Default is king

In general, people do not customize their tools or environment. They tend to work with whatever was the initial setup. They may be dissatisfied about that setup, yet they may not speak about it. If the dissatisfaction remains, then that will eventually result in a negative consequence: frustration, lack of motivation, etc.

Some software developers and UX experts have long known about this truism. Most people never change their applications' settings beyond the default.

A good example is Slack notifications. By default, Slack notifies you when you are @-mentioned in a channel or when you are directly messaged. Not all notified messages are urgent. Needless to say, notifications distract you from concentrated work. At the workplaces I have visited, I have witnessed two responses to this issue:

  1. Some people deliberately ignore notifications when they are concentrating, or they setup Slack in such a way that they don't see notifications while concentrating. They only check for new notifications when they are done with concentrated work.
  2. Some people become frustrated and wish that the sender do not bother them unless it's urgent or during well-specified times, such as the end of the day.

It appears that people in the second group are larger in numbers. My interpretation is that people in general do not bother to customize the default behavior of their tools. This statement is not meant in a judgemental way: I am not stating whether people should bother to customize their tools to their preferences, just pointing out that they don't.

Furthermore, this phenomenon extends beyond software, as the following anecdote shows. At another workplace I have visited, a new employee was setup with a laptop. The company did not have spare monitors and keyboards. Her manager asked whether she wants to have a monitor and a keyboard, to which she answers no, the current setup is fine. This answer from the employee was peculiar, because working with a laptop for long periods of time without additional devices is not ergonomic. Several months later she was diagnosed with RSI, after which her manager decided not to ask that question anymore and to prescribe monitors and keyboards to all employees.

Why do people not tend to bother with customization? Perhaps they do not fully realize the need for it until it's too late. Perhaps they feel like they should not, and would rather wait in frustration until something or someone else solves it. They may not even have consciously thought about this: it is said that most human behavior and thoughts are automatic, not deliberate.

Whatever the reason, default is king. It is up to us – the ones who supply and setup the tools and environments – to optimize the default. Don't expect people to customize things to their individual needs.