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:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Customer Service -- Illusion or Reality?

In his most recent column, Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus nails the current state of "customer service" in the big box retail world...

The Sad Illusion of Happy Customers
Los Angeles Times, Nov. 11, 2009
Retailers say they want shoppers to be satisfied, but few have the resources to deliver the goods.

A sampling:

"'Happy customers is a long-term strategy for us,' Best Buy's chief marketing officer, Barry Judge, told me. 'If they're happy, they'll want to buy more.'

That's the idea anyway. But after visiting a couple of Best Buy stores and chatting with customers, I'd say the company still has some work to do on the happiness front."

He continues by citing multiple examples -- his own and those of customers.

There's a good chance you can add to the list too.

Personally, I recently went into a Best Buy browsing for cell phones and wanting to learn about family plan options. Even though two employees were sitting nearby, no one approached me during the five minutes I was looking around. A minute later, I was gone and will probably never step into that particular store again.

Lazarus is also featured on American Public Media's program, Marketplace, today:

Where's the Focus on Customer Service?
L.A. Times columnist David Lazarus talks with Bill Radke about why more businesses aren't focusing on customer service with so many consumers reluctant to spend. | Link

I especially like how Lazarus calls out Trader Joe's as an example of the way customer service should be.

Just yesterday, shopping in a crowded and busy TJ's, employees were everywhere. Even as they restock shelves, they are always on the look out for customers in need. They are always (ALWAYS) happy, knowledgeable, and most important, genuine.

To Best Buy CMO Barry Judge's point, my experience at Trader Joe's almost always leaves me feeling great. That's something that Best Buy -- or for that matter, the big grocery stores that compete with TJ's -- have never been able to replicate.

Read or listen to the Marketplace piece here:

Video Series on Behavioral Economics

Check it out if you have a chance...

American Public Media's outstanding radio program, Marketplace, has posted a video series on behavioral economics. They pull together an impressive collection of behavioral economics experts with concepts presented in a straightforward, entertaining way.

Videos in the series:

Bribing vs. Signalling w/ "Undercover Economist" Tim Harford

While obviously low budget productions, the videos do a good job of addressing key concepts in a simple, true-to-life way.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Comparative Peek into the Employee Experience

Another hat tip to Mark Hurst of Good Experience for this link. [If you don't subscribe to his excellent Good Experience email newsletter, you really should. They are simple, relevant, and always insightful. Sign up here.]

Working for Happiness
Some workplaces are happier than others. Journalist Alex Frankel tried to discover why. Link

"In what became a two-year adventure through the world of commerce, I served as a driver's assistant at UPS, poured coffee at a busy Starbucks cafe, folded garments at Gap, rented cars for Enterprise, and sold iPods at an Apple Store.

Though my mission was primarily to study modern workplace cultures—reporting that turned into my 2007 book, Punching In—I came away with an appreciation for the roots and benefits of on-the-job happiness."

Especially interesting is the comparison Frankel makes between the focus of employees of the Apple Store and Gap:

"At chief duty was to fold clothing that had been unfolded by customers, a Sisyphean task. Sisyphus, you might recall, was condemned by the gods to keep rolling a boulder up a hill for eternity. And that's just what working at Gap felt like: an eternity.

In contrast, work at the Apple Store was set up so you were focused on accomplishing goals, not filling up time. At Apple, most product layout was left to one 'visual merchandiser' who was passionate about keeping the store neat, leaving others like me to interact with customers, share information, and be ourselves instead of following a script."

Even in this short vignette, one gets a good understanding of the impact the Employee Experience has on the Customer Experience.

Who would you rather be helped by: an employee trapped in the drudgery of their work, or one free to improvise and focus on YOU, the customer?

Alex Frankel is author of Punching In: One Man's Undercover Adventures on the Front Lines of America's Best-Known Companies.

Here's a video teaser:

Alex Frankel's Web site:

Book links: Amazon | Google Books (w/ "Find in a library")

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Customer Point of View #2

So-Called Customer Loyalty

After a fairly long (both literally and figuratively) post on sales receipts, here's a much shorter rant...

As you checkout at nearly every retail store these days, one is asked, "Are you a ____ [insert 'loyalty program' name] member?"

Careful -- it's a trap.

If you say, "No", they'll start pouring on the sales job; sometimes it even has a credit card offer involved.

