Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Managing Expectations: Who Likes Waiting?

Recently spotted at Ikea:

The most unpleasant thing about waiting in a retail checkout line is not knowing how long it may take.

Kudos to Ikea for managing that expectation:
- Anything before it: "I'm getting close!"
- Anything after it: "It's less than five minutes now!"

I'd like to see the Transportation Security Administration manage airport security lines in a similar way.


A Simple Employee Engagement Test

Recently finished reading Dan Pink's outstanding book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. (Amazon link; in-depth review to follow soon.)

The book explores many important concepts, strongly rooted in research. But one that really stood out and left me thinking for several days is what Pink refers to as "Reich's Pronoun Test":

"Former U.S. labor secretary Robert B. Reich has devised a smart, simple, (and free) diagnostic tool for measuring the health of an organization. When he talks to employees, he listens carefully for the pronouns they use. Do employees refer to their company as 'they' or as 'we'?"

That's it. Beautiful.

Think about this. What does this simple choice of words say about an employee's level of engagement, loyalty, or advocacy?


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dust Hampers the Decision

First, let me state this: I really like Target. Beyond the fact they are Minnesota-based, Target consistently provides a clean, pleasant shopping experience not found in its competitors. As a bonus, there's always a bit of style thrown in.

But, as with any good relationship, they do have a few flaws. (I've written about them here and here.) While these don't fully jeopardize our bond, each of these experiences slowly chips away at my heretofore unwavering enthusiasm for the Target brand. (Don't even get me started on their new "Up & Up" house brand launched last fall…)

My latest encounter with discomfort and disappointment with Target was earlier this month. I was shopping for a water purifier/dispenser; an existing one no longer worked well in a new refrigerator. Off to Target I went.

Arriving in the aisle with water purifiers, I was astounded to see this:

Nearly the full collection of water purifiers -- pitchers, dispensers, etc. halfway down the aisle -- were covered in dust. We're not talking about wee flecks here. The boxes and display samples had a serious layer of dust. This photo truly does not do it justice, but you get the idea.

This is someone might expect to see in the old hardware store around the corner. But a major retailer?! Target?!!

To make matters worse, these were water purifiers. Dust, grime, finger prints -- not things one wants to associate with pure, fresh drinking water.

In disbelieve, I wandered off to browse across the store in Electronics. Imagine my surprise to see another set of dusty product boxes:

With the number of employees roaming a Target store morning, noon, and night, I cannot believe these messes would go unnoticed. Target, without a doubt, has high standards. Perhaps, however, their employees aren't universally attuned to notice these details.

In the end, sure, I bought the water dispenser from Target. But I've also told several people about the experience and now share it publicly with a larger audience.

These details matter.


Slate Series on Signage

In early March, Slate ran an outstanding five-part series by deputy editor, Julia Turner.

Not a lot to say here -- you really have to check it out for yourself. But let this quotation from the first in the series set the scene about the importance of signage on human behavior and emotion:

"Signage—the kind we see on city streets, in airports, on highways, in hospital corridors—is the most useful thing we pay no attention to. When it works well, it tells us where we are... and it helps us to get where we want to go (as when an airport banner directs us to our gate). When it fails, we miss trains, we're late to appointments, we spend hours pacing the indistinguishable floors of underground parking garages, muttering to ourselves in mounting frustration and fury."

Slate series by Julia Turner, March 2010

Part I. The Secret Language of Signs
They're the most useful thing you pay no attention to. Start paying attention.

Part II. Lost in Penn Station
Why are the signs at the nation's busiest train hub so confusing?

Part III. Legible London
Can better signs help people understand an extremely disorienting city?

Part IV. Do You Draw Good Maps?
A professor has been examining hand-drawn maps for three decades. Send him yours.

Part V. The Big Red Word vs. the Little Green Man
The international war over exit signs.

Part VI. A World Without Signs
Does the advent of GPS mean we'll no longer need them?

We're Back!

After taking a few months off to devote to several major academic projects, the Experience Think Tank blog is resuming.

Since its launch in May 2009, it has been heartening to share this with colleagues, clients, and friends.

