The problem with "Expert Mode"

December 27, 2013
516 words, a 3 minutes read

I hope you don’t see me as a pessimist for naming everything a problem. A principal once said, there are no problems but challenges. Well, here’s a challenge to search a solution for, for you. Some people think, the best way to handle the constant fight on usability vs. featurism and the ability to fine-tune everything, is to introduce an Expert Mode into Windows. Normal users use the (default) normal mode, but once you’ve gained enough experience, you switch to this Expert Mode where you can set every little setting to your needs. I think this would introduce a lot of problems, especially in a widely used software like Windows.

Everyone is an expert

Don’t you like being seen as an expert? People with a high self-esteem will always set themselves into Expert Mode. Why? People look up to you, they may even doubt you if you don’t fly in manual. This means, you have a lot of people with the permission to do wide-reaching settings (they’re experts), but with no ability whatsoever to really use them or estimate their impact. But remember, nobody wants to be the newbie.

Nobody wants to be expert

If you tell people “Only use expert mode when you’re experienced enough”, people fear of enabling it. WHEN are you experienced enough? Who wants to be the pilot? Your users may fear of being overwhelmed, with settings they would never understand, of it being too complicated. And don’t forget people who want to go back*. This is like setting your phone to Chinese (sorry for using this cliché) and setting it back. Fun game by the way ;) People want a way to go back into “Dummy Mode” (they feel like that if your expert mode is too complicated). And remember, they’re feeling like doing a brain surgery, so they don’t want to touch and explore every possible setting. * In my experience, always show people a way to go back to a state or screen they know. This is so important, I’ll make a blog post about that later.


This seems all pretty bad, but remember, we already have this setting in installers. How many times have you been asked if you use the normal mode (installing in C:Program Files, set shortcuts, [install toolbar]), or if you’re an “experienced user”? This is an Expert Mode too, but in a far smaller scope, but you can fine-tune more settings then. If you have a software that needs an Expert Mode (like Tasker), then check these things:

  • Is the relation between simple mode and expert mode settings transparent?
  • Have you introduced an easy way to switch back?
  • Do you still warn users if they do something hazardous?

So, I can’t really see an Expert Mode for Windows myself. If you think your software needs one, think about that for a long time, and plan it really well before implementing it. I hope you can learn something from this here. If you do it well, you don’t need an Expert Mode though, because you balance usability and the ability to fine-tune good enough.