.

What does a default sort say about a brand?

Recently I had a conversation with a travel destination client about this exact issue. During a workshop intended to cover off the finer points of a prototype a heated debate started around what the default ‘sort’ state should be for holiday search results. Should it be an ‘editors choice’ or be sorted by more neutral means;  location, accommodation type (lodge, chalet, etc), availability, or price.

After much discussion everyone agreed that, based on our knowledge of the customer, price was the best option. But then came the question; should we sort high to low, or low to high?

By preselecting ‘high to low‘ you communicate that you are a higher-end brand and that quality, rather than cost, is a priority for your customers.

Conversely, by presenting items ‘low to high‘ you align your proposition with affordability, value, and competitive/budget pricing rather than the sense of exclusivity or luxury.


For the travel brand it came down to making a fundamental decision about themselves that, surprisingly, they hadn’t openly discussed or defined before; are we a value/budget brand (such as Butlins or Easyjet) or is money not an issue for our customers and therefore focused on quality, closer aligned to brands such as Mr & Mrs Smith or Kuoni? Once we posed this question to them it was an easy decision to make and helped drive other decisions across the site.

Its safe to say, with hindsight, that this was an issue we should have had clearly defined at the start of the project as part of a wider strategy. In actual fact it was, but with so many stakeholders in the room it became apparent that it was not a shared view and certainly not something that had been openly discussed.

The default state of a sort isn’t going to dramatically change people’s perceptions but it’s this kind of little detail in my opinion that really matters as it can help to provide a cohesive and consist experience.

With a clearly defined experience strategy these sorts of decisions should be straight forward and not open for debate (e.g. “we’re a value brand appealing to families therefore the only logical answer is to provide our customers with the cheapest options first.”), without this the experience can end up feeling disjointed and can lead to conflict.

In short, do sweat the small stuff, but be clear on your strategy and proposition so that you keep the sweat to a minimum.



5 thoughts on “The Devil is in the Detail – what does a default state say about you?

  1. Clothing stores are nightmares for SEO here’s a few more issuesL

    – no text,
    – Products that are outdated and removed from the site as soon as they see an SEO benefit
    – Endless categories within categories (e.g. shoe types)
    – Massive images all over the pages.


  2. Good point! Questioning the decision behind the details really make the core brand values surface sometimes.

    In this case it could’ve been of interest to consider the psychological impact of comparing as well, using the higher price first as an anchor for the lower price.


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