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The Flaws of Choice

By Steve Jones,

I got in line at Chipotle the other day, wanting a burrito for dinner. There were a few people in front of me and the line moved quickly. Until it reached the lady in front of me. Then it slowed to a crawl as this lady asked every question she could think of, and maybe a few more about what her burrito choices were.  Chipotle has a rather limited menu, with rather few choices, and while  it's a strange ordering process, it shouldn't take that long to choose. A few months ago I went to a different restaurant with some friends and here were dozens, or even hundreds, of beer choices. They spent almost ten minutes trying to decide what to order.

It seems that sometimes we are confronted with too many choices, and it ends up confusing us. We freeze up, often unable to make a decision.  You could view this as a complicated piece of software like Word or Excel. Or maybe the shutdown menu from Windows, which is way too complicated for Joel Spolsky.

The opposite of this is something incredibly simple. "An app for that" as Apple might put it. Small, single purpose applications that do one thing. In software we might see this as a special application like The Best Camera app in my iPhone, which only allows limited editing of a picture. A golf cart for transportation, reducing things to a simple (stop, go, back up), lacking even the need to turn it on or off for most of us.

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.'

In other words,  and this is why I think programming and development will always be in need, we need to guide the user. We want to give them some choices, and empower them, but with a limited set of options that ensure they stay productive.

Remember that before you add that next parameter to a stored procedure or an additional drop down on your report.

Steve Jones


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