However, you notice 5% of people don't use the app, because they want to keep comments in their minified code, and you don't include that option. A lot of developers decide they'll add a checkbox to include comments, because now everyone can be happy. It doesn't quite work that way, because now the 95% of people that don't want comments see this checkbox, and start to question themselves. Wait, why do people want comments included in their minified code, should I be checking this box? Is there something I'm doing wrong? Do most people check the box or not, I'd like to know to validate my decision, otherwise I feel uneasy. The more options you add, the more this has an effect.
In the end, maybe the 95% are feeling so uneasy, 10% of them leave to another app, that just has a 'Go' button again, so they feel confident, and more happy. So, by adding the checkbox to include comments, the 5% of people that were asking for the feature now start using the app, but you lose 10% of the original audience because of the additional choice.
It's a difficult balance, and you really need to focus on the majority, and be careful about building out features the minority are requesting. If you look at apps like Twitter or Snapchat (or Yo, on the extreme side, and not yet proven), they succeed by limiting the amount of choice available to users. Many developers would have added more options, or in the case of Twitter given users the ability to write longer tweets because it seems harmless, but at the same time, it would have caused the businesses to fail.
I also fundamentally disagree that removing choices is a good thing - the research says it makes (most?) people feel better, which suggests that they don't want to think about making any choices because it is somehow difficult for them and causes anxiety. Logically, this means they would be most satisfied and happy if they didn't have to make any choices or do any thinking at all, and something/someone else made all the decisions for them - the equivalent of having no freedom or control over one's life. Is this really what we want society to become?
"Making choices is hard, so just give up"? To me, that's where it looks like things are heading, and quite frankly it's a rather disturbing trend. I most definitely do not want to have nearly every decision in my life made by someone else, and find the anxiety/difficulty of the process to be absolutely normal.
Maybe there is a good balance somewhere in between, but I'm definitely strongly biased in the direction of being able to have the freedom to make choices, no matter how difficult, and take control of my life.
Approximately every decision that's ever been made and affects you was made by someone else.
From toothpaste formulation to water cleanliness approval standards to mains electric plug standards to zoning regulations, pavement width, tram or train schedules, volumes of alcohol that can be sold, material books are printed on, blend of spices in KFC batter or how long a film is, what goes in an ethernet frame fields, how radio frequencies are licensed, where keyboard input goes through the Mac OS kernel, why your local shops stock X instead of Y...
You don't want the decisions you care about made by other people - who would?
But if you say you want to make nearly every decision that gets made in your life? I don't believe you could, or would want to, if faced with what that really meant.
I don't wan't to decide my own custom HN colour scheme and font size and font face and text colour contrast with background colour and font sub-pixel hinting style and text box resize behaviour interacting with a high-DPI rendered display, and whether the page POST has headers announcing this or that. The defaults chosen by Google Chrome team, Microsoft Windows team and HN designers are all fine.
If I visit a restaurant, and they only serve chicken, that's kind of limited. Now, they give me the option of beef or chicken. Ok, this is a decision I can make, and be confident in selecting. Now, what happens if they ask whether I would like northwestern chicken, southern chicken, grain fed chicken, or korean chicken? Huh? I'm not a master of chicken, just give me the best one.
We hit a point where I no longer have a strong opinion, and this is where my confidence drops, and I start to question myself. This means they've given me too much choice.
This isn't the same for everyone, someone out there knows their chicken inside and out, and they have a preference for one specific type. If you want to cater your restaurant towards those people then give them that choice. However, you'll be scaring away the average person at the same time.
For the same reason it's difficult to make an application for casual and advanced users. Pick your audience, and that'll give you some guidance on the appropriate amount of choice to include.
Cutlery wrapped in a serviette or not? Chicken with sauce or sauce in a jug? Chicken covered in sauce, or with some on it, or with the sauce around it? What temperature sauce?
How would you like the plate rotated - chicken towards you, or veg towards you? What kind of veg? How big?
Decisions are fractal, everywhere you look there are potentially huge numbers of decisions that someone, somewhere, might plausibly care about, but most people don't.
