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.

Don’t drink cheap energy drinks!

Here’s one for you: Never drink cheap energy drinks. They will actually make you more tired!

Shiv, Carmon and Ariely performed a study in which participants received either a SoBe ($1.89), a discounted SoBe ($0.89), or nothing at all before making a puzzle test. The results? The regular SoBe did not increase performance with the puzzles. But the discounted SoBe actually reduced performance! The discount provided an actual negative placebo-effect!!

I myself am still drinking cheap energy drinks. Why? Because I know these results. Placebos lose their effect if you know about them. So go ahead and open another can of Golden Power :).

Being mad at your software is a compliment to the designer

I’m currently working on a project about “human-like responses to computer systems”. Many interaction design specialists say that human-like software (that is, software that elicits and understands human-like behavior) is the most promising development in human-computer interaction. Although some people cleverly assert that human-like interfaces may be more incomprehensible than their “dumb” counterparts (Hofstadter in A Coffeehouse Conversation on the Turing Test), most designers agree that human-like interfaces are more learnable, since we as humans already know how to interact in the human way (as supposed to interacting with computers, which is something we invariably have to learn).

Now this is interesting: Shechtman & Horowitz report that in a computerized cooperative task, when participants believe that they are dealing with a human instead of a computer (they are actually dealing with a computer in both conditions), they are more inclined to interact using hostile statements.

What does this mean? People are more aggressive to human-like interfaces. Therefore, if we believe that human-like interfaces are better, it seems that being mad at your software can be a sign of dealing with good software!

Sounds stupid? Well, I don’t know about you guys, but my most fruitful cooperative efforts were often clear, direct and open conversations… these sometimes have a hostile character, but that’s just the way it works.