My current projects all involve dealing with issues of featureitis, software with simple uses, but with a monstrous amount of controls and options. It’s well designed software created by brilliant nice people, but many have fallen into the belief that more UI controls, more options, more visible data, somehow makes software more desirable. This is of course a long held problem, routed not just in software (ala. Microsoft Windows) but in Western Society herself. As far as interface design is concerned, I know from experience, more choice as a feature seldom works, as complexity leads to more complexity, more choice leads to dissatisfaction.
Neil Turner summarises some of Barry Schwartz’s thinking in answering the question:
Is lots of choice a good thing?
You see it turns out whilst people will invariably ask for more choice, lots of choice is not really a good thing for the following reasons:
- More choice means more options for people to consider, and a greater cognitive workload to do so, as all the different options are weighed up and evaluated.
- With lots of choice the burden of responsibility is placed on the person making the choice, rather than those drawing up the choices. If a bad choice is made it’s because someone chose the wrong option, not because a poor set of options were made available.
- More choice means greater expectations, and a greater probably of not meeting those expectations. With so many options available, people will expect there to be one that is exactly what is need, and will no doubt be disappointed when they don’t choose it.
- More choice means less engagement.Sometimes people would rather not take part, than have to go through a million and one different options. For example, an interesting study showed that for every 10 investment funds that an employer offered for their pension scheme (e.g. 10, 20, 30, 40 different funds, and so on), uptake fell by 2%. Employees were put off participating because they didn’t want to have to select from so many different options.
Ideally, we would focus entirely on those features or controls that users need to accomplish their goals while deleting our through perhaps progressive disclosure keep all the complexity hidden from all but the most advanced user. My experience is that that is far more difficult than it ought to be but its a challenge worth engaging in.
Below is a ted talk where Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz’s estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.