Beyond where you don't have a strong opinion (I guess one chicken option might be better, but I don't know which) and your confidence drops, you climb back up to a place where you have a strong opinion again and your opinion is "it doesn't matter [to me]", and from there onwards it's not a matter of "I don't know which to chose" it's a matter of "STOP WASTING MY LIFE WITH THIS POINTLESS NONSENSE".
I suspect that the internet puts people on both sides of this gap together, far more often, more quickly, and with less structure, than previous human history has.
I work in datacenter solutions sales, and the majority of my customers know what they want in terms of vendor/product series. However, they need our help for specific performance and capacity sizing, as well as adjusting to fit a budget. This probably it true for about 95% of customers.
However, there is another 5%, that simply want a good solution for their needs. They don't care how, and if they're smart, they have some specific business requirements to share. These ones are EASY to upset as displayed in the comment above if we 'waste' their time asking detailed option questions they really don't care about.
To be successful in this, you have to triage early and set the customer engagement on the proper path!
You're equivocating removing choices that one ultimately wouldn't make any way (i.e. "false choices") with removing all choice.
> Is this really what we want society to become?
You may want to revise that perspective. Besides constraints being key to creativity, they are also key to good design. Every design needs to limit options.
Additionally, it doesn't directly follow that society will have their decisions made by other people; and to the extent that it does, it's not necessarily a bad thing.
Once again: fewer options -- constraints -- are key in creativity.
You can't knowingly hide from choice: the existence of a different application that only has the Go button is not an escape, it is just yet another choice. The exact same story you described within the microcosm of the single application now plays out between the two applications, as the prospective user wonders why the application with the checkbox exists, as its very existence implies that maybe they should carefully consider whether they should be checking that box. Only now there are even more complex issues to decide: do the two applications even work the same in the situation that don't check the box? Now, even if you kind of think you want the comments, maybe you should be using this new application because maybe it works better in some way you don't quite understand... so you have to research the two applications or even test them against your files, coming up with your own (potentially flawed!) metric of comparison.
You also can't model "limits" as removed decisions: Twitter limiting me to 140 characters actually makes my word choice really matter... I end up having to draft multiple versions of what I need to say in the hope of finding one that I can whittle to under 140 characters. I have friends help me decide which of the variants conveys the idea the best, and sometimes I have to decide to split the message into multiple parts (but as each will be replied to and retweeted separately, deciding what information needs to be replicated in both, but in a way that isn't awkward, is itself a difficult decision). I often just go "bah, this is too complex", and not send anything; whereas on Facebook or reddit, where I have no length limits, I tend to just type something and send it: with this comment, while I did a little editing afterwards, it was nowhere near the ordeal that happens when I have to start making decisions due to hitting a limit. I would in fact argue that all limits lead to decisions: a limit is effectively a constrained resource, and now you have to decide how to spend that constrained resource to best accomplish your goal; a system that does not impose a limit frees the user to always do what felt most natural in the moment, however wasteful. The argument with Twitter not breaking free of their SMS-limited history is usually along the lines of either "if the messages are so long people won't be able to quickly read a bunch of them", not "giving people the ability to type a lot means they will not bother typing at all"... I think we can attest to the shear volume of trite YouTube comments to demonstrate that people are quite happy stopping typing once they've stated their peace ;P.
For example, I visit the store to buy toothpaste. I might see 25 different kinds of Colgate, and 1 kind of Crest. Personally, I'd likely buy the Crest, because I can't decide between all the Colgate options of Ultrabrite, Optic White, Sparkling White, Sensitive, Sensitive Pro-Relief, Max Fresh, 2in1, Cavity Protection, Total, Total Advanced, Total Action, and Triple Action (these are all real names, and they have more).
You're saying I should see 26 individual options to compare and be overwhelmed with choice. However, if I buy Crest, I'm happy. This is because I trust their knowledge of toothpaste over my own, and pass the decision making to them. I assume their single option has the best formula. If I choose between Ultrabrite, Sparkling White and Optic White from Colgate, I'm less satisfied, because I'm unsure if I made the right choice, because I don't have a PhD in toothpaste.