If you say, "Yes, but I don't have my card with me", they'll ask for your phone number, name, or other personal info. Who wants to go there?!

My recommendation: just say something like, "No, I'm not interested."

I don't know about you, but this always creates a moment of stress, tension -- even resentment. I JUST WANT TO PAY YOU FOR WHAT I BOUGHT; otherwise, leave me alone!!!

Do businesses REALLY think these "rewards" or "loyalty" programs -- carrying their card around or risk being accosted at checkout -- equals true engagement or loyalty?!

Instead, I'd love to see these businesses, rather than demanding my "loyalty", show their commitment to me; several examples include:

  1. Get me engaged, rather than causing me discomfort
  2. Remember my name/face/shopping habits
  3. Recommend products and services that meet my needs, not those they're trying to push

Or, as suggested in my previous post, just say, "Thank you", make me feel valued and important -- and mean it.

That would make me want to come back. And maybe even tell others.

One of my favorite retailers, Trader Joe's, does these things authentically and effectively. The "biggies" such as my local Target or Cub (our local big grocery chain), do not.

Guess where I go most often and spend more of my food dollars?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Customer Point of View, #1

What's With Those #%$&@ Receipts?!

There's a trend you may have noticed over the past couple years when ending a retail shopping experience: mile-long sales receipts.

I think it first started with the automatically-generated coupons at grocery stores. Now this, I can somewhat understand and support. The coupons created by this system relate, at least remotely, to my purchases: if I bought a large container of vanilla yogurt, I might receive $1 off my next purchase of a different brand of yogurt, etc.

What does get my goat [is that phrase used anymore?], however, is a foot-long receipt with all kinds of useless, store-centered junk on it. This descriptor -- "foot long" -- is no exaggeration for a receipt I recently received at Staples:

A quick inventory of the information provided in this marathon receipt:

- Store name/logo
- Tag line
- Address/phone
- Date/time
- Customer satisfaction survey solicitation
- Product purchase info
+ Another 2.6 inches of plugs, promos, and bar code

Here's another example, this time from Borders.

[A BRIEF ASIDE: I know, I know. An earlier blog post -- specifically about an extremely disappointing experience at a local Borders -- stated that I would not go back. Ever. I've held true to this vow, having not returned to that specific store. In fact, this pile-o-receipts comes from another Borders; and the shopping was on behalf of my daughter. I still avoid Borders when possible. This next example supports that feeling.]

Borders bookstore, rather than presenting lengthy receipts, prefers a small pile of receipt paper:

Here, the breakdown is a little more clear:
- One receipt slip for, well, the receipt
- Another for their version of the customer sat. survey
- And a third devoted to a product and in-store promo

I see what the retailers are trying to do with these. Receipt paper is cheap, and each inch provides a fresh surface for a marketing message.

But have they ever considered how it feels to a customer?

1. They're Tedious
These receipts, once folded, become an annoying pile of paper, stretching a wallet to its limits. Also think about this point in the transaction: we're putting away our wallet, credit or debit card, checkbook, whatever. We're also thinking about the logistics ahead -- grabbing our bags/cart, finding the car keys, etc., and they hand over this long paper banner that requires folding, tucking away, stuffing into a bag or wallet. AND you want me to complete an online survey?!! Feels like a hassle to me.

2. They're Wasteful
In an era when we are becoming "green" conscious, giving a foot-long receipt -- when a 4-inch one will do -- is excessive. Whenever possible, I give any unnecessary pieces or portions back to the cashier. Whether they listen or not, consider this my tiny protest.

3. They're Self-Centered
Nearly always, the messaging crammed into these narrow lengths of thermal paper is all about the store/brand and has nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to do with the customer.

4. They're Remembered
Handing a receipt to a customer is typically the last human act that happens to us before leaving the store. Is that hassle outlined above how the store/brand wants to be remembered?


Buried in the ginormous Staples receipt was this simple message, written in the shouting language of ALL CAPS:


That, alone, would have been nice.

For more insight on this phenomenon, check out these resources:

Tale of the Tape: Retailers Take Receipts to Great Lengths
Wall Street Journal

Toothpaste Purchase Results In 3-foot Long Receipt
The Consumerist
[Gotta love their doggy measurement standard...]

