I Have a Headache: The Problem with Too Many Choices

 I Have a Headache: The Problem with Too Many ChoicesI went home to New York City for a wedding a few months ago and introduced my boyfriend to one of the wonders of the city that never sleeps. Pharmacy chain, Duane Reade at Times Square offers a two-story, 24-hour wonderland of over-the-counter choice with everything you could possibly need whether it’s liquid bandages, children’s sunglasses, organic fair trade mini chocolate bars and more. Perfect for wary tourists in need of some forgotten toiletries or impulse purchases.

When we were checking out, I noticed a display of simple cardboard boxes with declarative phrases on the front such as, “I have a headache” and “I can’t sleep”.  I found it curious that a company was positioning their brand so simplistically when there were shelves upon shelves dedicated to headache and sleep aides with dozens of different active ingredients, multitudes of packaging variations and several choices in medication delivery mechanism.

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The chart above offers real data about the seemingly infinite options available to the average shopper at a drug store.  Each thin line represents an actual product available for treating headaches.  With hundreds of seemingly indistinguishable options, no wonder there exists a company looking to find simplicity in the chaos.

Now, this post is not meant to be an advertisement for the company that makes the one-size-fits-all over the counter drugs, but it does pose an interesting question: why do we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with choice in consumer packaged goods when we eschew such complications in our digital lives?  From clean UX design to simple online forms to the austere product lines of top tech companies such as Apple, ease of use and user joy are tops on the priority list.  I’m sure anyone who’s ever labored over the decision of picking out the correct one of Tylenol’s 13 different varieties of aches & pains medication for children while a 2-year old yells at the top of her lungs, can tell you that choice does not necessarily lead to ease or joy.

Perhaps in the attempt to create better product experiences for our customers and more happiness in our own lives, we should seek simplicity over choice.

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