Bad Choice: Giving The User No Choice

Martin Brinkmann
Jul 31, 2008
Updated • Nov 30, 2012
Mobile Computing

Experienced users love choice. I'm talking about the choice to turn on or off certain features that come with a product. It does not really matter if we are talking about software or hardware, choice can become important almost everywhere.

Most companies do not seem to think that giving the user choice is a wise thing to do. If you have ever installed a Windows operating system you probably know what I mean. But this article is less about Windows but about the general lack of choice in consumer products and one of the best examples that is affecting me day in day out is the blue blinking light of my Nokia N73 mobile phone.

The phone is starting to blink blue every five seconds or so if it is in sleep mode. Sleep mode has the advantage that the phone is using less battery. It is only possible to turn off the blue light if sleep mode is turned off which would mean that the battery of the phone would drain faster.

Nokia did not think that it would be necessary to give the user the choice to turn of the blue light of the phone but still offer him the choice to keep the sleep mode. The phone has to be placed with the face down to avoid the blue light which is annoying at night.

That's a case of bad choice on behalf of Nokia to give the user no choice at all but to live with it. I really cannot see the reason why they decided to construct it that way. I also fail to see why Microsoft is not giving its users more choice when installing Windows.

Most customers can probably live happily without facing choices which could make the products more difficulty but that's where custom setups and settings come into play.Give the average user the default installation but please provide experienced users with a way to customize the product accordingly.

Have you discovered a product like the Nokia N73 that is giving you no choice but to use a feature that you do not need? Let me know about them.


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  1. Josh said on August 1, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Hehe no I agree on this one… I simply cant understand why Microsoft provides so few options for customization…

    Considering users will find a way to change things anyway, why make it so difficult? In based on the fact Microsoft does deals like 20% discounts to Ultimate Vista users who purchase Stardock, they obviously have no problem with people changing Windows, so why make it necessary to patch the files?

    Ahh well…

  2. Joe said on August 1, 2008 at 5:47 am

    One of my biggest complaints about lack of choice is software that, when installed, doesn’t give you the following choice:
    where to place the program’s icon in the Start Menu.

    Beyond that, I have several titles from Wondershare (mostly obtained from Giveaway of the Day), that are spectacular programs. My choice complaint? The programs create a folder in your My Documents each time you open them (supposed to be the default Save location). I’d like to be able to decide where to save my work, and I’d like to keep my My Documents folder uncluttered!

  3. Justin said on July 31, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    I can agree with you on that.

    On Nokia, is N73 emitting a blue LED light like N81 is emitting a white LED light? My N81 is also flashing an LED every now and then when in sleep mode. But, I don’t really find it annoying though.

  4. Martin said on July 31, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Justin I mean to offer a simple setup and a custom setup. Users who do not want choice can use the simple setup, everyone else could use the custom one. Heck, they can even hide it from the normal installation and offer it only by issuing a specific command.

  5. liz said on July 31, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    This is one of the primary reasons I use Linux. ;)

    @King: I agree 100%. Evince, the PDF reader I use over here in Ubuntu, loads MUCH faster than Adobe Reader. The document is far easier to read and work with as well.

  6. Dotan Cohen said on July 31, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    You could simply bust the blue LED like I’ve done on several gadgets of mine. I’ve even done it to the led under the scrollwheel in my mouse. Just don’t bust the LED for the laser.

  7. Justin said on July 31, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    When given many choices, many users will start to complain: why can’t you make Windows installation simpler? Why is it not smart enough, and ask me every little detail?

  8. Martin said on July 31, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    King I can understand that companies want to keep their products as simple as possible to reduce support and maintenance costs of the product.

    I still prefer to have more choice and I do not think that it should be a huge issue in most cases for the companies to implement those options.

  9. King said on July 31, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    For every configuration alternative you provide someone, you create another “branch” in the support tree of possible problems, behaviors, and solutions. I’m not justifying lack of choice, I love choice and I agree with your assessment in the phone case.

    But I sympathize with the other end, too. Every time you offer a new feature, it expands your support issues, so you are incented to keep the choices within a “certain range.” Of course, this range differs from person to person and so no product will ever be perfect in everyone’s eyes. Especially when someone uses the product in a way none of the designers foresaw.

    I agree with you about blue lights, my brother-in-law bought a new Dell with a big, honking, blinking blue light when it sleeps and it lives in the guest room and it’s *very* bright at night! I’m sure nobody at Dell thought about this use case, though.

    But when you come upon something like this, email the company, maybe your use case will be considered in the next version of the product! At least then, if they don’t do it, it’s because they *chose* not to, not because nobody thought of it.

  10. iampriteshdesai said on July 31, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Too many choices are bad too. Try reading PDF on windows and eviewer, the PDF reader for Ubuntu and you will love eviewer, simply because it has only 3 buttons (forward backward and something else.)

  11. mike said on July 31, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    rarst – what’s wrong with vista? are you saying mac is better?? yo momma uses vista.

  12. Rarst said on July 31, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    I’ll keep mouth shut or this turns into fifth comment war about Vista. :)

    Seriously I am more often bothered by obviously lacking features than extra unneeded ones.

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