Choices, choices…

As an interaction designer I sometimes wonder why software has so many choices, options and settings. Clearly, the programmers were pretty good: they realized that not everyone is like them, and that people have their personal preferences. So, they make sure you can customize the heck out of their software… Problem solved.

Not true. People hate too many choices. Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper have shown that after a certain number of options, adding more options actually makes our decision harder, and makes us feel less happy about our final choice. Having the choice of three types of peanut butter good, compared to only having a single option. Having 25 types is useless, stupid and annoying. If you don’t think I’m convincing, please watch Barry Schwartz’s TED lecture. It’s as hilariously entertaining as it is alarmingly true.

The same holds for computers. I don’t know the best download speed limit for my torrent client. I don’t know the best color scheme for my calendar. I don’t know what widgets I want in my Google toolbar. Good software would know what’s best for me without asking. The same holds for computer systems. Do I want a dual-core or quad-core processor? What kind of video-card? What size of hard drive? DVD, blueray or just a cd-rom? Apple is smart: they just offer some standard systems that are good; only the geeks need customize. My harsh prediction: a significant part of Macintosh-buyers choose Apple just because that way they don’t have to compare hundreds and hundreds of computer systems.

There’s a reason why the geeks – those that make the software and the PCs – want so many options. It’s because they are the experts. They know what their best option is. They reason that the more options you have, the higher the chance that you find what’s right for you. But people don’t know what’s best for them. They have to figure it out on the spot. And that is exactly what makes too many options a pain, according to Alexander Chernev’s studies.

To take the point home, I made you one game. You’ll find it here. Play it. You’ll like it. You’ll have to. There’s no alternative.

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