Infographic Of The Day: The Insane Choices You Face At The Drugstore

Your local drugstore offers a cautionary tale about what happens when innovation runs amok.

Infographic Of The Day: The Insane Choices You Face At The Drugstore

Just 10 years ago, getting something for a headache or a cold at the drugstore was a simple enough affair: Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen? No longer: Drugstore aisles are now an eye-melting maze of choices, with products advertising everything from time-release to gel-caps to flavors to different dosages. I half-expect to find tooth-whitening Tylenol, one day soon.

But despite all the decision fatigue this induces, I’ll bet this infographic will come as a shock. Created by the OTC drug startup Help Remedies, it lays out all the options for headache pills that you typically find at the pharmacy:

[Click to enlarge]

At first sight, you might assume that this is merely an illustrative chart–that all the branches are simply hypothetical choices that one might face. But the chart, in fact, has real data in it–it just happens to be done so tiny that you can’t easily read the actual drugs on offer:

This, of course, is by design: The infographic is, after all, an advertisement for Help Remedies, a company which offers single-use packets at drugstores labeled simply with your symptoms. (I.E.: “I have a headache” or “I have allergies” or “I have a blister”) Still, the chart does tell an interesting story about what innovation can do to a market at large.

Each of the myriad offerings laid out, whether its gel-caps or something else, was intended to produce a slight edge on a tightly packed, insanely competitive store shelf where virtually identical products can be found just an inch away. As drug makers compete for more and more differentiation, what you get is simply overwhelming. An innovation process that started with the original intention of offering better products leads to an overall product experience that’s horrible.

You can spy that trend in all manner of industries: Just think about what buying a computer was like 10 years ago. Or what buying a smartphone is like today. Even if you choose what brand you’re interested in, you’re faced with myriad choices about options and add-ons. It’s exhausting. Apple, of course, was probably one of the first companies to realize that endless options didn’t actually make consumers happier: They’re product line offers very few options, especially compared to someone like Dell, for example. Help Remedies works on the same idea. You’ve got to wonder: What other industries could benefit from a radical simplification?

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.



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