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The Flaws of Choice Expand / Collapse
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Posted Sunday, December 6, 2009 8:32 PM


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Comments posted to this topic are about the item The Flaws of Choice






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Post #829612
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 3:37 AM


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When we build an application, or even work with a platform like SQL Server, what' s the right balance between simplicity and choice? I'm not sure, but I think that the model changes for each person, and we want to include the level of choice that makes someone use the product efficiently, but with the least amount of options.'


Not sure I agree entirely with that one. Given most of us who build apps or work with SQL Server do so in a business environment (at least I assume so, and I know how dangerous assumptions can be...), I'd suggest the right model isn't what's optimum for any particular person, but what's right for the business as a whole. In many cases, the two'll be about the same, but there are significant differences.

For instance, changing a screen may only require an extra second of a user's time and add lots of functionality, but if most of the users are part of a call centre, that extra second per call can easily be a big bad no-no for the business as a whole.

Therefore, I agree entirely that paying attention to usability as well as outright functionality is an often forgotten priority, but it's also worth recognising the hierarchy of whose needs are most important to fulfil


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Post #829722
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 5:05 AM


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When was the last time McDonald's changed their menu? It still amazes and frustrates me when I go into some established national chain for a quick bite, and end up behind someone who acts as if they were just dragged out of the bronze age...

This goes back to the discussion of making a choice. Make a choice, right or wrong, make a choice. Indecision is sometimes much worse.


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Post #829749
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 6:33 AM


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During the years the great physicist and futurist Arno Penzias worked at Bell Labs, he penned a diatribe on the increasing complexity of systems and how that would eventually limit knowledge and mankind in general. That is, as systems (hardware, software, restaurant menus, etc) became more and more complex, fewer and fewer people would fully understand the systems, and knowledge would become so 'pigeon holed' that we would in essence, become further and further limited in our ability to grasp systems.

If you look at computing when I started in the late 70's, you had to know everything; hardware, programming, database, calculations, formulas - you name it. Now? Now we have DBAs who are great at database, but know very little about programming. We have programmers who crunch code, but don't understand database. We have specialists who are "experts" at one small corner of something, but cannot fathom related subject matter.

When I was growing up McDonalds had two sandwiches - hamburger and cheeseburger. Now, they have what, 15 of them, and yet what are they? Basically the same sandwich just rearranged with some extra (lettuce, tomato, etc) thrown in.

I would agree with the tenet of the Flaws of Choice, but I would also argue the point Penzias made...

We are become more and more "stupid" by our own choice to overcomplicate even the most simple things, all in the name of selling you something. And that applies for software, hardware, cars, electronics, and yes, fast food joints.

In short, we are building our own "Idiocrasy".


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Post #829798
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 6:46 AM
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Einstein gave us good advice when he said:

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler".

Design is an exercise in making things only as complex as the functionality requires. Finding the right balance is central to the art of programming.



Ron Cicotte

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Post #829811
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 6:52 AM
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too many options is often a prodduct of bad design.

Either the designer does not understand how the user is using the product, or is basically lazy to find out.

There is nothing wrong with flexibility, but there should be a basic default and if there is a need to deviate from that, the process should be straightforward.

I have that problem with Subway. The food is decent, but you can't simply order a sandwich. You need to go through a checklist, bread, meat, cheese, condiments.... etc. Nice to have choice but a pain to have to spell it out every time.


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Post #829814
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 6:59 AM
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sounds like the old 80\20 rule.

For any given piece of kit\app we use we only use 20% of its functionality 80% of the time.

Hence the popularity of netbooks recently.

Myself, I used to be indecisive, now I'm not so sure.


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Post #829820
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 7:42 AM
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As it applies to software, I think the early UNIX days work as an example. Each utility addressed a single individual problem, and did it very well. The true advantage came from the fact that they could work with each other via the shell. Many times I would take several utilities to perform some ETL, wrap the whole thing in a KSH script, and have exactly what was needed as an “app”.

Applying this to the restaurant example: order a number 2 combo and be done with it.


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Post #829852
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 7:50 AM


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Having one app for each choice doesn't actually reduce the number of decisions to make, it just increases the number of apps you need to learn how to use. And if they don't have nearly identical interfaces, it increases the learning curve for mastering them all.

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Post #829860
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 8:22 AM
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Ok, while I can order at Chipotle fairly quickly, I admit I am the person in the burger joint who has to read the whole menu (oh, isn't there anything on this menu that I really want?)... which gave me the idea that maybe there could be an express lane and a "don't know what you want" lane, so the people who know exactly what they want ("the No. 3, super-size me") can move on.

Which made me think about the number of applications I have written, where 90% of my users get a limited number of choices but a small number of users get additional choices, based on their user group assignment.
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