Eeny meeny miny moe

Android or Apple? Two years ago, I decided to replace my trusty brick and move into the world of clever telephones.

Visiting a retail outlet of many clever phones and not wanting to succumb to the designer stereotype, I avoided flashy iPhones and asked about Android alternatives. Shown dozens of Samsungs in quick succession, in addition to being given a spiel of options for each from a staff member, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities and left, brick in hand. Turns out Samsung produced over 56 different models that year alone, adding to an Android market of over 18,000 distinct devices. It’s no wonder such a vast assortment leaves people unable to choose.

Brands (such as Samsung) seek to increase our personal freedom through increasing choice, yet in doing so they present us with an over-abundance of options which has two results: Firstly, overwhelmed by choice, we are unable to take in information presented. Secondly, it reduces the chance, in our minds, that we will be able to select the “best” option. As a result, we freeze, unable to choose – we are faced with the Paradox of Choice. Simply refining the number of options reduces the intake of information and the chance of choosing badly, consequently speeding up our decision making process.

This may partly explain why Apple, with a select few phones on offer, dominates western markets and why, in 2014, Samsung chose to start reducing its product range by 30%. Yet refining your portfolio is not the only strategy in combating choice overload. Phonebloks, a popular startup adopted by Google, proposes a phone with a modular structure, enabling easy upgrade and customisation of functionality. Whilst primarily designed to reduce electronic waste, Phonebloks offers freedom by delaying and chunking choice. The buyer doesn’t feel quite so hemmed in by the choice they make at that moment of purchase, as they know that smaller purchases and changes to the phone can be made at a later date.

Dealing with an overabundance of choice isn’t just limited to the mobile phone market either; Tesco has taken a leaf out of Samsung’s “e-book” and claimed it may cut up to 30% of its range earlier this year. Innovia has also touched upon this subject within many of our projects. Optimising choice through a curated selection of products based on individual consumer needs is one method we used to create a more satisfying buying experience.

The ability to provide for specific use scenarios without overwhelming the market (and consumers) with options is a careful balancing act, and understanding which strategy is appropriate to which context is just one aspect our multidisciplinary teams of scientists, designers, behavioural specialists grapple with every day.

WRITTEN BY: James Salisbury

With a background studying product design, I have always enjoyed getting involved in diverse new fields where I could solve problems relating to the interaction between consumers and a variety of products/systems/brands. Turns out, this comes in quite handy in innovation consulting, where I am lucky enough to get involved in an assortment of projects that stretch my skills in translating insights into tangible concepts, and bringing these concepts to life. When not hard at work innovating, I dabble with adopting a minimalist lifestyle, avidly climb and experiment with animating in my spare time - all of which have their own specific problems to solve.