In the work I’m doing in online banking at the moment I had to label some functionality that provides a number of choices to the user such as how they receive their statements for each account and what their accounts are named.
As I was running through the possibilities it occurred to me that the often-used label “Settings” is a very system-centric term. Its something that I’ve come across in so many times in so many places that I almost used it by default. Thinking about it from a user-centred perspective however, people have preferences, systems have settings. Isn’t the act of configuring a setting really just someone articulating a preference in the language of the system they are using? Their preferences are then represented by the system as settings.
So – I’ve come to the conclusion that the section should be labelled “Preferences” with each choice expressed in terms of how the user would naturally articulate it as a preference rather than how it might be implemented by the system.
As an interesting aside, I notice that Gmail uses the label “Settings” at the top right but then suddenly switches perspective in its confirmation message of “Your preferences have been saved”.
Google settings example
Google's "Preferences have been saved" message
Perhaps the designer was having this same debate with themselves and decided to hedge their bets?!?