Some of you might recognize this witty quote from “Absolutely Fabulous”. And for those of you who don’t, the British comedy show yields countless quotable quips from the lips of Jennifer Saunders. But when I recently heard it again, it occurred to me how appropriate this is to today’s intricate world of design. Computers and machines have invaded every aspect of design, production and distribution producing countless options at the stroke of a key. Choices are so numerous as to induce selection paralysis. Being overwhelmed we tend to do nothing or select the most convenient object. Too much choice can also numb our senses. For example, supermarkets hold as many as 50,000 items. But on average I walk out with less than 20 ignoring the vast majority of options.
What hinders selection is when you have products that are ever so similar yet bloated with useless features, trying to differentiate themselves (think cell phones or computers). Marketers hype the latest and greatest by dumbing down intricacies of ingredients, technologies and features with catchy taglines. Stores have eternal sales ensuring we feel like we always get a great deal. Where could we ever find the time to research, test and choose?
Even at the top of the pyramid, where you’d think there’d be fewer but superior products, that peak has eroded away. Luxury manufacturers are not immune to their own dilution. Even BMW has almost 60 different versions of their ultimate driving machines. Why can’t they just make a few, really extraordinary, safe and reliable cars?
There are manufacturers who try and perhaps come close to limiting their products. Apple’s selection of computers is sparse compared to Dell. But even with such a small selection, their product lifetimes are very short causing us anxiety over whether to buy or wait. Of course when it comes to products for your home, the need for a sofa is more immediate and its lifetime tends to be a lot longer than an IPod. But the decision process is made no less difficult.
There are options such as consumer reports or online blog and review sites for most mass produced items, although a lot of it tends to be recycled from manufacturers press releases. Shopping for one’s home interior, however, has its own peculiarities involving higher budgets and more significant long term decisions. In my opinion, these seas are perhaps better navigated with the assistance of professionals.
Just as the quality of a doctor’s diagnosis is usually superior than WebMD’s, a professional contractor, architect or designer can take one’s needs and desires and formulate definitive goals and ensure they achieve them. We’re all quite familiar with products and options and have usually narrowed down acceptable choices. And how satisfying it is to just say “here is what I like, just show me three options that fit those criteria.” And boom they appear. No more frustration!
It has been postulated that we’re happiest with our final choice when only presented with a few. So I vote for any situation where there are only a few really, really nice choices. How are about you? Let me know what frustrates your buying process. Do you want more choice or just nicer things?