Once again Seth’s Blog hits the nail so firmly on the head it probably came out the other side. This one was posted a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been meaning to mention it ever since. In The magic rule of seven (and the banality of alphabetical order) he tackles lists, and how unhelpful they can be.
Firstly, drop-down lists on web pages. How annoying is it when, to complete your address, you have to select your country from a drop-down list, which is set inevitably to “Afghanistan” by default? You know what’s coming. You’re going to have to click on the drop-down, and try to hold the thing open as you scroll down 200 countries to find “United Kingdom”. I always find it amusing when I miss by one, and get “United States Minor Outlying Islands”, which may well be the same thing.
Godin specifically attacks lists being offered when the answer might not be on there. Job title, for instance. If you’re asking people to pick the one which is closest to the real answer (because you can never offer every possible job title), then it’s not more helpful to offer 200 choices rather than 20. In fact, as he points out, the brain can’t really cope with more than seven when trying to evaluate something.
And then there’s the obsession with alphabetical order. Giving someone a long list of known items to choose from? Alphabetical order is helpful. Offering a list of something they’re not familiar with? Alphabetical order just makes you look silly. I frequently come across manufacturer websites which list “our divisions” or “our product ranges” and promptly put everything in alphabetical order. The part of the company (or the product line) which generates 75% of the sales then appears sixth in a list of seven, as if it doesn’t matter. Just because it begins with “T”.