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The Flaws of Choice Expand / Collapse
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Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 8:37 AM


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I'm not sure that I agree multiple apps aren't simpler. You do have the same knowledge requirement, but when you go to perform a function, you have less clutter, and memory load, to deal with. Less to distract you, etc.

I do like the Einstein quote. You want things to be simple for the user (or group of users), but you need to ensure things aren't too simple that they lose the functionality. It's trying to find the right place on a continuum, not picking among two options.







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Post #829939
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 9:11 AM


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I tend to agree that Subway, and Chipotle, have a few issues. You do have to spell things out everytime, which is annoying for someone like me that tends to get the same thing every time. It would be great if they had a card that saved my prefs I could scan when I walked up. Have them just build the order.

I do have the iPhone Chipotle app and need to try that out. Maybe Wed when I run the kids down for karate and tutoring.

I think the issue that some people have a McDs or other places isn't that they don't know the menu, it's that they aren't sure what they want. They're looking around to figure out what they feel like. I know that drives me crazy, and if we are going through somewhere, I tell the kids they better have decided BEFORE I get to the drive thru.







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Post #829973
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 9:21 AM


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Interesting observation Steve. And some interesting posts by everyone. I especially liked the comments from blandry and Ron. How simple do we make it? When is it a business procedure that needs to be changed(enforced!) or a design change? How smart do we want the user to be?

Around here, unless you're bilingual (which I am on a limited basis), you get to order a Burrito, Taco, or Torta (that's sandwich for most of you...).

I find my user experience depends on my server. If they know me, I'll order in English, knowing I'll get a nice fat burrito with everything. However, if they don't know me, I order in Spanish, because if I order in English, they'll assume when I say 'everything', I'm a gringo and didn't really want the salsa rojo, jalapenos, onions and cilantro, just the meat, cheese and salsa verde.

Relating to software design, I guess I've been put into 2 users groups, where I can have power-user access if I choose to use it.
Post #829987
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 9:21 AM
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TV chef Alton Brown has a personal vendetta against single use appliances (hot dog cooker, for example). To degree that also applies to apps. There are exceptions, but an app just to do one single thing is kind of inefficient.

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Post #829989
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 9:36 AM


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Is a hot dog cooker inefficient? Having one means that my kid might be able to cook something without help. It might seem like a waste to a chef, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. Don't chefs have multiple knives for different purposes, each being a separate "app" for a separate purpose?

You can take it too far, and I might agree that a hot dog cooker is a little specialized, but not necessarily. It could fit the situation.







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Post #830010
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 9:45 AM


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Steve Jones - Editor (12/7/2009)
I'm not sure that I agree multiple apps aren't simpler. You do have the same knowledge requirement, but when you go to perform a function, you have less clutter, and memory load, to deal with. Less to distract you, etc.

I do like the Einstein quote. You want things to be simple for the user (or group of users), but you need to ensure things aren't too simple that they lose the functionality. It's trying to find the right place on a continuum, not picking among two options.


Okay, let's take apart a simple example:

You want to drive from Point A to Point B for a meeting, and you don't know how to get there.

Here's the integrated, Tolkein version (one app to rule them all and in the interface bind them): You open one application, let's call it Google.com, and you plug in your destination. It offers you a map of the location. In the same application, you input your origin point, and it gives you turn-by-turn directions. If it's on your smart phone, it will also tell you where you are now, and you can get restaurants along the way if you decide you want that (so you can eat before you get there), and motels along the way and at the destination if you need that. One app. All in one place. (Android's Sherpa app will do almost all of that all in one place too.)

Here's the one-app-per-piece version: You pull up the destination on a map application and it shows you the street map of the location. You use another app to get turn-by-turn directions. You then have to plug those into a GPS app to get where you are now vs where you need to be next. Then you pull up yet another to work out restaurants and motels along the way and at the destination. For each app, you have to learn and use a different interface that follows different design philosophies.

May sound silly, but in the late 90s, I got a CD-based database of street addresses. Could look up just about any address in the US and get a map of the location. Definitely didn't do turn-by-turn. But another application I had at that time could do turn-by-turn, but only to intersections, not to addresses. Neither could look up restaurants or motels, but online yellow pages could do that by radius around an address or intersection. And GPS at that time was pretty much "here you are", without the ability to tell you where to go next or anything like that. That's 10 years ago, and it's almost exactly what I'm describing.

