The problem with cheap alternatives

Ashim D’Silva

There are essentially two types of products or services: those that scale easily, and those that don’t. India has a vast amount of people and a dire need for solutions to scale, however it most needs services that can’t effectively do that.

More often than not, people view unscalable services as a luxury, where mass-production is affordable: fast food, one-size-fits-all clothing, cars, houses, movies… we’ve found a way to templatise everything and multiply production. Look around you and count the number of things designed with you in mind; chances are it’s almost zero.

The problem is, mass-production also brings with it an abstraction layer away from real purpose. A product becomes a standard, a service becomes the norm, their purposes can blend into the background of ‘that’s how it’s always done’. You can see it with traffic rules where the most compelling reason to follow a rule is to avoid being fined rather than safety. Tech call centres condense a majority of problems into a FAQ manual, and edge cases are lost because the expertise to solve them is expensive and personal—edge cases aren’t great for the ‘bottom line’. Movies built from formulaic plots are expected to rule the market without question, and yet when the counter often proves true it is still assumed too great an investment, for too great a risk.

But what if we’re looking at it all wrong, and the strays are the most valuable? What if the people with the real tech problems are the ones who will love your service enough to spread the word, buy more and be brand loyal? What if the movies that target a specific group end up with dedicated fans who will love you deeply and not forget you on next change? What if people working in offices designed for them, and not dealing with horrendous traffic and the associated trauma are vastly more efficient, effective and creative than their counterparts in cubicles, honking incessantly? What if eating a diet specific to your body, sleeping better, wearing better fitted clothing, and being emotionally satisfied makes you so much healthier and more productive, your return on investment is tangible?

People naïvely assume personalization costs more and is indulgent, while forgetting how much more valuable the results have the potential to be. Worse, we assume a lack of targeted design can be overcome by an increase in options—the spray and pray approach.

India doesn’t need an increase in the number of solutions, it needs solutions tailored to its people.

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