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Daily Infographic Fix

If you visit just one clever, humorous, observational infographic blog each day, make it this one:


Each weekday, visual communication genius Jessica Hagy publishes one index card with a witty, often insightful, infographic. Beyond its sheer entertainment value, Hagy's images inspire those of us interested in simple, yet effective, ways of conveying complex ideas.

Bookmark her site or subscribe to her RSS feed. You'll be feeding your mind and spirit.

Also check out Jessica Hagy's collection of these brilliant cards in her books, Indexed and Indexed Reporter Notebook.

[NOTE: For an overload of great information architecture/presentation ideas, check out our earlier post, 37 Data-ish Blogs You Should Know About.]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Netflix, I Really Like You, but...

Dear Netflix,

We've been together now for nearly two years.

Sure, we've had our moments... Remember your outage back in May? I was trying to watch you online and you weren't available.

Hey, I realize these things happen. Then the next day, you wrote to say you were sorry:

"We are sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused. If you were unable to watch a movie or TV show last night due to the technical issues on the website, please click the link below, and we will apply a 2% credit to your next billing statement."

Still not sure how I felt about that. At the time, I was on the 2 DVDs out at-a-time plan for $13.99. 2% comes out to 28 cents. 28 CENTS? That's it?! That's what our relationship is worth to you?

Okay, okay, I'm still a bit sore. But I digress...

Admittedly, we've had a lot of great times. Without you, I would have never known about MI-5 ("Spooks" in the UK) or seen Arrested Development. You've found me some really great obscure films; and given me the chance to revisit some of my all-time favorites.

You're great. Really. I really, really like you.

But then, you keep doing this:

POP-UNDER ads? What are you thinking?!

First -- don't know if you realize this -- I AM ALREADY A CUSTOMER!!!!!!!

Second -- about the mailers you keep sending -- I AM ALREADY A CUSTOMER!!!!!!!

But pop-under ads?! Really???? That's so 1999.

Why??! And you know I have the "Block Pop-Up Windows" option checked in my Web browser. Each time that happens, ever so slowly, it chips away at the relationship we built.

And I even use this computer to play your "Watch Instantly" movies. Don't your cookies catch this? It's beginning to made me think you really don't care.

Maybe it's best that we don't see each other for a while.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Podcasts, Part 2: Experiential Podcast Round-Up

In my previous post, I waxed on-and-on about the therapeutic/inspirational benefits of podcasts.

This time, let me justify this enthusiasm with a collection of my favorite Experience Management and Design-related podcasts:

BusinessWeek: Customer Service Champs
A very interesting series of interviews with a number of leading practitioners.

Customer Management IQ - IQPC
Though this focused primarily on contact center practices, this also features insightful interviews & speakers. (Be sure to check out the July 2009 talk with Colin Shaw.)

Dwell Videos
Ranging from one to seven minutes in length, these are beautifully produced glimpses about home design.

Design Observer
Two categories here -- the current run and past archives of interviews/discussions with a broad range of designers leading designers.

> Design Matters with Debbie Millman: (Current: 2009-10)

> Design Matters with Debbie Millman (Archive: 2005-09)

Free: The Future of a Radical Price Podcast
Free audio book version of Chris Anderson's (Wired magazine and The Long Tail fame) newest book. In this gratis offering, he puts his money where his month is.

Motley Fool Conversations
A quality series of discussions with interesting people. (Check out the Sept. 23rd episode with Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal.)

Predictably Irrational - Video Podcast
A simple but effective series on behavioral economics.

Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen
A brilliant weekly radio program from WNYC and PRI covering the arts, culture, and the world of design. There's always something insightful to be discovered by listening.

Target Women
Sarah Haskins of Current TV does an absolutely smash-up job of skewering advertising/marketing trends.

CONCEPTS: The Daily Motor
While I'm not a huge motorhead, I love seeing new auto designs and innovations.

Do You Have Recommendations?

Share them in the Comments area below.

Podcasts, Part 1: A Confession (Join Me!)

Okay, I'll confess... I am addicted.

I love podcasts. I mean really, really love 'em.

They are a big part of my daily info-hunger habit: on my morning walk/run, as I shower-N-shave, while mowing the lawn or doing other housework; they sometimes even help lull me to sleep at night.

Sure, I love nothing more than poring through traditional printed newspapers or magazines. But who's got the time?! Even scanning online articles requires focused effort.

