Fries or Salad

Recently, I installed a new keyboard application on my tablet. During the setup, I was presented with a window asking me to identify my typing style as either “Precise” or “Rapid”.

Fair enough – that sounds like a pretty reasonable choice.  Take a closer look at the descriptions, though.  I have to choose between being either:

a careful typist who often chooses predictions

or

a fast typist who relies on auto-correction

These two choices could not be more different.  It’s like asking the user “Are you a meticulous perfectionist or a wild-thumbed loose cannon?”

The truth is, everybody who texts probably falls somewhere in between these two extremes. I am reasonably fast but also try to be careful. I choose predictions and I also make use of auto-correction.

From the developer’s point of view, presenting the user with this type of choice makes perfect sense. The application has two modes – one for more precise typists and one for more rapid typists – and therefore two corresponding choices. As a user, however, being pigeon-holed into either of these profiles gives the impression that choosing one means missing out on what the other profile may have to offer.  If I choose Precise, will I get less effective auto-correction?  If I choose Rapid, will I be offered fewer choices for predictions?

I’m being forced to choose between fries and salad – but why can’t I have a little of both?

A more elegant way of framing this choice is to let the user place themselves on a spectrum between these two extremes using a slider.

Something like this:

The trick is, though – even with the slider, there are still only two profiles: Rapid and Precise.  Nothing behind the scenes needs to change.  But wait, if there are still only two profiles, what is the point of using a slider?

The benefits of using the slider are twofold.

First, instead of being forced to describe themselves in absolute terms, the user can describe themselves as a compromise between the two extremes.  This gives the user the feeling of being understood instead of just being profiled.

Secondly, the slider gives the impression that the application is smarter than it actually is.  Instead of the user recognizing that they’re being lumped into one of two user profiles, the user feels as though the application is striking a balance to perfectly suit their needs.

Behind the curtain, what’s happening with the profiles is very simple.  If the user sets the slider lower than 50% we will use the Precise profile and if they set it at 50% or above we will use the Rapid profile. In fact, from a user experience point of view, we don’t want the word “profile” to ever cross the user’s mind.  The information we want the user to take away from this is that the application is tailoring itself to their needs, and that it is doing so with great precision.

The one-or-the-other approach gives the user the impression that the application is profiling them and lumping them into one of two stereotypes. You’re either rapid or you’re precise. You use predictions or you use auto-correction. You’re a perfectionist or you’re a loose cannon.

We don’t ask people “Are you happy or sad today?”

We ask them “How are you?”

The slider approach is more human.  It’s about communication.  When the user tells the application who they are, the application tells the user that it understands. The user doesn’t have to choose between fries and salad – they can feel like they’re having some of each. Simply by framing a choice differently, we can empower the user and also give the impression that our application is “getting them”.

I’m a complex man with a typing style full of subtlety and nuance and I would like to be treated as such.

If that’s too much to ask, the least you can do is pretend.