It’s Like Ice Cream

My old A-Level maths teacher used to spend a lot of time bemoaning the complexity of the world. I guess when you’re that in to equations you just want to simplify everything down.

In particular he had a gripe with ice cream. Every few weeks he would announce something like this to the class:

“Do you have any idea how much time is wasted choosing ice cream? When I was young you went in to a shop and had 2 choices, strawberry or vanilla. It was simple, and you were happy with your choice. When things are complex it leads to problems”

I though that was a crazy argument for 2 main reasons. 1 Ice cream’s not ice cream if it’s not chocolate. 2 Or pistachio.

Also, I like choice.

Today I’ve spent a lot of time looking at engineered timber floors. Oak, Walnut, Jatoba, Ash; 4mm wear layers, 6mm, 8mm; 100mm wide boards, 120’s, 140’s, board lengths, lacquered or waxed, timber grades. There’s a lot to consider. There are A LOT of choices and it takes a long time to get it right. Today it took a whole day. This is not unusual; it’s not always timber floors, sometimes it’s grades of plywood, or porcelain tiles, or granite worktops, or bricks, or lights (sometimes I really hate lights) but you get the idea.

You see the client wants to know what’s best. And they want some options. And I want to do a good job. And that’s why this is not unusual.

Sometimes I love it. Like I love choosing ice cream. The process is fun and you know the result is going to be great. When I’m working with a client and we hit on what they want that’s awesome, and the process is enjoyable for both of us (I think!)

But there are times when the logic of my old maths teacher’s argument haunts me, just a little. Maybe simplicity is better. I have seen the look in a client’s eye before now that suggests maybe they don’t really care about wear layer thickness quite as much as I thought they would. In a flash I have gone from choosing with them, to being the guy that has laid out this dazzling array to someone who wants a simpler choice. It’s a hard line to tread as an architect.


10 responses to “It’s Like Ice Cream

  1. Its a bit of a challenge isn’t it Mathew, making your mind up, especially with ice cream!
    Interesting that you highlight a combination of aesthetic and performance issues too. Some times one is more important than the other, but if one is wrong, then the product isn’t suitable. Some how we need ways to make the choosing simpler on both levels.

  2. This is great Mathew. I help manufacturers with their marketing – websites, literature etc – and it perfectly pinpoints the difficulty many have of putting themselves in position of the chooser. Guess it all boils down to understanding your customer. Love the writing style too!

    • Thanks Gill. Choice is an important part of our job, but the process so often gets squeezed because of time pressures. Good, reliable information certainly helps.

  3. Pingback: Are We Cool? | architecturally·

  4. Hi, I was browsing my friends fb page (Alcantara Stone), and I found your post….a very enjoyable read and really applicable to many things. Choices are great and awful and they certainly can complicate decision smmaking

  5. Pingback: School Trip | architecturally·

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