Benefits of Podcasts

Podcasts are different. They are highly portable (via an iPod, iPhone, or other MP3 player) and can be consumed while doing other things: a perfect 21st century medium. I even listen to them on my computer as I work.

What I love most about podcasts is that they put me in control. Take National Public Radio, for example. If time were not a factor, I'd listen to NPR all day.

Podcasts to the rescue... Now, I can subscribe to a few of the NPR programs I most enjoy, pick-N-choose episodes I really want to hear, and decide -- on my terms -- when/where I want to hear them. All for free! (Though I am a regular contributor to my local station, tote bag/coffee mug and all.)

It has both revolutionized radio (an early 20th century innovation, making it again relevant) and my life.

Another motivation? For months now, I have been trying to convince a colleague (you know who you are) of the merits of podcasts -- but to no avail.

So now I'm going public.

Getting Started

Intrigued, but don't know where to start? It's actually quite simple.

Start by downloading the very latest version of Apple's iTunes software [FREE!], for Windows or Mac here: [Note: You DO NOT need to provide your email; but those "New Music Tuesday" alerts can be interesting.]

Once you've downloaded iTunes, you're ready to roll. The great thing is that is continues to be free. You do not even need an iTunes Store account to enjoy podcasts.

Just launch iTunes, click on the iTunes Store icon (left column), and start browsing the Podcast section. I could go on-and-on with further instructions, but, like other Apple innovations, you'll find it all to be fairly intuitive.

One final note of guidance: when you find a podcast of interest, simply click the "Subscribe" button. You'll be asked to confirm and you're good-to-go -- visit the "Podcasts" icon (under your LIBRARY, also in found in the left column) and see the fruits of your labor.

See this tutorial for more details:

Tips for Podcast Fans

To be continued...

NEXT UP: Several recommendations of Experience-Related podcasts.

Designing for Women: Femme Den

The focus of this month's issue of Fast Company is "Masters of Design" (MD). If, perchance, you have not picked it up/read it, please do.

Among the featured people/groups in the MD feature is Femme Den, "an internal think tank at Smart Design... helping companies tap the $2 trillion female market."

This issue contains a number of articles/call outs about Femme Den and their work and influence. But to cut-to-the-chase, the key take-away is here:

Femme Den's Five Tenets of Designing for Women | Link

1. Emphasize benefits over features
2. Learn her body
3. Craft a cohesive story
4. Identify a spot on the spectrum
5. Remember her life stages

One might challenge the notion that good design can/should be gender-specific. And like many things, there is still a lot of catching up to do from the old school world of male-centered design.

But much like our earlier post discussing adaptive design, everyone can benefit. Here is a take from Femme Den member, Yvonne Lin:

Designing for Gender, When One Or Both Parties Reap the Rewards
The most successful products are designed for one sex but embraced by both. Link

[And I adamantly deny the point made about the Dyson vacuum...]

The Fast Company bits-N-pieces on Femme Den are extremely insightful. See the full collection here:

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Human Side of Healthcare

Thank you to Mark Hurst of Good Experience for this alert. [If you don't subscribe to his excellent Good Experience email newsletter, you really should. They are simple, relevant, and always insightful. Sign up here.]

Mayo Clinic photo

Minnesota's own Garrison Keillor, author, poet, and host of radio's A Prairie Home Companion, recently suffered a minor stoke. In his regular column, Keillor shares the medical -- and human experience -- he had at the Mayo Clinic.

Sept. 16, 2009 |

"Nurses are smart and brisk and utterly capable. They bring some humor to the situation. ('Care for some jewelry?' she says as she puts the wristband on me.) And women have the caring gene that most men don't. Men push you down the hall in a gurney as if you're a cadaver, but whenever I was in contact with a woman, I felt that she knew me as a brother. The women who draw blood samples at Mayo do it gently with a whole litany of small talk to ease the little blip of puncture, and 'here it comes' and the needle goes in, and 'Sorry about that,' and I feel some human tenderness there, as if she thought, 'I could be the last woman to hold that dude's hand.' A brief sweet moment of common humanity."

With a vigorous debate underway on healthcare and all its complexities, Keillor beautifully cuts to the chase on what really matters most.

