Having choices is not a luxury

The past four years of my career as a product designer, I’ve spent solving problems in business travel industry. Currently, I’m leading the product design team in Amsterdam for TripActions. Over the last year, I traveled at least once a quarter to the HQ in Palo Alto. During my trips, I developed routines as every business traveler does — I always schedule an Uber to the airport before my trips, book a paid seat in the front row while I check-in, and buy a cappuccino when I get to the airport.

Custom Icon Design for TripActions by Diego Naive

This year I decided to observe things more from an analytical point of view. Starting with how many choices I do have when I want to get an uber. How many different boarding groups and fares airlines have or how many questions I do have to answer to get a cappuccino.

Original Illustration by Diego Naive and Jardson Almeida

To dive deeper into this context, Uber is the perfect example. When uber first launched in 2010 as “ubercab,” their business model was based on three interactions: choose pickup, choose a destination, and request uber via iPhone or SMS. That was it. It was lean and simple and didn’t require any user education. In 2013, however, Uber introduced uberX, the low-cost uber, and their go-to-market slogan was: Choice is a beautiful thing.

Image source http://uxtimeline.com/uber.html

Today you have the choice out of gazillion different uber types; Express Pool, uberPool, UberX, UberXDiamond, UberXL, Black, UberSuV, you name it. The ridiculous number of choices has emerged out of two needs — the desire of users to receive a unique and tailored service. Secondly, companies are trying to make their product or service accessible for every target group, which comes at a cost of countless choices.

Having a choice is not a luxury anymore. It has become a burden. Apple used to have models like iPhone Xr, Xs, Xs Max while supporting/selling older models. Apple realized that this setup of device lineup is hard to maintain and also to distract at the same time. This year Apple decided to position its Xr model as the base iPhone 11 and the more capable models as iPhone 11 Pro. Like they used to with their MacBook lineup. They made the same mistake by introducing the MacBook Air as a thinner alternative to the basic MacBook and the professional version MacBook Pro. Currently, the MacBook Air has evolved to the default MacBook for non-professionals, and they cover the need for less with the iPad Pro with the keyboard extension.

Die Qual der Wahl is a german saying which translates into
The agony of having a choice.

This burden is more of a reality than theory At TripActions, where one of our core values is: It’s all about the user, all of them! So how do we fix the problem of having the choice of dozens of airlines and their indefinite fare types and extra packages?

Do you want to fly economy or business?
Do you want economy light, Standard, or Flex?
Do you want an additional luggage allowance for a $30 surcharge?

I want you to stop reading here and take a step back and think about how you perceive all the choices during your daily life. How do you deal with it? Would you want to get rid of some of them to accelerate your workflow or personal life?

How can we free ourselves from this burden?

In the age of machine learning and smart assistants, we should be able to offload such repetitive decisions to intelligent assistants. But to design another ai driven assistant is not the goal even less than the solution. Whether you’re using Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, or any other ai driven system. No platform provides access to your data. There is no way you can have a look into the data which Siri, Google, Alexa, or even Spotify have collected about you, let alone the fact that you can’t delete it. I think most of us had it at least once that they opened an arbitrary song on Spotify, and the week after, it ruined our weekly playlist. Spotify is one of the least organizations which is trying to do something about this problem by allowing its users to dislike songs or artist so they won’t pop up in your generated playlists. I wanted to take this approach a step further and came up with the idea of a data center — a place that would enable me to have full control on my personal data through means like removing, editing, validation, or even enrichment.

For example, Jake is browsing flight options from Amsterdam to London and has looked into the flight details of two flight options from a low-cost carrier. Later on, when he visits the collected data view, Jake would see an overview of the collected data. This overview enables Jake to make corrections and additions to the data about himself, which makes a flight search for him even more convenient the next time he travels.

Data visualization concept for end user experience by Ali Ozturk

The solution can not be pure AI nor manual work. To achieve the most efficient output in the sense of value per effort, it has to use the best of both. We train our personalised smart assistants by doing two things: 1) interacting with them and 2) validating and maintaining the data they have. My opinion on who should control and own data about our behavior is clear; it’s us and no one else.

What choices do you have?

This concept is just an idea I have for the problems I face. However, this or similar solutions could and should live in every single service which collects data about their users.

What about you? What products do you work on, and how could this concept make your life more comfortable or not? Drop a comment below or send me a message about your thoughts or if you have ideas on how to improve this concept further.


I want to take a moment to thank my partners in crime Connor Barnett and David Endersby, and Tundzhel Mert for all their help to make this article possible.