Linked by Eugenia Loli on Tue 21st Nov 2006 18:05 UTC
Graphics, User Interfaces In this article Joel talks about the number of choices in applications. "This highlights a style of software design shared by Microsoft and the open source movement, in both cases driven by a desire for consensus and for "Making Everybody Happy," but it's based on the misconceived notion that lots of choices make people happy, which we really need to rethink."
Thread beginning with comment 184166
To view parent comment, click here.
To read all comments associated with this story, please click here.
lindkvis
Member since:
2006-11-21

"In the end, choice isn't bad"

Read the article again. Joel quotes research saying that too much choice IS bad. I have several analogies explaining this:

People have to constrict their options in order to live happily in a big city. Everyone does this. If there are thousands of pubs/restaurants/cafes to go to, most people constrict their choices artificially to the few they get used to quickly, adding in and removing a few choices now and then.

There are currently hundreds of graphic card options from nVidia and ATI. The choice is confusing and sometimes downright infuriating. It makes me unhappy to have to choose between all of these choices. A good shop would do things to help me restrict the choice. That too many choices makes people unhappy has been backed by scientific research.

The exception to this rules are people that care SO MUCH about that particular niche that they love to customise something exactly to their needs. These people will find the iPod infuriatingly simple and will hate "dumbing down" of interfaces. These users will also have hugely different wants and needs and catering to them will not just slightly increase complexity, it will multiply complexity many times over.

They are, however, the extreme minority and if you are making mainstream software it does not make sense making the average user very unhappy by the sheer complexity just so you can cater for these users.

That is why you need to CHOOSE which users you cater for. Either making 70-80% happy or 90% unhappy. Microsoft seems to be choosing the latter, despite being the most mainstream software maker there is.

Reply Parent Score: 5

markjensen Member since:
2005-07-26

There are currently hundreds of graphic card options from nVidia and ATI. The choice is confusing and sometimes downright infuriating. It makes me unhappy to have to choose between all of these choices. A good shop would do things to help me restrict the choice. That too many choices makes people unhappy has been backed by scientific research.

Most people I see just go into the store and buy one in their price range. They don't go into which video card is installed.

You talk about iPods not meeting some people's needs. This shows that choice is good, too. Not necessarily that every iPod should have every choice option, but that the MP3 player market needs choices. Those that are "infuriated" at the iPod need to have choices and options available. I am equating the MP3 player market here to the UI in discussion. Not just single products. Looking at it in this larger sense, you see that choices are necessary.

I am not advocating that every device should have every choice, just that there should be options and choices available to the consumer.

Reply Parent Score: 4

jziegler Member since:
2005-07-14

If there are thousands of pubs/restaurants/cafes to go to, most people constrict their choices artificially to the few they get used to quickly, adding in and removing a few choices now and then.

Yes, but _I_ want to choose _my_ $FEW restaurants and _you_ want choose _your_ $FEW places. My "few" and your "few" don't have to overlap. That makes cca. 1.5*$FEW (average between no overlap and total overlap) just for the two of us. Taking every citizen into account, you get hundreds of cafes and restaurants in a city. I also want to choose "my few" _myself_. And I also want the rest of the places be available, should I change my mind later, or should the quality of my preferred places drop. So choice, in restaurants, is good.

Actually, the article blew up the number of choices. For one, the icons provided the same choice as the menu text entries. Also, the Fn- shortcuts and display closing provide the same results, just in a different way. So there are 2 layers of choice - what to do, how to do it. And each combination makes sense for someone, so it's good it's there.

People complaining about too much choice should live, for a while, in a place with limited choice. Figuratively speaking: one type of pants, one type of shoes, two types of beer, two types of bread, one type of bread-rolls, one type of butter... I lived in such a country, until the Velvet revolution happened. Compared to now, it sucked a lot... Value the freedom to choose. And if you don't like Vista, choose something else ;) .

Reply Parent Score: 5

galvanash Member since:
2006-01-25

People complaining about too much choice should live, for a while, in a place with limited choice. Figuratively speaking: one type of pants, one type of shoes, two types of beer, two types of bread, one type of bread-rolls, one type of butter... I lived in such a country, until the Velvet revolution happened. Compared to now, it sucked a lot... Value the freedom to choose. And if you don't like Vista, choose something else ;) .

Your talking about market choice, this is something completely different. The freedom to choose between Operating Systems (or places to eat or whatever) is a VERY good thing. I dont think anyone is saying otherwise. But the point is that as a guiding principle of good engineering, freedom of choice shouldnt not filter down to the level of variation. It is always better to have one and only one way to accomplish a particular task unless you have a damn good reason to include another one (and variations between user preferences is NOT a damn good reason, you have to draw lines somewhere for the greater good).

For example, I don't think you are honestly suggesting that having a particular eating establishment serve 50 different kinds of turkey sandwiches would be a good thing... There may easily be at least one or two people in the area of the place that like one of those particular sandwiches, but the fact is that the place would probably do VERY badly in the market. When confronted with that many choices people will (for the most part) simply give up and go somewhere else next time.

Edited 2006-11-22 16:57

Reply Parent Score: 1

blahblah Member since:
2006-03-23

Um. Correction. Joel doesn't quote "research" as in peer-reviewed scholarly articles. He quotes a reviewer summarizing a book that goes on the same shelf as "The Tipping Point" etc. There has been actual research along these lines, but the article I read (admittedly, a "layman" re-write of actual research in SciAm) weren't investigating things like gui buttons. More along the lines of important life choices... It's a long stretch to apply it to windows buttons, and he certainly doesn't make the extension in any rigorous way. More like throws it in there for the appearance of credibility... I thought I'd give Joel another try after the admins here assured me he was "great"... oh well..

Reply Parent Score: 3

Soulbender Member since:
2005-08-18

"Joel quotes research saying that too much choice IS bad."

I bet we can find research that comes to exactly the opposite conclusion.

"People have to constrict their options in order to live happily in a big city. Everyone does this. If there are thousands of pubs/restaurants/cafes to go to, most people constrict their choices artificially to the few they get used to quickly, adding in and removing a few choices now and then. "

You realize of course that this is exactly the opposite of restricting choice. The article would want you to only have a few select pubs/restaurants/cafes to go to, not thousands.

Edited 2006-11-22 04:33

Reply Parent Score: 3

John Nilsson Member since:
2005-07-06

That is why you need to CHOOSE which users you cater for. Either making 70-80% happy or 90% unhappy. Microsoft seems to be choosing the latter, despite being the most mainstream software maker there is.

When you are granted a monoply (copytight) on production of a good that costs close to zero to produce. It seems like a good strategy to base your income on selling as many identicalt copies as possible.

Add to this the fact that the more features you add to a software the less common denominators among the users to design for will be found.

Hence copyright sort of implies that the best software is the software that is designed to make 90% of the users unhappy (using your numbers).

If we now add to this that only one third of the industry chooses this approach, even if it's clearly the most profitable. I think we can safly conclude that the abolishment of copyright would result less software designed to make make 90% of the users unhappy, and more software designed to make 70-80% happy (actually I think this number would be much smaller).

Reply Parent Score: 1