[SIDE NOTE: To learn more about the Mayo Clinic and its renown brand of care, I highly recommend the recent book by Len Berry and Kent Seltman, Management Lessons from the Mayo Clinic: Inside One of the World's Most Admired Service Organizations. Links: or Google Books (including links to your local library)]

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Speaking of Community Design...

Closely related to my last post on Queens, New York's Forest Hills Garden...

David Byrne's Perfect City
A Talking Head Dreams of a Perfect City

The Sept. 11, 2009 Wall Street Journal had a very good Life & Style article by David Byrne. In it, Byrne sets out to define what, he feels, makes a city livable. He lays out these 10 elements:

- Size
- Density
- Sensibility and attitude
- Security
- Chaos and danger
- Human scale
- Parking
- Boulevards
- Mixed use
- Public spaces

From a human factors perspective, I find his "Scale" category most interesting:

"Scale is important. In London people hang out in Soho, Covent Garden, Mayfair and other areas of mostly low buildings packed closely together. The City (their financial district), like the downtown in many American cities, is full of tall offices and it empties out at night. It isn't that bustling in the daytime either. Some sort of compromise might be more ideal—the tall towers mixed in with the modest-sized shops and restaurants."

But one also has to love the idea of "Chaos and Danger". As Byrne puts it, "A little touch of chaos and danger makes a city sexy."

For Minnesotans, there's even an insightful comment about Minneapolis missed by many lake or sea-side communities. Check it out.

[SIDE NOTE: Since being the front man for the Talking Heads, Byrne has explored a number of fascinating topics including design. Though dated, his 2003 article for Wired magazine, Learning to Love PowerPoint, is a thought-provoking read. Find this viewpoint balanced with Edward Tufte's PowerPoint is Evil. Who doesn't love a spirited debate?]

Engaging Suburban Design

Photo by Witold Rybczynski for Slate

Sifting through the small backlog of potential post topics from this past summer, I revisited this wonderful feature in Slate by architect, writer, and educator, Witold Rybczynski:

Forest Hills Gardens
A walkable, transit-oriented, architecturally rich planned community, built 100 years ago.

"The planned community of 142 acres, which introduced the British Garden City movement to the United States, was intended to demonstrate the latest ideas in town planning, housing, open space, and building construction. It's pretty obvious that in the intervening years, Levittown, N.Y.—not Forest Hills—became the prototype for American planned communities... One of the strengths of the Garden City movement was that it dealt with town planning in a comprehensive way, and this 100-year-old piece of New York City remains a model for how the attractions of town and suburbs can be combined."
See the online slideshow and narrative here

This planned community in Queens, New York, was started in 1909 and featured many sought-after innovations today: mixed retail and housing, proximity to major transportation (Forest Hills has its own station, just a 20-minute train ride into Manhattan), individually styled home designs, plenty of trees, pocket parks, and very good walkability.

See more background and related links via Wikipedia.

I agree with Rybczynski about the shame of most suburban design going the way of Levittown, NY (and later, Levittown, PA), recognized as the first of many bland, often sidewalk-less, every-house-looks-the-same subdivisions.

Levittown layout from the air

Now, 100 years later, a new revolution is underway to design more human- (rather than auto) centered communities. Here are a few examples:

When you think of it, neighborhoods and communities are among the designs that most impact our daily lives. Here's to a more enlightened approach.

[Side note: If you're not familiar with him, check out the books of Witold Rybczynski. A few of my favorites include: City Life, One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw‎, and Home: A Short History of an Idea. All are insightful, well-written, and engaging.‎

Also, see the entire collection of pieces he has done as Slate's architecture critic here.]

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Evidence of Retailers Understanding Their Customer

I first heard about this exercise a few years ago from a student who worked for a major pharmacy chain...

The Sept. 14, 2009 Wall Street Journal (Marketplace section, page 1) has an interesting feature on a program conducted by Kimberly-Clark to help product managers, executives, and retailers better understand the unique challenges faced by their aging customers.

To do this, participants wear thick leather gloves, special glasses that obscure vision, thumbs bound to hands with wrap, or placing un-popped popcorn kernals inside their shoes.

Seeing Store Shelves Through Senior Eyes

"The program, run by Kimberly-Clark Corp. and delivered to retailers including Rite Aid Corp. and Family Dollar Stores Inc., is a sign of a next frontier in retail. The number of adults aged 65 and older will reach 71.5 million people by 2030, twice their number in 2000 and representing nearly 20% of the total U.S. population, according to estimates by the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics."

