Default settings rule our lives. Very few of us actually change them, and when we do, we usually only change a setting or two.
Imagine starting up your device for the first time and having to set every single setting. While it may feel like that sometimes, most often you are presented with few to none actual settings upon initial start up.
Default settings are our best friend, they save us from settings overload on tools we are most likely not very familiar with. They exist because no one would use a tool if they had to learn every possible setting first.
Default settings are a big deal because they decide how most of the people will use any particular tool. Companies often shape default settings to force usage patterns in their favor. We unknowingly put a large amount of faith in the developers of our tools.
Facebook is a prime example for this with all of the heat they get for their privacy settings, which often default to share more than people think. [link] Microsoft was forced by the EU to offer users of Windows a choice as to their default browser, rather than automatically making it Internet Explorer. [link] Every company in one way or another has forced you to use their tool the way they want you to and encourage you to keep using more of their tools. Google, Apple, Amazon, there really are no exceptions here.
As long as the user can 1) use the tool the way it is intended and 2) not have any unexpected problems arise, people generally don’t think twice about default settings. They are necessary and we trust that the people who know more about the tool made the right decisions for us.
For the most part this system works. It runs like a free market. If you force your agenda down my throat too much, I’ll stop using your product and find a valuable alternative (assuming one exists). Companies have a vested interested in making intelligent default settings so that we are happy using their product.
But then there is the middle ground, the gray area in which some default settings are annoying but it is nowhere near severe enough to stop using the tool. Enter Microsoft Office. Since 2007, Office has shipped with “Calibri” as the default font in all of its applications whereas every version of Office since then has shipped with “Times New Roman” as the default font.
I’ve yet to realize the benefit of “Calibri” over “Times New Roman” so every time I install Office on a computer (which happens more often than you’d image as I’m the tech guy amongst my friends), I get to do a Google search for how to fix this lovely change of default settings.
What I find, more and more, is that I am not alone here. Try the search for yourself and see. Even schools provide instructions for how to change the default font back to “Times New Roman.”
There are two mistakes that Microsoft made here: 1) They may not have done enough research to realize that, for Office, “Times New Roman” is actually far more preferred to “Calibri” and 2) If there actually is some value to “Calibri” over “Times New Roman,” it was never explained to me as the user.
Here we arrive at the importance of expectation setting. I use Office with a certain expectation of how it will work and how my final product will look. If you change that without explaining to me the value of that change, I am pissed and I change it back.
Unfortunately for us, this middle ground in which a particular setting is annoying but not enough so for me to stop using the product is essentially the only ground. Here I stress the importance of intelligent default settings which surprise and delight the user rather than surprise and frustrate the user. Here too I stress the importance of making clear the value of a major default settings change between versions. (If Microsoft explained the value of their decision to default “Calibri” over “Times New Roman” I might actually use it rather than get frustrated and change it.)
There is so much more to be said about this topic. Thankfully most default settings work in out favor. Still, like Microsoft Office, there are many that don’t, which further sheds light on the importance of having an interaction designer to understand users’ needs with technology.
p.s. For those of you who’d like to change this default setting for yourself, a quick Google search should give you easy instructions.