More options, customization and UI widgets — because we can? 14:54 on Monday

How much of the interactions provided by current user interfaces are built just because they are easy to build? How much of those features we use only because the features are there?

For example, Google Mail doesn’t allow you to resize the columns: the From and Subject columns show what fits the pre-defined width and the Date column shows the date in the format and detail selected by the engineers at Google, not you. And you know what? It doesn’t matter.

In my regular email app, the OS X Mail application, the column widths are a never-ending pain in the immediate vicinity of my rear section: the column widths don’t stick and right now the Attachment column is taking around 100 pixels of screen estate. Somehow the Date Received column also tends to automagically expand to display the date in a way too verbose form. Both steal pixels from the more important From and Subject columns.

Of course this is a clear malfunction and not the way the adjustable columns were intended to work. But do we really need all the options available for customizing, adjusting and personalizing our user interfaces? I’ve never had the need to adjust columns in Gmail. In OS X Mail I have the need only because I can do it. How much better user experiences could we deliver by ditching the “because we can” thinking and using all our resources to focus on the stuff that really matters?

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