Renown Industrial Designer, Dieter Rams, established ten “good design” principles, that every designer should follow. One of these ten principles really resonates with me and with what I am about to write in this post. The principle of Is unobtrusive – products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
I believe that the same principle can be applied to other types of design such as Service Design, Interaction Design, UX, etc. and not only to Product Design. Even though designing “experiences” and services seem more complex and less tangible than designing products, often times our interactions with certain “experiences” and services are very obtrusive. Let me illustrate my point by describing two recent experiences that I had with two completely different services. One involved returning a rental car and the other one involved buying a TV. Before, I go on to tell you a little bit more about these two experiences…which one do you think was the good one and which one was the bad one? You are probably thinking that first one was better than the second one, or the second one was better than the first one, or that they both sucked…or they were both a delight.
Well here it is…returning a rental car at the airport was a delight, it was an unobtrusive experience, while buying a TV was simply…painful.
Returning a rental car at the airport
In my last christmas vacations I had the chance to travel with my family to Los Cabos (a popular tourist spot located in Baja California, Mexico). We flew to Los Cabos, because driving from Mexico City would have taken us an eternity, but that’s besides the point. As we drove back to the rental place from the hotel, I could not help but notice how easy it was to return the car and head to the airport. What I thought was going to be possibly an unpleasant experience became a rather delightful one. Let me walk you through the process:
1. As soon as you approach the rental place there is already a sign indicating where cars that are being returned need to be parked. There is a special entrance just for this type of cars.
2. Once you drive in you see the different parking spots.
3. At your parking slot, there is already a sign with instructions of what you need to do next. The next step of instructions was to proceed to the counter and return your car key.
4. At the counter you are greeted by a customer service agent who gets the key from you and sends someone else to check if the car is in the same conditions as the day you rented it.
5. If everything seems good and there are no setbacks, then you get to sign-off your papers and you can be on your way.
6. As soon as you finish talking to the agent, there is already a bus waiting for you outside ready to take you to the airport.
In total, there were six steps. Maybe, there could have been less..but I believe that often times is not about the quantity of steps you need to take to accomplish something, but about the quality of how you go from one step to the next step. Imagine if there was only one entrance for all type of cars and customers (airport shuttles, taxis, rented cars, normal cars, etc.) or what if the parking lot didn’t clearly label where cars that are being returned should be parked, I think the experience would have been more frustrating. But the quality and attention to detail of clearly defining these steps to the customers, help you feel like things are flowing normally and your engagement with the “experience” is far more positive. However, if the “experience” or service was not well thought out and you felt like going from one step to the next was a challenge, then the “experience” or service has failed. In fact, people only notice or often times comment on the design of something once it is not working (or they perceive it as not working), which leads me to my next “experience”: Buying a TV.
Buying a TV
A couple of weeks ago, I went shopping for a new TV for my house. Before going to the store and buying it, I looked at prices online and asked family and friends to see which TV they recommended I buy. I am the type of person who rather buy this type of electronics at a physical store than doing it online as I feel more comfortable knowing the physical space and dimension that they are going to take. Plus, the anxiety of having the product in your hands as soon as possible and saying “It is mine!” is irreplaceable. Well, at least that is what I thought I was going to get from going and buying the TV at the store. It turns out that buying the TV at the store was everything but a pleasant “experience”. As soon as I arrived to the store, I noticed that it was packed and they were clearly understaffed. I knew this meant that my experience here was not going to be the best one, but I had some hope. After all, I was told that the prices at this store were far better than the others I had previously seen. Anyways, let me walk you through this process now:
1. All the TVs were organized in such a way that they were all displayed next to each other and some at very awkward viewing angles (really high-up). They were all playing different channels and at different volume ranges, which made it very overwhelming.
2. The price tags were ridiculously small and some were even missing the price tags, so you had to chase the salesmen around to find out what the price of a TV was.
3. Once you finally overcome the sound and visual pollution that is surrounding you to make that final decision on which TV to take, you have to go find someone that can help you make the purchase (because as I said before they were clearly understaffed).
4. Well after finding a salesman, you find out that she is not responsible for that section and has to go get someone else that can help.
5. After a couple of minutes she finally manages to stop another salesman who can help me make the purchase.
6. We approach the counter (or at least I thought so), only to find out that this salesman took down my personal information to print out in a receipt that I had to take to a different counter where I needed to pay.
7. Fortunately, the line at this other counter was not so long and I was able to pay quickly. However, I needed to go to a third counter to schedule the delivery of my TV, because it was out of stock!!! And the company that manages the deliveries is different from the store where I was buying my TV!!!
8. I headed to the third and final counter, to schedule the delivery date of my TV, only to find out that they were going to take up to ten days to deliver the TV. Ten days…
9. Eight days later I received a call from the deliver company to let me know that the TV could be delivered before and we needed to re-schedule the deliver time.
10. Fortunately, the TV was indeed delivered the next day.
What was suppose to be a simple purchase became a nightmare. I had to go through eight days of wait, five salesmen, three different counters and two different delivery companies just to get a TV. In other words, the overall experience was broken and the service was not well organized and structured. The inadequacies in the experience, made me notice (far more quickly than the previous one) the overall design of this experience, but more importantly judge the poor design quality of the service which made my experience with this service obtrusive.
To wrap it up, I believe that when designing “experiences” and services we have to really pay close attention to creating something that is not obtrusive and almost invisible to the customers’ vision. Because unfortunately, it is easier to notice poor design than good design.