This is no different than software. If Bing releases 100 new options to customize your experience with the search engine, does this make you less satisfied with using Google? Does it make you feel overwhelmed in choice? Not at all, if anything, you're even more happy with Google now. We just assume when someone gives us less choice, they're making the right choices for us.
The first reason is that the user doesn't know which choices have been made for them by the developer. Imagining that the developers made good choices is not hard.
The second reason is that when no choice is given the user, then the developer is responsible. If the application works poorly it is the developers fault, and not the users for having clicked a stupid combination of checkboxes. If the user claims the reply will not be a smug reply how they should have read the manual and made better choices.
The third reason is reputation. If you hear good things about a program with little choice, then you know the devloper made good choices for you. If you hear good things about a program with lots of choices, then that may only mean that it works well when you made all of those choices in clever ways.
- If one of the two choices was clearly better, it would be an easy decision
- But it is difficult. Therefore, neither of the two choices is clearly better.
- Therefore, it doesn't matter much which you choose.
This doesn't work for people who feel irrational regret (ie, regretting a decision that turned out badly because of information that was not known at the time of the decision). Yes, irrational regret is very common. But it's just another logical failing that can be overcome.
If you still feel anxiety when forced to choose between two good choices, go visit a third world country.
There are endless ways for a decision to actually be hard. One is where the type of impact between options is different and difficult to compare. The difficulty may arise due to: uncertainty, complexity, lack of knowledge, value judgements, brutal trade-offs etc.
i) "Should I stay to treat to the ebola victim or leave with my family?" is hard because it involves value judgements, predictions, risks. It questions who you are.
ii) "Should our startup be tightly integrated with facebook?" is hard because the potential impact is massive and requires substantial investigation to understand.
The very attempt to compare options can involve costs and feedback loops e.g. should I pay for an investigation, should I prototype this, should I wait for more info etc. The actions you take to compare options can change the available options. A single decision becomes a nested web of other decisions.
In the most general sense, making a decision is like devising a strategy. Is creating a good strategy easy or hard?
p.s. I'm working on this problem
Email is in my profile, if you'd rather not share here.
"Clarity" is dependent on what level of information you already have and what analysis you've already done.
In some circumstances, you've already done whatever investigation, research, and thinking can reasonably be done. If the choice is still hard, then the choice is likely to be of similar value either way and you may as well choose arbitrarily.
But in other circumstances, there's still investigation, research, or thinking that can be done (at a level of effort which is reasonable based on the importance of the decision.) In that case, one choice or the other may become clearly better if you are patient and diligent in the decision-making process. So be as patient as the decision warrants.
A problem is difficult when its potential consequences are serious and the best option is not obvious. But the best option can be non-obvious for two very different reasons: either it requires a lot of information and thus a lot of work to gather that information (like choosing a medical treatment), or it depends on randomness or other variables outside your control and understanding (like choose your lottery numbers, assuming someone gives you a lottery ticket).
For the latter case, it's pretty clear that you can choose randomly and shouldn't worry about your decision. For the former case, it's reasonable to "worry" in the sense that you should feel an urgency to gather the required information efficiently. Of course, it's not really that simple, because you have to optimize the cost of gathering information against the potential cost or gain from the decision itself. Also, the two reasons from the last paragraph are more like a continuum, because "randomness" is often effective randomness, i.e. you can't feasibly predict the outcomes despite them being deterministic.
It doesn't matter if the cereal I bought tastes good or bad, I'll always wonder if the other option would have been better. Until I taste the other cereal, I'm left questioning my decision, and being unhappy.
Being unhappy and unsatisfied is the main reason we have the technology that currently exists. If people were satisfied traveling by horse, the automobile wouldn't exist. If people were satisfied with 480p, the HD television would never have been a worthwhile venture. Being continually unsatisfied is what causes us to strive higher.
I never said any of this technology enhances our level of happiness. I just said as a species, being constantly unhappy could be one of our greatest strengths. Otherwise, we might be sitting in a cave, smiling at each other until an asteroid removed us from existence.
Regular people may have been satisfied, but the military wasn't, who drove almost all of the research into the 80s. The consumer market is just a follow-on to that, where choices were presented to "me" as better.
There is a world of difference between freezing in a cave and developing 1080p/2160p/4320p.
