Society’s Default Settings

I was just visiting General Assembly for their talk by HUGE on user experience design. They did a really great job on  the talk and one of the things the speaker, Michal Pasternak said struck me “How can we design the page to best meet the objectives of the users?” Well, if you are a designer you think about this type of thing all the time. Really you are building systems and products in such a way that their design use is as simple and close natural behavior as possible to maximize the number of people that get what they came for from the experience. As I drove home this sunk in, and I realized upon arriving at home that I still hadn’t changed my dashboard clock from daylight savings.  I still had it at the “12:00” it had when I bought the car. Nor had I changed the settings on my oven, or very many of the defaults on my computer, phone, or anything else.

Over the next few days I talked to  people, doing my own polling and I asked if they had changed any of their settings on their web browser or stereo, or any of the other consumer products they have. Not very many people had actually taken the time to take advantage of the customization options that come with their products. And these setting are pretty simple to change. RESEARCH TIME.

Check this out! In 2011 the private research consulting firm, User Interface Engineering conducted a study and found that only 5% of users change their default settings in computing software. No matter how accessible or easy the setting were to find or manipulate. Most people would just settle for the default setting if the experience was satisfactory enough. They would, however, change the settings if there was some relative discomfort with the experience.

Now, I’m in “holy shit” mode because this principle applies to all of us, just about every where. How many uncomfortable nights do we sleep through before we decide to do something about our mattress, or go see a chiropractor? It kind of depends on the access we have to the change, and a cost/benefit calculation we seem to be making  based on the change and even the likelihood that it will work.   As I’m thinking about it in my bathroom, my mind is straight up blown. Because I have a leaky faucet, I hear the drip all the time and it bugs me. I also am paying more than I should for my water, and  I know we have global water shortage, AND that my county is in a water drought. But with all that information, the drip still doesn’t bug me enough to make me call my landlord, (who I hate talking to) and put in a request to have it fixed. The plumbing services also include expert blocked drains clearing in Melbourne.

Ok so what else are we doing this with? What else are we just accepting because it is “satisfactory”? Every one knows about corporate greed, and crazy advertising, and the death of the planet. The truth is, we still live in a, kind of, comfortable society. We are just adjusting our habits to fit the disparity between our situation and where we KNOW it should be. It’s like leaving the blinking “12:00” all day in our lives, because we don’t have the time or inclination to read the user manual and set the right time.

A lot of us are too busy running late to worry about the time on our car, because we substitute it with the clock on our phone or watch. So where else are we substituting in our lives? Are we doing it in the relationship we have, literally avoiding conversations because we don’t think there is a real resolution to the conflict?

We have all these defaults that are handed to us as we move through society, and if only 5% of us change them, then what potential are we missing to live beyond “satisfactory”. Furthermore, who is setting the defaults for us, and who is writing these manuals?  I can barely agree on a time to have dinner with 5 of my best friends, let alone consider addressing the worlds biggest issues. I have my own issues.

Isn’t that it though? Aren’t we so caught up in being late, that we never set the time aside to really set the clock, and make a schedule, and manage our time. It is as if we are dying, and the cure is just sitting on our counter about to expire. If we would only establish the habit of taking the medicine twice a day we would have far better lives. Is it possible the 1% of the richest Americans are really the 5% of the people that took the time to change the default settings in their lives, or had more optimized defaults in the first place?

Now I’m feeling really guilty , because I can’t take the time out of my day to set this stuff up, even though I know it will help and I need to. Are we all just destined to procrastinate our betterment until it hurts so bad that we can’t help but remember our medicine because of sharp constant pain? Will we only set the clock, after we’ve lost our jobs for being late so many times?

Maybe we should take a sick day just to reset our defaults.

I set the clock in my car this morning, and turned the article in a little late. You may call it a sacrifice, I call it an investment.