As the child of parents well over age 65, I am thinking more and more about the needs of seniors and their experiences with a variety of retailers, medical providers, and other day-to-day interactions.

Kimberly-Clark understands this isn't just the right thing to do; it also translates to good business:

"As baby boomers turn 65 years old beginning in 2011, they are expected to spend an additional $50 billion over the next decade on consumer products in the U.S., estimates Sean Seitzinger, senior vice president of consulting and innovation for market-research firm Information Resources Inc."

The article goes on to show changes being made by individual retailers based on better catering to this growing market: from larger type size on labeling and improved lighting to more clear shelf labels.

Very much like many accessibility design improvements, everyone ends up benefiting. Examples of this include sidewalk curbs, street crossings, wider doorways and passageways, etc. [See Accessible Sidewalks and Street Crossings: An Informational Guide (download PDF) via]. While these improvements are intended to help with wheelchair and walker access, cyclists, parents with strollers, etc. also benefit.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Play It Again, Sam

A while back, you may have seen a post about the Street Piano program -- painted pianos showing up in major cities of the world. Each features a simple sign stating: "Play me, I'm yours".

In my travels this summer, I had the pleasure of stumbling on one of these pianos.

Was it in London? Sydney? Sao Paulo?

No. I discovered one of these gems in Sioux Falls, South Dakota:

A SDSO "Find the Pianos" instrument at Sioux Falls' Falls Park

The Sioux Falls version, "Find the Pianos", is sponsored by the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, where they have scattered nine artist-designed pianos throughout the city. Learn more here:

In the short time my brother and I observed the piano, several people, young and old, were attracted to the keys and started playing.

This wonderful project, aside from being a clever marketing campaign for the orchestra, draws on a combination of whimsy, design, and curiosity.

It was great to see this process in action.

Speaking of GPS...

On a similar topic as my last post about the occasional rudeness of GPS interfaces, here's a recent innovation featuring "Augmented Reality".

Metro Paris Subway iPhone and iPod Touch Application

What's augmented reality?

From Wikipedia:
"Augmented reality research explores the application of computer-generated imagery in live-video streams as a way to expand the real-world. A typical example of augmented reality is a video of a car whose part names are displayed with graphical labels, overlaid onto the image in correct positions (as if hovering in mid-air)."
And from Gizmodo, ("the gadget blog"), the augmented reality tag is chock-full of examples:

But it was this post on Gizmodo -- First Augmented Reality iPhone App Now Available For Paris Travelers -- that drew my attention to a very cool application of this technology for Paris, France Metro patrons. (Note: this video features French narration; even if you're not a francophone, you should be able to get the general idea.)

My only concern would be iPhone users running into each other searching for the nearest Metro stop. Plus it has several limitations: First, this app is only available for the Paris subway system; but to be sure, the idea will spread quickly to other cities and regions. Also, it requires the very newest model of iPhone, the 3GS.

Learn more about the developer, Presselite, and the application here: (in English)

The applications for overlaying real-time visual data with interpretive or up-to-date information are unlimited: travel, navigation, education, research, social interaction, and more.

How would you like to see this augmented reality technology used?

GPS: Quit Bossing Me Around!

This article from the Economist Technology Quarterly (The Economist, Sept. 5, 2009) really got me thinking:

The road ahead
From The Economist print edition
Consumer electronics: Your next satellite-navigation device will be less bossy and more understanding of your driving preferences

Despite its remarkable technology (remember when we once used paper maps?), this article raises some insightful points about the emotional impact of current GPS interfaces:

DO YOU get a quiet sense of satisfaction in deviating from the route recommended by your satellite-navigation device and ignoring its bossy voice as it demands that you “make a U-turn” or “turn around when possible”? A satnav’s encyclopedic knowledge of the road network may justify its hectoring tone most of the time, but sometimes you really do know better. The motorway might look like the fastest way but it can be a nightmare at this time of the day; taking a country lane or a nifty shortcut can avoid a nasty turn into heavy traffic; or sometimes the chosen route is simply too boring.

This is so true. The often abrupt commands can really grate on a person after several times. (I have friends who refer to their GPS as "Carmen", and often find themselves fighting/disagreeing with her on a drive.)

But most important, this points out that great innovation and technology is one thing; but how we interact with it is another.