However, to survive as a species in the long term, we need to leave this planet. To do that, we need a number of advancements in technology.
So, if we can agree the survival of the species is in our benefit, then we can agree development is considered a good thing, even if it doesn't equate to an increase in happiness for the individual.
In this case you would probably be able to try the other option at some time in the future, so why would you be unhappy? I'd definitely do that, and probably alternate between the two if they seem equally good.
But I observe a similar crippling effect when working on software. Every step along the way of producing a software product involves making an incredible amount of choices. Choices like, 'what platform?', 'what programming language?', 'which algorithm?', etc. I believe that the the freedom we have as a software engineers forces us to make more choices than in any other engineering discipline.
There is a certain anxiety involved in make such engineering choices. Will this choice work out in the end, or am I going to waste a lot of time implementing and later reversing this for the other option?
It is definitely not optimal, but is pretty common methinks.
Last time I checked, there is no such a thing as "Swarthmore University": Barry Schwartz is affiliated with Swarthmore College instead [1,2,3].
Might seem pedantic, but the New Yorker of yore would never let such a slip --online or not. Such editing.
Sure, there's opportunity cost, but there are also costs way beyond the time you take fretting over a decision. You said it yourself: You're "crippled" by anxiety. How is that better than making a random decision? Or just going with your gut?
Given the alternatives of either 1) not making a decision, 2) drawing out the decision for a long time, or 3) failing to act in time on the option, simply making a random initial commitment addresses the decisionmaking aspect.
Many decisions are capable of being reversed or changed later. If you're ever in a situation where you must decide (stay or jump from a burning building, say), there's still likely to be an option which is least bad. Even those who jumped from the WTC on 9/11 were making a decision. The outcome wasn't optimal, but in the circumstances, it may well have been preferable to the alternative.
Flipping a coin is a way to think about the "what if I choose option B" in a way that feels like someone else made the decision so it's OK to resist it, instead of feeling like you made the descision yourself and get stuck in consistency bias (stubbornness).
It could just be freedom from the anxiety of choice (and just admiration for the creator's ability to succeed despite these constraints on the part of the audience). I feel like there's more to it than that, though.
> While Lipowski’s work received some immediate wide attention, it soon fell into relative obscurity.
> Schwartz would then popularize and rename as the paradox of choice
No wonder. It's so much easier to be told that you are experiencing a paradox than to be told that you are behaving like an ass. Buridan’s or not.
As quoted from that article:
"Cognitive dissonance is also useful to explain and manage post-purchase concerns. If a consumer feels that an alternate purchase would have been better, it is likely he/she will not buy the product again. To counter this, marketers have to convince buyers constantly that the product satisfies their need and thereby helps reduce their cognitive dissonance, ensuring repurchase of the same brand in the future."
Sounds like the writer is referring to cognitive dissonance.
Leon Festinger published his work on cognitive dissonance in 1959 making his discovery 11 years before Lipowski's publication in 1970 (as referenced by the article). Festinger in my mind is the godfather of this theory. Anyone agree?
This sounds like nothing more than loss aversion. Until you make the choice you have opportunity to acquire some valuable things. When you make the choice you've lost all the things you didn't choose.
This leads to easy ways of alleviating anxiety. You just need to mentally devalue all the things you are supposed to choose from and when you make the choice, immediately devalue things you haven't chosen even more (getting hyped over the thing you just chose won't help because anxiety comes not for the lack of appreciation of what you gained but for too much appreciation for the things you've lost opportunity to obtain).
The lieutenant takes me to the colonel and repeats my remark. The colonel says, "Just five minutes," and then he goes to the window and he stops and thinks. That's what they're very good at -- making decisions. I thought it was very remarkable how a problem of whether or not information as to how the bomb works should be in the Oak Ridge plant had to be decided and could be decided in five minutes. So I have a great deal of respect for these military guys, because I never can decide anything very important in any length of time at all.
In five minutes he said, "All right, Mr. Feynman, go ahead."
The companies I didn't pick made monster gains in the stock market --30% in one month.
Cry me a river, right?
Humans are great a ranking from a low number of choices. Too many choices or of similar quality and our ranking mechanisms break down.
