Choices are the source of anxiety. Settings, switches, options. It's too much at points. Things that we don't need to have settings for, we have settings for. And it makes me crazy sometimes. We geeks are obsessive. And if you give us something to be obsessive about, we will be. However small it is.
You know, for a long time I used iA Writer instead of Byword — despite preferring the latter — simply because there was not a single user-changeable preference in the entire program? That's not to say, of course, that every app should be like that — indeed, at some point I did switch to Byword after vowing to pick my settings once and never change them again — but there is not nearly enough said about the bliss that comes with not even having the option to fiddle even if you wanted to.
Want some other examples of what I am talking about here? Sure. No problem. I got loads.
- The OS X Dock. I cannot tell you how many times I have switched off between the bottom and the right side. Hidden and not hidden. Pinned to the edge or in the middle like normal. I think, after all these years, I have finally settled on hidden on the bottom. But I'm not sure. Which is exactly my point here.
- The new Fantastical's white or dark theme. I settled on dark, but I must've thought about switching to the white one "just because" at least half a dozen times now.
- Tweetbot's new avatar settings. You can make them round, or you can make them rounded squares. I settled on rounded squares — but if the developer wanted a clear design direction here, why make this an option? Why make this something I have to decide on? And this applies to the above Fantastical thing too — why make me ponder, however subconsciously, that perhaps I made the wrong decision?
I could go on. But these are just some recent examples (of two apps that I absolutely love, by the way. They are as close to perfection in an iPhone app that I have ever seen). Of course, there is no right or wrong choice here. If it were truly right or wrong, I have faith in these particular developers that there would be no option to set it the "wrong" way. But still.
Take the new Simplenote. It got rid of everything. All the ads. All the settings. Everything. Save for one or two, very simple settings that you immediately know if you want on or off. They are the type of setting that you would be very opinionated about. And those are the best kind. But I suppose that might vary from person to person. Often times I'll even look at what other people online that I respect have set for their apps, as if somehow their choices and settings will definitely be good for me too.
But although some might not like, say, the rounded icons in the new Tweetbot, if there was no option to change them, I'd never even think about it. And, eventually, everyone else would stop caring to, bending to the seemingly hip new design trend. The account badges in the new Tweetbot though (you know, those little blue check marks under any verified account?) — those I found extremely annoying and turned them off without ever looking back.
So you see, choices are a complicated thing. With every choice a user has to make in an app, that app is that much more complicated by definition. And deciding what things to allow to be choices in an app is also complicated. I get that.
There needs to be a balance. A delicate balance. And perhaps it is impossible to know what that balance is. Maybe it's not. Any help in this area (you're more than welcome in the comments) would be greatly appreciated. Any help with dealing with settings in apps, and how not to get too caught up in fiddling would be greatly appreciated too. The more voices here, the better.
For there will always need to be choices for the user. Not every app should have no settings — certain apps need them, and need quite a bunch. But the ones that don't should have as few as possible.
If it's not for something that people (almost) certainly have a tremendously strong opinion about, the setting is just overbearing.