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Options and preferences

When you’re looking for something to remove, options and preferences are a good place to begin.

In general, options help users to customize their setup. This is classic expert behavior—experts want to get under their car and tinker with it, mainstreamers want to get in and drive.

I’ve found that options and preferences generally creep into designs when the design team isn’t sure what to do. Maybe there are two possibilities for navigating a website: breadcrumb links or drop-down menus. Both look good, so both go in. That way the user has a choice.

This sounds like it would be helpful, but should users be wasting their time figuring out which navigation technique is most convenient? That task is so far removed from a vision of a simple product that it never appears. Let’s go back to the Paris Hilton story for a minute. Imagine: you hand your camera to a friend who then determines which of the three available grip positions and shutter buttons is best. Your friend would be wasting precious time, and you’d probably miss your chance to take the video.

Simple user experiences don’t force the user to make these kinds of choices. It’s the responsibility of the design team to do that. The best way to decide is to try it out on some users. And if there’s no clear winner, and no dangerous pitfalls, then there’s no “wrong” design. Choose which one to implement and move on.

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