What would you do recommend to improve the GPS user experience?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Extraordinary Summer

Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona

Labor Day is over and autumn is quickly approaching -- time to dust off the old Blog and get back to work...

But before doing that, I just have to share some of my summer. (Consider this my contribution to the collective assignment, "What I Did Over Over Summer Vacation".)

This summer was almost fully devoted to family, spanning generations:
  • Took a two-week road trip with my daughter on Route 66 -- the full drive from Chicago to Los Angeles (photo highlights here)
  • Helped move my parents from Smalltown, America to Minnesota's Twin Cities
Each where extremely rich experiences.

On the drive, we cut through a large swath of the United States observing sharp contrasts: from major cities to remote towns, stunning beauty to depressing blight, amazing down-home cooking to very ordinary fast food.

The move included house hunting, real estate details, and lots of construction and renovation. In the process, I learned much too much about electrical, plumbing, tiling, painting, heating & air, and general fix-it repair.

But beyond the places and things, this summer was mostly about the people I spent it with. To my family, friends, and colleagues, I could not imagine a more fulfilling time.

Thank you all so much. I will never forget these past few months.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Experience Think Tank's Summer Vacation

While there may be some smattering of posts through August, travel and some major projects will be keeping us busy.

Look for new posts beginning again after Labor Day.

Until then, have a tremendous summer!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Oh, The Things We Tolerate

Just yesterday, in two separate conversations, people told me about products or services they hate.

"Hate" -- that was the precise language used. Not "dislike." Not "mildly irked." HATE. Now, that's a strong emotion.

The first instance, in a discussion about healthcare, a gentleman told me that he hated his medical plan/provider. (No names here, but I have to concur about my health plan too. And I'll bet many others would say the same about theirs.)

A bit later in the day, a colleague talking about her fairly new laptop stated, "I hate this computer!" Her computer, from a top name PC brand, has been a constant thorn in her side: screen problems, keyboard problems, printer problems, etc. Follow-ups to the company often led to greater frustration.

Thinking of brands or experiences I hate, really hate, a few come to mine as well. I'll bet you can think of a few too.

What does a business, organization, service, etc. have to do to bring about this emotional reaction from its customers?! Think about it -- customers. These are the people that pay the bills, support the owners'/shareholders' livelihood. I may be going out on a limb here, but that probably is neither a competitive or sustainable business model.

On the other side of the coin, what about brands we adore? I mean really love.

I could name at least a handful for myself with Apple, MINI Cooper, and Trader Joe's included.

Sure, each of these has upset me from time-to-time. But I keep going back. In fact, not a week goes by without me evangelizing for one or more of these brands... Someone asks me for my opinion on computers? I'm all about Apple. Parking my car, people often ask about my Clubman, "How do you like your car?" Often they're sorry they asked; I give them a sermon on the virtues of MINI Cooper with the prevailing notion, "I love it!"

Perhaps one of the positive results of this current economy (I also despise terms like, "during these tough times", etc.) will be the weeding out of businesses that don't understand this notion of building their business around the needs and desires of their customer. Same goes with those that don't fully understand their employees. It will be the ones that customers -- and employees -- love that will be best prepared for the future.

In the meantime, it's just smart business.

UPDATE (July 9, 2009) - Fresh off the press... the current issue of Knowledge@Wharton has an article closely relating to this post:

Getting to 'Wow': Consumers Describe What Makes a Great Shopping Experience

"New Wharton research finds that 35% of shoppers have had an extraordinary -- or "wow" -- retail experience in the past six months. But in order to hit that mark, retailers must deliver on as many as 10 different elements of the shopping experience simultaneously. Among the strongest drivers of customer loyalty: brand experience, courteous employees and knowledgeable salespeople. Expediting the shopping process ranked high, too."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Synthesis of Technology and Behavioral Economics

Boing Boing points us to a brilliant blend of technology and behavioral economics in the form of Bayer Healthcare's new DIDGET Blood Glucose Monitoring System:

"Bayer's DIDGET meter was developed in conjunction with Paul Wessel -- the parent of a child with type 1 diabetes. Paul noticed that although his son Luke was constantly losing his blood glucose meter, he could always find his Nintendo Game Boy. It was this observation that inspired Paul and Bayer to work together to develop the first and only blood glucose meter that connects to the Nintendo DS™ and Nintendo DS™ Lite gaming systems to reward children for good testing habits."

