The tyranny of choice

 

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The Independent Online

In late 2009, we set up our small creative partnership, Mylo Design. With the principle founders all joining straight from University and the freelancing world, we certainly couldn't be faulted for our enthusiasm and excitement. From the outset, we questioned everything we did in an obsessive manner and with these questions came answers, and with these answers came progress made and bills paid.

 

Among the long list of ‘lessons learnt’ was the way in which we went about managing choice when interacting with our clients. We generally followed the dogma that choice is good. We believed choice to be fundamental to our post-enlightened world, to the globalisation of capitalism over the past 350 years and consequently to the very same market we were trying so hard to establish ourselves in.

But it’s all about context. ‘Choice’, we realised, was a decision-making obligation that in many instances only acts as a restraint on one's ability to find clarity. Without clarity, it's often rare to conclude a worthy judgment. We’d defined choice within an ideological context and we were very wrong. Ideology sits comfortably within 'big pictures' whereas we were only really dealing with little drawings and experimental typefaces.

With this in mind, the tyranny of choice became recognisable almost daily. From the moment I rule out buying the tuna or falafel sandwich on my lunchtime trip to the supermarket, I become overwhelmed by array of options and the consequent choice I have to make. Anxiety levels push the minutes along and progressively I want everything there less and less to the extent that I'll end up buying something I know I don't want or perhaps even nothing at all. Hand in hand with these varied options came a distinct lack of clarity and a poor, irrational and inconclusive final choice.

A similar principle was mirrored as we sat in front of our first few clients with an array of design concepts we’re brilliantly happy with. Our quantitative approach to the presentation was creating some uncomfortable grunts and indecisive feedback, but the difference between here and the supermarket was that we were being paid to make certain decisions based on our clients requirements; and to produce work that represented those decisions. Despite this, we were producing work that served only to illustrate what choices had to be made.

So we started to delve far deeper into the space between what our clients wanted and what they needed. We thrashed out as many ideas as we could at the earliest possible stage, socialising our client relationships where possible and discussing, analysing and researching the array of options rather than conceptualising them in the form of designs. It is these early meetings that became invaluable as not only were we fully establishing what the brief is and what choices were needed, we were also able sell our individual enthusiasm, ideas and beliefs to the client, face to face.

Once we had a concept or two to show, we became far more open and honest about the journey that took us there, which justified our work infinitely better than we had ever hoped. We were saving time and producing better work.

Some of the best advice we were given is to remember that your business should be trying to solve a problem. However small your problem may be you are trying to fix it; you're aiming to change the world one step at a time. In solving these problems you're adding value for your clients and being rewarded for it whether it be through payment or a more intrinsic sense of achievement. Generally, the greater the problem solved, the greater the value and reward – however, within this particular area of work we had begun to appreciate that despite eventually providing our clients with strong branding and impactful websites, we had along the way, made the initial problem bigger than it needed to be. The added distance between problem size and end value created was directly proportional to reduced profit.

It may seem a little strange to place such an emphasis on the concept of choice but as a service agency like us, there's so much more to a project than just the delivered visuals, as pretty much every phase of each job involves a set of decisions that, if addressed thoughtfully, lead to a better end product and a better process - both of which, when combined, equate to your client's perception of you and your work.

Perhaps in the early days we were hedging our bets. The number of concepts we showed was probably proportional to the lack of experience and confidence we had but once we took responsibility for the choices we were paid to make, we started to find business fun. Because problem solving tends to be so. Whatever business you run, look to uncover every detail about the problem you're addressing and make choices accordingly to find your solution. You'll roll out better work and do so with a bigger smile.

Tom Cledwyn is a founder of www.mylodesign.co.uk

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