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Moving forward from the paralysis of choice

Where does one begin to look when the variety of design, concept, cost is so vast, it can be mind-boggling!

Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still. Perhaps, too hard.—The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less

In his book, “The Paradox of Choice,” author Barry Schwartz explores the reasons why having too much of the good things is detrimental to our emotional and psychological well-being.

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From solid research in the social sciences, he concludes that having too many options can make you anxious about the process of choosing, render you doubtful of your own choices, and set you up for unreasonable expectations. If you do make a bad choice, you tend to be harder on yourself.

When purchasing a home, decorating one or looking at the many options available for the upgrading, fitting-out and construction of any space for that matter, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the choices that must be made. In the world of design, the possibilities are endless, and with that, the choices are, too! When you scan the spectrum of construction materials, finishes, fixtures and furnishings available in the market, you will end up confused and paralyzed. But hopefully not for a long moment.

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Looking at materials alongside the others within a concept, always ensures that the material concept is adhered to. Swatches are an indispensable tool in documenting a scheme.

So how do you begin narrowing down your options?

For any project, establish your main parameters: design, cost and schedule. There are some important action points for these.

First, give ample time to define in detail what you wish to achieve. Consider function, aesthetics and reasonable whims. A project’s success will be built on these, and like any other goal, the failure to define the nitty-gritty details will result in things being overlooked, and your expectations and ideals not being met. A thorough list will help you stay on track.

Second, establish your budget. Take time to work out the numbers through a specific breakdown of items and their quantities. Excel will be your new best friend, with an estimator, quantity surveyor or design professional guiding you into generating these spreadsheets which will be your shopping list as well.

Lastly, firm up your schedule. Consider the clock and calendar as your helpers in managing options and establishing milestones for the choices you have to make. They will narrow down the possibilities by placing a cap on the length of the decision-making process, the production timelines, delivery periods and on-site execution time.Then, ask yourself these questions in preparation for the choices you will have to make.

Suppliers and fabricators usually have a fairly good spread of colors and textures to choose from, and can help you narrow down your options.

Does this satisfy any of the objectives of the project? Keeping your focus on that big, audacious goal, and being aware of the objectives as the guide to all the decisions you’ll need to make will ensure that your choices contribute to the big picture. Holding on to those goals will keep the decision-making in check.

Does it make or break the design? What is the design concept or the aesthetic theme? Does the available choice fall within the spectrum? Or will it ruin the design? It’s easy to be distracted by beautiful and attractive things, but how the pieces come together is what will truly matter.

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Is it an informed and educated choice? Did you gather information and check on the technical details? The applicability for the appropriate quality level, aesthetics, durability, functionality and availability?

Have you looked into alternatives? What’s the next best thing? Can the next best thing, upon closer scrutiny, actually be the better choice?

Does it align with the budget you’ve established? When you start going over your limits, especially at the earlier part of your project, you will find yourself sacrificing the more important things as you are forced to go with lower budget options later. Upgrades can be done at a later stage when savings are realized, or for some other reason, budget has increased.

Art and décor are important elements in any design project. Do you know what works for you?

It’s also time to stop thinking of what your friends say you should have or what your relatives expect you to have.

I remember a client who was rather pressured by her in-laws into purchasing—after so much deliberation—an exceptionally luxurious and expensive kitchen system. A few years later, she expressed that it was an unnecessary expense, and it didn’t even live up to the hype. Yes, FOMO exists through all generations!

In a world where online retail marketing and social media glorify certain consumer goods or experiences and make our decision-making process confounding, my best advice is for you to keep to your own expectations and needs. Choosing is hard but choosing amid everyone else’s opinion is harder. While opinions are valuable added information, sometimes you must go at it alone, guided by logic reasoning and gut feel.

When you know what you need and want, can see the big picture, are able to discern how much you can spend, and are aware of the time you have, it narrows down the anxieties and paralysis of the decision-making process. It is with this awareness that you can forge ahead.

Ar. Isabel Berenguer Asuncion is a practicing architect and one of the two principal architects at Asuncion-Berenguer Inc., an architectural design and interior architectural design practice. Contact her through @isabelbasuncion

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TAGS: Ar. Isabel Berenguer Asuncion, The Paradox of Choice
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