Getting Real: The problem with preferences, interface design, and the customer experience

Getting Real: The problem with preferences, interface design, and the customer experience.

At 37signals we’re pretty anti-preference/setting. When we Get Real
we try to make informed decisions for the people who use our products
so they don’t have to think about preferences or settings or
adjustments — they can just use the product and know that the people
who built it already thought about the best ways to design it, use it,
and view it.

Of course we can’t and don’t want to make every
decision, and we do have some preferences here and there, but we really
try to avoid them. We see preferences as procrastination — “eh, let the
customers worry about it later.” And, yes, from time to time some
people complain that the product doesn’t do exactly what they want
exactly when they want and exactly how they want, but we can live with
a little dissent so long as the vast majority can get down to business
without having to tinker.

Building in user-definable preferences
and settings also means more software, and we’re all about less
software. For every setting you have at least 2 conditions (and often
times many more than that). And for every condition you have to present
a different interface. Some preferences are small and don’t change the
UI much, but when you start combining this preference with
that preference your customers will quickly end up seeing a screen
you’ve probably never seen.
Are you comfortable, as a product developer, delivering a screen you’ve never seen?

that’s the point I want to make. One of the hidden dangers of highly
customized software, and products flush with preferences, is that it
becomes very difficult to craft an ideal customer experience. If you
have 10-20 preferences, each with a few different options, you can
pretty quickly build up hundreds of different display scenarios. And
while you can test the software side, it’s exceedingly difficult to
test the experience and interface side. Have you ever seen
choice 3 of preference 7 combined with choice 1 of preference 12 along
with choice 5 of preference 4 and choice 2 of preference 9?

be careful when you add preferences. Preferences aren’t free. Each one
adds a little more uncertainty to the customer experience you are
selling. The goal is to find the balance that best suits you and your
customers, but don’t always assume more customer control is the better
choice.  [Signal vs. Noise]

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