What a great new application of existing technology. Learn more about the DIDGET here:

I have always thought the Nintendo DS (or Apple's iPod Touch, for that matter) would make a terrific training tool for new employees or for other specialized education. Picture this: the learner receives a free DS or iPod Touch as part of their orientation (theirs to keep, no strings attached). It comes pre-loaded with custom learning modules.

The beauty of both of these devices is their connectivity via WiFi and the Internet. This would allow for ongoing assessment and tracking, as well as collaboration with others. The extreme portability of these gizmos would provide flexibility for employees with complex schedules, at remote locations, or off-hours participation. Sweet!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Language of Experience

Just finished watching Wine for the Confused, an informational program written and hosted by John Cleese and produced by the Food Network.

[I watched it via Netflix's "Watch Instantly" feature. But you can also view this show -- in its entirety -- on Hulu.]

Like an earlier post on tasting coffee, what was notable about this program -- apart from the Monty Python veteran's trademark quips -- was the focus on the language used to describe the tastes, smells, flavors, and related connections recalled by each wine. I appreciate Cleese making this a key point.

Acquiring and using a rich vocabulary of sensory descriptors -- is a necessary skill in fully understanding customer (or employee) experience through observation.

And all the better for discovering your favorite wines.

A Favorite Brand Lets Me Down

Has a favorite brand, product, or service ever left you feeling disappointed?

After years of waiting, one of my favorite brands just became more accessible -- a new Trader Joe's has just opened a mere 3.5 miles from my home in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

I've loved this brand since first discovering them in Southern California about two decades ago. Their selection of quality domestic and imported food, extremely competitive prices, and an engaging customer experience puts them near the very top of my personal loyalty list.

In anticipation of this opening, I've been reading the Len Lewis profile on this distinctive grocer, The Trader Joe's Adventure: Turning A Unique Approach to Business into a Retail and Cultural Phenomenon. [see Excerpts via Google Books]

It's a fascinating read that confirms much of what I've suspected/observed as a customer. The book reveals a very purposeful vision and strategy -- one that created a differentiated business model unrivaled for over four decades.

But I digress.

So, on opening day, we head out to the very newest Trader Joe's in the world. I'm excited -- about to take on a new Trader Joe's adventure...

The underground parking provides hints of the trademarked tropical experience to come

TJ orchid, localized to Saint Paul, Minnesota

Cool -- vintage suitcases just inside the entrance enhance and confirm the exotic adventure

More localization -- a mural of Saint Paul's Como Park; Hey! That's not exotic!! (though the conservatory pictured does house tropical plants...)

Now this is the kind of whimsy I expect

A mural featuring what are, recognizably, a variety of Saint Paul-style houses

Above the dairy section, a mural of the downtown Saint Paul skyline and Mississippi River; note the bicycle -- one of several displayed above refrigerated cases

For some reason, the longer I was in the store, the less connected I felt to the Trader Joe's mystique. It took a little while to figure out why...

This isn't the exotic adventure one expects from Trader Joe's. Surrounded with images of Minnesota -- not some far-off tropical island -- it feels like an ordinary grocery store. Sure, there are the unique products only Trader Joe's offers, all at great prices. This is, after all, my logical reason for coming back time and time again. But that isn't the reason thousands of fanatical customers like myself line up at grand openings, rave to friends, and have joined the cult.

I expect -- and am stimulated and excited by -- the breeze of the trade winds, not a Minnesota wind chill; surfboards and flip-flops, not a classic Schwinn bike; palm or coconut trees, not northern pines. The casual, beach-side cedar-planked walls -- while some exist -- have been largely replaced with light yellow-painted sheet rock and these all-too-familiar murals.

For that experience, I can go to a Twin Cities-based grocer (and I often do).

A number of years ago, I recall Boston Market taking on a similar localization strategy. They too had murals on their wall. I forget the exact details, but remember tomato crates with "St. Paul" labeled as a destination. For that brand, localization made sense -- "Boston" is in their name, and here they were, plopping down in a far different city. (Since then, Boston Market has considerably scaled back its operations in Minnesota.)

But Trader Joe's doesn't need to do this. They are not local -- that is clear -- and they should not be. They are exotic, equatorial, different.