But even supposed political freedom may be overrated. A demarchy might very well be better-performing, more representative, and less corruptible than an elected government. After all, term limits, devolution to more local government, and other "reforms" are just an approximation of demarchy. We sure don't get representation from our current system, but we do give authoritarians a veneer of legitimacy by voting. That's pretty stressful.
This is relevant to the Internet because the value and effectiveness of ads are an ongoing controversy, while at the same time funding much of what we use.
Offering a choice makes going to the movies socially into an awkward experience. Inevitably there are people with diverging strong opinions and suddenly a social get together turns into dispute mediation. I think that if there was only one option, people would just deal with it.
Now I dread inviting certain people to the movies because I want a social experience without endlessly dragging up the 2D vs 3D debate.
There has probably been a higher frequency lately since the New Yorker has gone no-paywall for the summer.
That is, there are a large number of options presented, under the guise of "choice is good", for which the ultimate effects of the outcome are "it doesn't matter".
The choices are also often not presented in a way that makes discriminating between alternatives straightforward. I'm reminded of a financial news program whose sponsor for a time was a credit card company bragging about "over 3,000 choices for consumers" in credit card options. That is, frankly, stupidly excessive.
But there are ways to present choices in a way which offers a very high level of tailoring of options without overwhelming the user with those options. I like to use the example of automobile heating/cooling controls common in the 1980s-1990s (the tendency toward thermostatic controls is changing this now).
For American car manufacturers, the preferred style was a heat control lever which went from low to high, a fan switch, usually with "flow", "lo", "med" ,and "hi" settings, and a vent + AC selector. This would allow for dash, floor, or defrost vents to be selected, as well as another addition set of vent settings in which AC was enabled. The presentation always struck me as confusing, and there were a number of vent/AC settings which weren't reachable.
This is pretty typical: http://www.autopartsdb.net/images/productimg/C/CX1884.JPG
Imports from Japan and Europe typically had four controls: a fan switch, a heat slider or dial, and a vent selector, plus an independent AC control. The method seemed a lot more sensible to me: are you hot (turn up the heat) or cold (turn on the AC), how much air do you want flowing (fan) and where do you want it (vent selector). Figuring out how to set the controls always seemed far more intuitive to me than the American controls.
One more recent modification is that often the AC is automatically activated (and sometimes cannot be deactivated) when defrost is selected, as the humidity reduction tends to improve defrost performance.
There's a similar design issue I've noticed particularly with clothes washers, where one style seems to specify the type of article you're washing: "knits", "delicates", "colors", "whites", and the other the specific wash conditions you want: water temperature, a
See: http://content.aolstatic.net/ProductImages/rvLarge/ZWG6141P_... (article descriptions)
vs. load size, temperature, options, and agitator settings: http://www.ajmadison.com/ajmadison/images/large/GTWP1800DWW_...
My observation is that I know the settings I want to apply, and where "outcomes" controls are specified, I've got to translate these into the settings I hope to achieve. What I prefer are options which allow me to select for settings, preferably along a range (e.g., heater intensity, fan power).
Another point is that in consumer goods, the distinctions between products very nearly always simply doesn't matter.
In a Starbucks world, there's a coffee roaster I love which has an exceptionally simple product line. Light roast. Dark roast. Regular. Decaffinated. And you can get your beans whole or ground if you like. But basically four choices. The beans are, of course, excellent.
I've elected for choice in many food purchases by avoiding mainstream grocery stores (the news late this week of P&G killing off a bunch of brands strikes me as comically irrelevant). While I've fewer "options" than MegaMonSantoFoods when shopping at Trader Joes, what I do have are generally simpler, less expensive, less processed, and healthier products. I've long since abandoned prepared breakfast cereals for oats (and add my own nuts, dried fruit, or other ingredients as I prefer). Fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy, and eggs are generally non-branded. Store products for cleaning, or vinegar and baking soda (both of which are surprisingly difficult to find in straighforward bulk forms) work fine. And the costs are lower.
My personal sense is that branding jumped the shark somewhere in the 1970s to 1980s, though we're only just starting to be aware of this in a broader sense.