When Choice Goes Bad

Years and years ago, I came to the conclusion that good software should only provide a few (3 – 5) choices of action at any given time. This was based on text menu systems before even the era of Windows or Mac. Personally, it just seemed too cluttered and too confusing to provide too many things to choose from. In part, I realized that having less choices made selection easier and definitely faster.

Move to the present and finally someone is declaring how this works. Barry Schwartz has written a book titled “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less” and has been promoting his ideas over the last few years. I found out about him from Richard Croft at the Sydney office. He has given talks to both Google and TED and both events were recorded and available on the Internet. The Google Talk version is approximately one hour long and covers the topic thoroughly. If you happen to watch this video, I would bet that you will change your mind about more choice always being a good thing.

Not only does Barry Schwartz cover the fundamentals of the current myths, but he also conclusively proves with market evidence that his theories are correct. It is a kind of wakeup call to companies that think that more options and products are always better. It is also important for software designers to realize that giving the user too much choice is likely to lead to a collapse and ultimately disuse.

My favorite aspect of his talk is that choice is directly related to personal freedom. Most free enterprise economies are based on competition which encourages more choice. This choice has a price however. The cost is that if the consumer is overloaded with too many possibilities, that nothing will be purchased and the person will go away disenchanted. In other words, having too much freedom can lead to frustration and ultimately not participating. Perhaps this is a factor in people in America not participating in elections. Logic would say this is not the case since there is only two major parties in America. However, if you look at the candidates based on policies, the choices become much more difficult. If decisions are too hard and people do not want to regret their decision, they simply will not make them.

From a Citrix angle, this video proves that the move towards simplifying the product line with Presentation Server was a very wise move. It also indicates that Citrix should do more more to better integrate product lines into a more composite solution with fewer choices to be made. Most customers do not want to have to choose all the time. Most would like for everything to work with almost no effort or decision. With Barry Schwartz’s theories, the minefield of too much choice can be navigated and even avoided. It’s nice to have such clarity from such a wise mind made available to the world.


Live near Brisbane, Australia. Software developer currently focused on iOS and Android. Avid Google Local Guide

Posted in Observations, Research
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