Glad to be back!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kindle for iPhone (+ rejoice re: pricing)

Relating to my last post about Christopher McDougall's outstanding book, Born to Run, just wanted to put in a good word for the method I used to read it.

I actually began the book the good ol' fashioned way -- reading a library copy. Unfortunately, as is often the case, my reading pace didn't match the three-week checkout limit or the waiting list of other eager readers; renewal was not an option.

When it had to go back to the library, I was only about one-third of the way through -- deep enough to be really engaged. My options were weighed:

A. Go to a bookstore and pay full retail price

B. Try my favorite bookstore, Half Price Books, if they had it

C. Explore yet other options

It was late at night, stores were closed, and I needed it NOW. So more immediate choices were considered: via Apple's iTunes Store [iTunes link], an audio version could be had for $23.95. The thought of wading through a long audio version to find my spot, reference in the future, or cuddle up with, didn't address my urgent need.

Just then, another option came to mind: the Amazon Kindle.

No, I don't own one. The $259 price tag is still a little steep for my taste.

A surprisingly pleasant read using the Kindle for iPhone app

A few months ago, I had gotten the free Kindle for iPhone application [review via CNET]. This ended up being an extremely satisfying way of reading: it is always with me, I can make annotations and highlights as I go, and it is surprisingly pleasant to read.

But the best part was the price: just $9.99. That compares with a $25 cover price or $14.50 for the book via Amazon. And it arrived instantly -- I was delighted!

If you have an iPhone -- or deep pockets for the Kindle itself -- this method is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Check out the Kindle Store, including their selection of free books.

This is the way book (and music and video) pricing should work. A digital version of a work requires none of the physical materials or production costs of a traditional book, CD, or DVD. [Sure, I understand that there is production involved; but come on -- it doesn't compare to the overhead of CD cases, printing presses, paper, etc.]

Thank you, Amazon, for recognizing this and building a great infrastructure for the next generation of reading.

Nature: the Ultimate Designer

Just finished reading a fantastic book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen By Christopher McDougall. Google Books

Born to Run is an extraordinary read at many levels -- part science, part masterful storytelling, part history, part business, and more. Topics covered include:

  • An in-depth -- and entertaining -- history of running from prehistoric persistence hunting to today's road racing
  • The tension between the love and natural ability of running and the almighty dollar ("Goddess of Wisdom" versus the "Goddess of Wealth")
  • A plethora of intriguing characters along the way: from the intentionally isolated Tarahumara (or Rarámuri) of Mexico to pioneers of ultra-marathoning and cutting-edge science

These topics and many more are wrapped in extremely engaging narratives -- to use the tired phrase -- that are hard to put down. McDougall is a truly captivating storyteller.

From a design perspective, and what I found most fascinating, is the natural engineering of the human foot and how we are, quite literally, "born to run".

The remarkable design of the human foot distributes the impact of each step. "Barefoot running", or as the Rarámuri practice it with thin sandals, leads to a quick step with shorter stride -- the way people have run for millennia.

However, related to the monetary tension mentioned above, as running became a popular leisure pursuit, the way we ran changed drastically. The "modern" (1970s+) running shoe design altered our natural stride and technique. Its raised heel was intended to give us a sort of "head start" by leaning us slightly forward. They also come with all sorts of shock absorption features that one might think would reduce injury and soften the impact of each step. McDougall provides convincing data that instead of preventing injury, this forced design has actually greatly increased running afflictions.

It has really been until just recently that designers have taken this problem into account. Besides simply pure barefoot running, here are two interesting designs that accept and compliment the design of the human foot:

Five Fingers by Vibram | Link
Extremely innovative, yet simple in design, these shoes go on like gloves. There's a place for each toe and the sole compliments, rather than alters, the human foot.

Nike Free by Nike | Link [curses to Nike for a cumbersome Web site]
From the originator of the modern age of running shoes, comes this incremental line of footwear. With models ranging from the 3.0 (sort of barefoot) to the 7.0 (almost complete traditional shoe). Reparations perhaps?

Both represent an interesting approach to design and a more careful understanding of true human factors.

Jon Stewart interviews Christopher McDougall on The Daily Show, August 19, 2009: