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"Paradox of Choice" - Giving a user more control via options, configuration, and settings is counter-intuitive from a UX standpoint. We expect users will relish their total freedom of choice when, in reality, it causes anxiety and decreases satisfaction with the outcome of the task.

I'm talking about psychological mind-bombs like this. I frequently cite Barry Schwartz's idea when working with developers who insist that a simple option or two (or three) is all that's needed to solve a problem.

It's easy to balk at this idea because we personally value the freedom of choice. Unfortunately, few people assess its negative side-effects which can directly impact UX.

What are some of your other favorite ideas and principles like this?

Update: found a relevant resource here http://uxmyths.com/

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...I had a very similar discussion with a developer the other day. Even though he could be considered a "super-user", when he considered an Android phone, he didn't like the multiple-step process of specifying which apps this new app would have access to... from his point of view, even though he had the capacity to make those decisions wisely, he wanted to defer those decisions to the developers of the apps... –  jffgrdnr Jul 14 '10 at 18:36
    
Good/fun question! –  DA01 Jul 14 '10 at 18:42
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re: the sample and android, I find that a great example: Android vs. iOS. From a bullet-point feature/spec list and user customization, Android wins hands down. And that seems like a good thing. Yet the iPhone still dominates due to the simpler (or at least perceived simpler) interface. –  DA01 Jul 14 '10 at 18:44
    
Cool question! :D –  Allan Caeg Jul 15 '10 at 2:34
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Arg, choosing a "best answer" is going to be tough. –  noluckmurphy Jul 15 '10 at 13:23
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6 Answers 6

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There are a lot of similar design misconceptions that I still encounter in many projects (coined by clients, sometimes even by usability practitioners), like:

  • People can tell you what they want
  • The homepage is your most important page
  • Design has to be original

etc.

I've been collecting these for some time, you can find them on UX Myths.

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Thanks, Zoltán. I found your site a few days after posting my question and have since added your reference to the bottom. Great site. –  noluckmurphy Jul 23 '10 at 13:45
    
Don't forget "above the fold". I'm constantly amazed that that silly concept hasn't died yet. (Same goes for 'no more than 7 links!') –  DA01 Jul 23 '10 at 14:07
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One I like is Steve Jobs' opinion of focus groups.

"It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."

One would think asking users what they want would be the best way to cater to their needs but it turns out that what people think they want is rarely what they actually want. (Which helps validate user testing, IMHO...once people SEE what they asked for, they realize it doesn't mesh with what they truly need).

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The generalization is, of course, "design by committee." I think that's a good one. People assume that the more minds and brains behind a problem, the better chance the resultant solution will succeed. –  noluckmurphy Jul 14 '10 at 20:29
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The Steve Jobs comment reminds me of Henry Ford quote “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” –  Leah Jul 15 '10 at 0:53
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Users don't read instructions / web content - They just GO and DO

I unfortunately don't have any expertise in regards to whether this is intuitive or not, but I have often considered the irony in my own personal behavior (and I would argue in the majority of the population) of how "Reading the Instructions" doesn't seem to apply in web forms, charts, graphs, etc.

Mike Hughes (UXMatters.com) says it this way:

“Users skip static elements, such as instructional text, because they focus immediately on downstream actionable objects."

We just seem to play until we figure things out... and only after we get stuck do we read the instructions...

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I'd say that's universally true. Be it a web site or a new DVD player. –  DA01 Jul 14 '10 at 18:48
    
I came here to post exactly that. I have to remember "users don't read" to myself every time I'm working on content. –  Luis Parker Jul 14 '10 at 18:53
    
Hehe. That one feels very counter-intuitive because, as designers, we pour over the most minute of details. Our brains value that intro paragraph so highly! We fail to put it into perspective of the user and their task. –  noluckmurphy Jul 14 '10 at 20:31
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It's like they "owe it to us" to read the help copy we spent a week on ;) –  noluckmurphy Jul 14 '10 at 20:32
    
No kidding! I don't even read my OWN content on my OWN site after I've written it up! Who cares about all that blah blah regarding my blah blah and the company's blah blah? –  jffgrdnr Jul 14 '10 at 20:47
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Users don't read instructions / web content - They just GO and DO

Actually that's not quite true.

If you give a user an interface which is fairly familiar they'll just try to guess their way around it (as its 'intuitive).

If however you give them an interface which is totally unfamiliar, then they'll realise that they can't just guess their way around it - so they have to read the instructions / go on a training course etc.

Because they have to read the instructions / go on the course - they actually end up understanding the 'non-intuitive' interface better than the intuitive, easy to use one...

And this is all covered in this paper:

Paradox of the Active User

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Interesting. I can see the distinction between familiar and unfamiliar interfaces. –  noluckmurphy Jul 15 '10 at 13:19
    
An interesting paper, but all the references are 15+ years old, so its relevance to modern computing is dubious, though I'm certainly not suggesting that its conclusions are false. A more recent paper would have more gravitas IMHO... –  MarcusT Jul 19 '10 at 14:23
    
The paper's actually 22 years old (1988). Obviously if we're talking about MS DOS, computers have changed hugely over the period. However the interface of say Hypercard on a 1988 Mac would work in a way which is common to current interfaces (which isn't surprising given that Apple pretty well defined the current interface rules 25 years ago). –  PhillipW Jul 21 '10 at 22:10
    
It's the same thing. The totally unfamiliar interface is the problem: after you encounter it, you seek help. –  Illotus Oct 22 '10 at 6:19
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Users don't want to have fun, they want to complete their task.

I have never found this to be true, but many people in my experience have insisted on it.

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Task completion is paramount, of course, but the best systems will make the process itself enjoyable (yes, maybe even "fun"). So long as the "fun" doesn't get in the way of the goal, it's a value-add. –  Dan Newman Jul 15 '10 at 16:25
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I agree with 50% of that statement. –  Alex Feinman Jul 16 '10 at 12:52
    
I should have been more specific and said they ONLY want to complete their task. However, enjoying your task generally means you succeeded in accomplishing your goal too...otherwise its doubtful you really enjoyed it. –  Glen Lipka Jul 16 '10 at 13:54
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People prefer longer line lengths, but read faster with short lines

And all kinds of other behavior, where people would say they prefer one thing, but if you want to help them work better you need to actively ignore their wishes. Which still feels strange to me.

Same with the paradox of choice that DA mentioned.

Good resources for curious behavior:

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