Satisficing. We all do it. In fact I did it just last week. HFIs latest article talks about the pitfalls of designing to satisfy rather than optimize workflows.
This study (and others in the works) clearly demonstrate that presentation design not only can, but does influence respondents’ choice behavior. The choice of response format in Web surveys can influence the response distribution.
If a respondent is picking a known response from a long list (e.g., their state or salutation title), dropdowns may be fine. However, when the respondent is comparing selection options, hiding data options can shift response patterns. In this case, the behavioral tendency of designers to use dropdowns to save space can be problematic.
Overall, we need to walk a middle path on average. Sometimes designing for preference is a good thing. Good for someone anyway. Whether it be for the business that pays you, or the user that hugs you. That’s all we designers want anyway: pay us in hugs.
Optimizing solely for performance can make those worker-bees work more bee-like, but maybe you also want them to be able to interact with something that looks pretty. I will never understand designers who say that all design decisions should be made based on researched Human Factors issues. Nor will I understand designers who continue to get hired solely on their ability to make Photoshop their bitch.
Design solutions are based on a multitude of prior compromises. You must understand the overall goal, but also the agendas (hidden and otherwise) of the people that work with you to create it’ll-do-for-now perfection. Understand your own agenda as well. Somehow, out of all this activity, you will create a solution that makes money for the business, doesn’t piss off the users, and allows you to come back to work on the second release.