Why don't those databases and applications get used any more (some of them don't even exist any more)? Because they weren't all-in-one, one-stop-shops. They weren't convenient to use compared to Google.com (or MapQuest or Bing or whatever else is in use these days).

I like integrated solutions. I also shop for books on Amazon, instead of at specialty bookstores (do those even exist any more?). I shop at Target instead of specialty shops. I shop at a grocery store, and don't go to a butcher, then a bakery, then a greengrocer, etc.

Do I need to make more decisions or less, do I have more or less options, if I shop at Target, or if I go to a video store, then a music store, then a hardware store, then an electronics store, then a clothing store, then a shoe store, then a basic grocery store, then an appliances store, then an office supplies store, et al, ad infinitum? Of course I have less options at Target. I have far fewer decisions to make. And if I shopped around, I'd probably get better goods at a better price on average. On the other hand, I'd spend more on gas, I'd have to learn my way around a dozen stores (or more), I'd have to hang onto more receipts and organize them more carefully, I'd have to pay attention to more data on sales and specials and product availability.

I pay the price of convenience. But I also get to take advantage of it. I only have to learn my way around one store. I only need one set of coupons. I keep one receipt. I then spend all the time freed up that way on other things.

That's the way I see it. Integration makes me more efficient, at a certain cost.

As already mentioned, in some areas, I prefer specialized tools, others I prefer integrated tools. I don't use a Swiss Army knife. I do use Management Studio. Different situations, different costs, different benefits. So I have options, and I make decisions.


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Post #830024
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 10:00 AM
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Marketing, packaging, competition and cost drives the way Chipotle, Subway and Microsoft put together their products. The user is only one factor in the equation. When we develop apps, the same is often true.

Applying this to SQL Server, how many people use it as a only a relational database engine? Or use less than 20% of the features? I would say most.

However, as a consultant who architects solutions for clients that include a relational DB, a data warehouse, ETL, cubes, data mining, and reporting, then I'm happy to have all the solutions I need under one product line. This makes it much easier and cheaper than bringing together a number of different apps.


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Post #830040
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 10:45 AM


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Steve Jones - Editor (12/7/2009)
Is a hot dog cooker inefficient? Having one means that my kid might be able to cook something without help. It might seem like a waste to a chef, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. Don't chefs have multiple knives for different purposes, each being a separate "app" for a separate purpose?

You can take it too far, and I might agree that a hot dog cooker is a little specialized, but not necessarily. It could fit the situation.


To take this specific example: the hot dog cooker isn't necessarily inefficient for the specific purpose at hand, but - it probably represents an inefficient use of space. This would have to live on the counter somewhere, be plugged into an outlet (taking that outlet out of circulation), another manual to read, another warrantly to keep up to date, etc... So - you could make a choice to put one or two of these "single use" items on your kitchen counter, but I doubt you'd have the space for the 200+ specific cookers you would need to deal with every single specialized cooking option.

The same with our application: the right approach is to find the "high-value targets" for single use apps which give you the best output, and then rely on multi-purpose apps to deal with a lot of the other scenarios. The integration complexities alone grow exponentially as you add in more "moving parts".


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Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part...unless you're my manager...or a director and above...or a really loud-spoken end-user..All right - what was my emergency again?
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Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 10:50 AM
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I haven't read this http://www.amazon.com/Paradox-Choice-Why-More-Less/dp/0060005688/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260207811&sr=1-1#noop,

but I've heard the author interviewed. It might have the answers you're lookin for.

Mattie



Post #830076
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 12:58 PM
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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.'

Alternately, you could say that because the model changes for each person, apps should be flexible, with a default configuration that is close to the average user's need, but the options and ability to be configured for even simpler or even more complex scenarios. That's how I write my SSRS reports - I often include several parameters (based on the users' needs) but I try to default* them to the common usage scenario.

My ideal application has two buttons on its main screen: "Go" and "Advanced Options" .

* Well, I often won't default one parameter, because SSRS has a nasty habit of automatically running reports if all parameters have defaults. Cute, but it can be a headache if the report takes 2-3 minutes to run and you didn't want the default information.
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