This week I read a post of Joel Spolsky, the CEO of Stack Overflow. This post talks about choices or options that software designers give users during they are using programs to accomplish their tasks.  Pull up the Tools | Options dialog box and you will see a history of arguments that the software designers had about the design of the product. Some programs ask users to make so many choices. Even most users don’t understand much about or see it unnecessary to make some of the choices; as a result, users will be distracted or confused. Asking the user to make a decision isn’t in itself a bad thing. Freedom of choice can be wonderful. People love to order espresso-based beverages at Starbucks because they get to make so many choices. The problem is that you ask users to make a choice that they don’t care about. Actually, users care about a lot less things than a software designer might think. They are using your software to accomplish a task. They care about the task and really want to accomplish it. If it’s a graphics program, they probably want to be able to control every pixel to the finest level of detail. If it’s a tool to build a web site, you can bet that they are obsessive about getting the web site to look exactly the way they want it to look. They do not, however, care one whit if the program’s own toolbar is on the top or the bottom of the window, or how the help file is indexed. They don’t care about a lot of things, and it is the designers’ responsibility to make these choices for them so that they don’t have to. Sometimes, it is very hard to make a choice between conflicting requirements and the designer couldn’t think hard enough to decide which option is really better. Therefore, designers try to abdicate their responsibility by forcing the user to decide something, they’re probably not doing their job. Someone else will make an easier program that accomplishes the same task with less intrusions, and most users will love it.

A major rule of user interface design: “Every time you provide an option, you’re asking the user to make a decision.” That means users will have to think about something and decide about it. User’s option is not necessarily a bad thing, but, in general, you should always try to minimize the number of decisions that users have to make. This doesn’t mean eliminate all choice. There are enough choices that users will have to make anyway: the way their document will look, the way their web site will behave, or anything else that is integral to the work that the user is doing and really cares about.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s