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I built a photo slideshow web page as an exercise for myself.

One thing I found myself doing was adding a Settings button. Clicking this reveals a little settings pane that lets a user choose between two different transitions (or no transition at all), as well as between Slow, Medium, or Fast for the transition's speed.

I didn't want to make the button obtrusive, so it's hidden most of the time: if a user moves their mouse near the button it fades to partly visible Otherwise, it's hidden. Additionally, to show the users that it exists, it's partly visible for a second or two when they first load the webpage.

I don't have a lot of UX experience, and one of the biggest things I've been asking myself is, 'Do users actually want/need these choices? Will they be a cool feature or just confusing or annoying?'

In general, what's the best practice when it comes to giving users options or choices?

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Users think they like choice but actually hate it. So make them feel like they are powerful and in control without forcing them to make decisions. –  Rex M May 17 '11 at 20:50

10 Answers 10

up vote 22 down vote accepted

If you choose to have a settings button, you should make sure it's always discoverable. Users can be distracted at any point of time and for any length of time - don't rely on those two seconds after page loading, because the user might just be busy looking at the whole page (or that other tab she was loading simultaneously).

Now whether you choose to give the user that settings page at all is entirely up to you. Find out who will use that page and design it accordingly. If you will be the main user, it's trivial. Otherwise, keep in mind: You are not your user, and you're quite likely to be wrong when you're just guessing (we all are).

In my opinion (and I don't mean to patronize, so forgive me if it sounds that way), if you want to do it properly - even though it's "just" a personal side project - you should try to find out what your users want, ideally by showing them the page and actually watching them use it. It's called Usability Testing, and Steve Krug has written a great book about it.

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...although you might want to move the settings button out of the picture area if you follow my advice ;) –  Jan May 13 '11 at 14:32
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+1 for 'asking users.' –  jameswanless May 13 '11 at 17:34
    
Good points about making sure it's always discoverable. I was secretly hoping to avoid actual testing, but I understand that it's the best way to make a decision. Thanks! –  Nathan Greenstein May 14 '11 at 0:31
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"You are not your user" - I like that, good point. –  Mooz May 17 '11 at 1:18
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That saying actually has two parts, the second being "...and neither is your boss" :-) –  Jan May 17 '11 at 7:54

Settings are a good idea as long as they are kept to somewhat of a minimum. You don't want to overwhelm them with options, but something like what you did here is a perfect example of options a user might want. Some people love transitions, and others are annoyed, and want it just to change quickly. Also the way you presented it initially and then faded it back was a nice way to hint that it is there, but prevents it from being obtrusive.

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If displaying pictures is the main purpose of your page (ie, you're making a photo gallery), then having fine-grained controls is a great idea. Just make sure they're not in the way.

But, if you're using a slideshow to supplement an existing web page (ie, adding a screenshots to a product landing page), you probably don't need slideshow controls because the pictures aren't the main purpose of the page. (You'll rarely hear visitors say "I love your website — but you could add a checkerboard animation to the screenshots area? Then I'll buy ...")

So, be careful not to over-engineer.

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-1, as you're making a sweeping generalization here. You've decided that "users don't need settings on a slideshow; they'll just get in the way." This opinion is based on exactly what? Then, "The defaults in your example are perfect. No settings are needed." Again, this is based on what? What if the transition is too fast for some users' visual acuity? What if there are things that should have options based on what the slideshow needs to do? –  jameswanless May 13 '11 at 17:32
    
Argh! Phillip, don't do that to me. With something like a slideshow my expectation is that I will have some measure of control - if that's taken away from me, I'll go elsewhere. As James mentions, simple things like the speed of transitions is important, and I bet you a delicious bowl of bibimbop that what is right for you is not right for me. –  gef05 May 13 '11 at 20:55
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Sorry, Steve Jobs took over my computer. :) Sorry, what I meant to say is that if displaying pictures is the main purpose of your page (ie, you're making a photo gallery), then having fine-grained controls is a great idea. But if you're using a slideshow to supplement an existing web page (ie, adding a screenshots to a product landing page), slideshow controls will just clutter up your design, because the pictures aren't the main purpose of the page. –  Phil Cohen May 13 '11 at 23:19
    
Post re-written to be less inflammatory. –  Phil Cohen May 18 '11 at 20:18

This reading may help: Iyengar, S. and Lepper, M. (2000) When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 79: 995-1006.

