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Design for Persuasion: A technological view

This is a very interesting article I read yesterday. Using psychology to design for persuasion. One section that got me thinking was “The paradox of choice”.

The Opensource Initiative and the Free Software Foundation advocates the freedom of choice and competition within the technological world, among the freedom to share, study and modify software. With the various flavours and distributions of Linux, is this one of the reasons limiting the capabilities and adoption rate of Linux?

From the article, Dr Barry Schwartz identifies that people do not cope well with too many choices, which will lead to paralysis of making a choice. I personally feel this might be true to many people who wants to adopt Linux, but has too many choices to choose from. Even after choosing a distribution, the user has to choose between the various desktop managers, from Gnome or KDE to XFCE or Enlightenment. Not only that, the user has so many packages to choose from that might or might not work with the chosen desktop manager that the user chose. It forces the user to do his research and does a best guess which is suitable for the user’s needs. This in turn might cause the user to end up “less satisfied” with his choice, and in fact a bad impression of Linux. Schwartz then concludes that choices makes us miserable.

But having said that, providing only 1 choice restricts the decision of the user to one and only one way to go, having the user’s choice been decided for. This prevents empowering the user to make his own decision. For business people, empowerment is important in order to promote creativity and growth. This is what Apple does for their Mac OS X. The user has only one decision to make, to buy or not to buy. Furthermore, it provides everything the user needs out of the box, with the preconception of “it just works” mentality. I agree that this simplifies everything into a white box (or aluminium), but the user will not be able to feel any personal belonging and attachment to the product. The user will not want to participate in criticising or improving the product itself, leaving it all to the “master designer” to make all choices for them simply because they didn’t have a choice in the first place, being a “sheep”. Should there be any usability issues that arise, the user tends to just forgive the “master designer” without much thought. To me, this constricts improvement, creativity, growth, and development of the product, without gaining any actual feedback from the users.

The optimal approach seems to be a partial control over the choices the user has to make. Allowing the user a limited manageable number of choices in order to allow the user to process it easily without going through too much pain. This is where Microsoft should learn and create a balance for Windows. I suggest they should only provide 3 versions to consumers. Home (Premium), Business (Enterprise) and Everything (Ultimate), with the choice of adding or removing “certain” features on demand. There is clear cut focus edition for each of their target audience. Home edition targeted to their normal home users, Business edition targeted to their business users, and Everything edition targeted to their power users. They should segment it so that there is choice for the each individual user, without the regret or frustration of getting a “less superior” version. Of course, by identifying with these 3 focused target markets, Microsoft can then design the usability based on their target markets. Home edition will have the “it just works” mentality, visually appealing aesthetic design, and rich media capabilities; Business edition will have more business-oriented features like encryption, enterprise backup and control, and advanced network capabilities; Naturally, the Everything edition will have the flexibility and control given to the power users. You partially control what the user will make, yet still provide the choice of an Everything edition should your normal home users or business users require that additional control.

I’m not saying that many choices are bad, nor am I saying that having 1 choice is bad. But I would like to put the thought to you that having limited choices allows you to focus your resources on your target audience, allowing you to design similar yet individually unique experiences to different audiences thus answering the question “Could they do what I wanted them to do?” Buying without confusions, but with clear and easily consumable choices.

What do you think?

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