too many choices?

While running my errands after lunch yesterday I found myself in a certain mega-store that we all love to hate. Yes I admit it; I was there for as much as I detest it because it was on my path to the bank and where I do my copying and printing. I was on a mission looking for a certain brand and type of tea for my wife. Wouldn’t you know they had dozens of brands of tea as well as types of tea except for…you guessed it, the exact one I was looking for there. That section was empty, completely.

Later that day I went on another mission to discuss flooring options for a restaurant project with a local flooring supplier. Now I realize this is architectural now and not just grocery shopping, so this ought to be fun and exciting. Wrong. As usual I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of flooring materials available in such a small space. The fact that they were renovating to add more to their offerings and the store was a mess added to my stimulus overload. I had a pleasant meeting with an associate, yet it was difficult to narrow down choices that I could take back to my client because the sample boards don’t carry prices. Is everything like a used car, up for negotiation? There were too many choices in some respect, but probably too few that I could afford or quite frankly…like. We discussed parameters so the associate could do some research and get back to me with recommendations in my budget range. I’m pretty sure all I can afford on this project is the concrete floor that’s already there. However I found it ironic that the first ceramic tile choice that I asked her to price was way over my budget. I tend to gravitate to the higher priced things in life. I consider it a gift.

This dynamic of choices occurs to me constantly. We have so many choices for everything that it makes it more difficult to choose anything. Have you ever seen the Cheesecake Factory menu? You could watch an entire major league baseball game in less time than it would take to read this tome of food options. This is what the market believes we want, more choices, yet the more choices we have the more time we waste pouring through options that are either above our budget or not useful to our circumstances. We have cable television with well over a hundred channels yet we only watch maybe ten channels in a given month. The cable company didn’t like when I proposed they cut my bill in half if I relinquish two-thirds of the channels of my choice.

In architecture and construction this is extremely evident. We have too many choices for virtually every building product but they still carry lead times. Home improvement stores picked up on this in recent years and they offer endless options, except the one you want. Trying to narrow down these choices for clients is an art in itself. At times it’s a bit like eating out with children. “Timmy, you can have the hot dog or the mac-n-cheese.” We must narrow down the choices for them in some respects. Not that they’re intellectually inferior, but it’s overwhelming otherwise and impossible to choose. It’s like trying to drink out of a fire hose.

As architects we spend much time reading and learning about new products so we can provide our clients the most information for them to make a decision. We are also constantly educating ourselves to the changes in the choices for how to assemble a building. Wouldn’t it be great to just build igloos? “Well, we have this in ice, ice or in ice. Which would you prefer?”

I love the legendary Henry Ford quote, “any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”


So to come full circle, have we gotten our request? Yes, we have choices. More and more choices are at our disposal. Yet despite the plethora of choices, the one thing I wanted today, was out, empty, zilch. Now I have to hold back the myriad of choice words going through my head.

top photo is from Slick Vic’s photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)

bottom photo is from wikipedia (used under the Creative Common License)

too many choices?

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