The Paradox of Choice

Buying home appliances is hardly a rivetting experience, but a few companies are succeeding at making it friendlier, easier and… almost enjoyable!

Zanussi product searchZanussi-Electrolux takes a relaxed and friendly tone in presenting the different customer-related options on their Customer Service page.

Zanussi also have a stellar approach to product search. Picking an appliance based on name is impossible – you mean, you don’t know your ZSF2440S from your ZWF1631W? – and the specs all look the same after a while.

Their product search allows you to choose how important certain factors are to you on a scale of 0 to 4, to help narrow down the search to the most useful items. For example, looking at washing machines, it’ll ask you to rate five criteria:

  • I want to use the maximum speed
  • I like to select at the touch of a button what program to use
  • I like to use the best energy performance available
  • I want to wash all of my clothes in one go
  • I wear a lot of clothes that need ironing

Each choice narrows the selection down by greying out the items that don’t meet the criteria you’ve marked as highly important, leaving you with a smaller selection.

Matt from 37signals writes on the positive impact of limiting the consumer’s choice, as opposed to leaving them with too wide a selection.

Offering shoppers samples of six items yields more sales than offering samples of 24, students who are offered six extra credit topics are more likely to write a paper than students who are offered 30, etc. In some cases, just one additional choice can produce outright analysis paralysis. People wind up frozen by indecision.

Washing machines, dishwashers and other home appliances are inevitably going to come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, features and colours, so Zanussi’s useful product search is probably as close as one can get to avoiding paralysis and chronic indecision.

How can you make decisions easier when it comes to your product? Less choice? Better support towards decision?

[Note: This blog post isn’t entirely new, and was written last year for another blog project I never formally launched. If you come across it elsewhere, it isn’t because I stole it from another author 🙂 ]

Google Reader Shared Items: And what about the usability?

Everyone and their dog is complaining about Google Reader introducing the “friends’ shared items” functionality a few days ago, which enables users to share a selection of their feeds with friends. However, when introduced, Google automatically shared the existing “shared” feed, rather than letting users opt in. This caused an upheaval from people who, I suppose, had something to hide in their shared feed.

Google Reader Shared ItemsWhat has shocked me most with the crash landing arrival of this new feature is the poor usability of it. When Scoble suggested Google should add more granular control over privacy settings, he also asked readers to share feeds. I popped into my own Google Reader and looked for an easy way to find Robert’s feed and share my own with a few people. Stumped. Completely. There is no easy way to “request” a feed from someone you’d like to follow, just as there is no way to share yours with someone who isn’t already a Gmail contact.

It’s quite obvious that the Google team will improve on this as soon as they recover from their Christmas meals, but I’m honestly surprised that the feature was released as-is. Some thinking is needed on the ease with which one can share, unshare, specify what should be shared, who it should be shared with and how it should be shared.

Until then, if you’re looking for my feed, it’s right here – I’ve been on fire today and added loads to my shared items. I promise to be more reasonable with the number of stories shared in the future.

RAC Traffic report: More technology isn't always better

I love tech. I truly do. In fact, I’ve got a severe condition called “gadgetitis”, which becomes particularly acute around tech expos and Christmas time where all sorts of new techy goodies are released. And I love beta versions, even though they’re flakier than Paris Hilton. I love sneak previews, even if the app turns out to only be worthy of the TechCrunch deadpool. It’s a terrible addiction and as far as I know, there are no cures.

By the same logic, I almost always say that the more technology, the better. Almost.

Today’s an exception. This is my plea to the RAC, once my most reliable source of up-to-date traffic news, to step away from the Flash animations and return to this old technology called text. The wonderful thing about text is that it’s clear, succint and doesn’t require any fancy plugins. It’s easy to use when on the road with only a phone at hand.

RAC Traffic website goes Flash - ack!

This new animation completely fails from a usability point of view:

  1. It doesn’t respect the KISS rule: Keeping it simple means it’s more widely accessible. Not everyone has Flash enabled. My iPhone certainly doesn’t. :S
  2. It’s utterly useless to someone who isn’t local. Very few cities, towns and villages are identified, no matter how close you zoom in. Why aren’t the primary non-motorway roads identified? It’s certainly not because the map is too cluttered!
  3. The usefulness of the information displayed is questionable, especially in comparison to the detailed alternative that used to be available. Is the slowdown due to sheer traffic density or are we dealing with a 6 car pile-up where the motorway might get closed? That’s far more likely to affect my decision of what to do next than telling me vehicles are travelling at 10mph.
  4. The colours, which represent severity of traffic, aren’t accompanied by a legend, so the user has to guess what the scale is!

With the holidays coming and more people on motorways driving long distances to see family and friends, it can be a lifeline, helping us make a quick decision on whether a detour is needed. I’m afraid that the RAC designers didn’t do their homework here. Back to the drawing board, guys!

[Crossposted to the Taptu blog here!]