Sheena Iyengar has also written other pieces on choice and it's effect on decision-making.

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Sounds good, I'll take a look. Thanks! –  Nathan Greenstein May 16 '11 at 23:51
    
+ 1 for citing an acadmic paper. I can't remember what I've read in where. but my recollection is that users like to FEEL that they have a choice (ie that they are in control); but often don't actually like having to make the decisions about the choice (particularly if they are choosing between options which seem similar). –  PhillipW Dec 5 '13 at 8:32
    
Yep. It's going to seem like more conscious effort if they have a lot to choose from: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hick's_law –  rstage Jan 15 at 21:44

I think that this talk is very useful in relation to your question:

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice.html

The presenter discusses the implications of how choice and the abundance of choice affects people both positively and negatively.

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Watching right now :) Thanks for the link. –  Nathan Greenstein May 16 '11 at 23:51
    
Yeah, TED talks are amazing. Should watch some others while you're at it! :) –  Mooz May 17 '11 at 0:08
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It would be nice to have a summary of why your link is useful, so your answer is useful in its own right. –  Kit Grose Oct 17 '12 at 12:57

On general web choice psychology Susan Weinschenk has some interesting perspectives in her book "What makes them click". Perhaps, also her new book "100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People" could be useful as well (haven't read it yet, though).

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As much as people want choice, they don't want to have to make too many decisions. Apple, as an example, errs on the side of less choice, providing only the options which 80% of users need, even if most of them never even touch the settings.

In this specific case, a better way of showing UI elements which would otherwise be hidden is to have them visible as the mouse moves, if the user is commonly not moving the mouse, mind you.

QuickTime X and other video players are good examples of the "on-demand UI".

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Alan Cooper suggests designing for the intermediate users.

The thinking being that users don't remain beginners for long but very rarely will they put in the time to become experts.

Those on the sales side want the design to cater to beginners because that is where sales happens.

Programmers want the design to cater to experts because they want power over their understanding of the implementation.

Sounds like the right track is to keep it discoverable and verify with some user testing.

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One consideration not brought out in the other answers is the difference between what is available and what is prominent. Your settings interface should expose the options that are most important to most of your users, which you will identify through user testing, review of comparable sites, analytics (seeing what people actually do post-release), or other means. You should be reviewing both which settings to expose and how many to expose, the latter to avoid "analysis paralysis".

However, you may have more-specialized options that a smaller number of users will care about, but they'll care enough to really want them. Some places you'll find these "in the wild": the "advanced" button in a configuration interface, Firefox's about:config settings, and those extra controls on your digital camera that fine-tune light levels, white balance, etc. In all of these cases the default behaavior is reasonable for most users, but those requiring extra control -- because they're advanced, because they have accessibility needs, or just because they're very particular for some other reason -- are available.

How much of this should you do? That really depends on your research and your context. For an application that people will be "living in" (like an operating system), you'll probably end up with more. For a web site that users will spend 15 minutes on, anything beyond basic settings is probably overkill, so be governed by your use cases.

One last thought: there is no value to settings that users don't know are there. If you have an interface, make sure it is discoverable. This might mean always-present (persistent gear icon, for example) or contextually-dependent (YouTube's player controls that appear when you mouse over a video that's playing). I'm having trouble thinking of a case where only time-based is a good idea, particularly for a web site where someone might have chosen "open in new tab" and won't even look for some time yet.

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I think this is more of a question of your target audience, and who will actually be using your creation.

I am all for making things more pleasurable to use, and controls like the ones you are talking about could be nice to have, depending on who is going to end up using it.

For me, as an amateur photographer when dealing with photography, the less distractions while I am actually looking at photos the better, so I actually like your idea of handling the settings button, as long as it is unobtrusive.

It seems like you are on the right track. As long as you make the options easy to use and not there just for the sake of being there... If you feel that the options you are giving the user enhance their experience, then go for it. If it doesn't add anything useful that your target audience will actually use, then there is really no point in adding it.

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