Dynamist Blog

Managing Choice

Reader Roger Thompson calls my attention to this funny take on too much choice, from cartoonist and interaction designer Kevin Cheng, who also has some interesting thoughts on designers' responsibility for limiting choices.

Lots of choice accommodates pluralism. As I wrote in my Reason article

Since different people care intensely about different things, only a society where choice is abundant everywhere can truly accommodate the variety of human beings. Abundant choice doesn't force us to look for the absolute best of everything. It allows us to find the extremes in those things we really care about, whether that means great coffee, jeans cut wide across the hips, or a spouse who shares your zeal for mountaineering, Zen meditation, and science fiction.

The challenge--to designers, marketers, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who offers choices--is to preserve the benefits of choice without forcing each of us to navigate an overwhelming number of choices.

Shortly after the Reason article went to press, I read this report (.pdf file) on a survey by the marketing firm WSL Strategic Retail. Respondents classified product categories like cereal, shampoo, or jeans into four groups: "Lots of choice organized in store so I can find what I want," "Lots of choice but organized in store to make it hard to find what I want," "Too Little/ Few choices," or "I always buy the same product so choice is not important." The results confirm many of my arguments, noting that "Shoppers want abundant selection, and most have figured out how to navigate the shelves to make the right choice." But the survey also points out that not every product category is equally easy to navigate. There's plenty of room for improvement in merchandising and (presumably) design. Among the most confusing offenders: jeans and cell phone plans, two frequent targets not only of anti-choice social critics but of overwhelmed consumers.

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