When Customization Goes Too Far

What if you have 100% control over everything? Do you think this would be a good thing? I’m sure quite a number of you will go “Hell, yeah!”

Well, I’m in the systems business and I’ve gotten my fair share of seeing people who would like their software or equipment exactly as they wanted it and yet regret it when its finally delivered. Believe it or not, in the overwhelming majority of the time people don’t really know what they want.

The reason why I wanted to post about this issue is because I’ve just read this post about extremely customizable pizzas and the results that follow a particularly strange order.

Am I the only person who thinks that the options presented to the customer is bordering on overkill? To put it in perspective, try comparing that pizza ordering form to the one showcased on this web site selling affordable life insurance.

Pizzas are a once off order and couldn’t even be considered as an investment regardless how you look at it. Life insurance on the other hand is an investment in which significant strategic planning is required. Yet, the pizza ordering form is much more complicated than the one by the insurance company!

If there was one thing that I learnt in software development is that people think they want full customization. The facts on the other hand show that a huge majority of people get overwhelmed when they have too many choices. Balancing users’ needs and the necessity to reduce “dirty input” is quite hard to achieve.

Therefore, whenever I can, I try to reduce user-defined options to the bare minimum. This does not mean that I’m forcing users of my software to live with the said few options. The more advanced options are usually tucked away under a different section where the “power users” should have no problems accessing them. They are also more thoroughly documented.

So which school of thought are you from? Uber-customizable or keeping it simple?