Design is about many things. Above all, it’s about clarity, and intentions and about putting yourself in the position of the end users (or the customers, students, audience, etc.). When designs are not well thought out, even though it may all look good from our point of view, users get frustrated, confused, or even angry. Anyone who has used a poorly designed user interface on a mobile phone, for example, or gotten lost while following the signs on the freeway in a new city understands these feelings. And anyone who is squinting to see a figure or read a quote on a PowerPoint slide is experiencing a bad design of sorts. I always say the lessons are all around. I love examples of poor design, even for the simplest of things, because they are occasions to learn.
When you first sit in the driver’s seat of a car, push the ON button on a computer for the first time, check into a new hotel, look for information on a website, make your way to the cash register, connect a new media player to a laptop, snap a new lens onto an SLR camera, or lace up a fresh new pair of running shoes, it doesn’t take long to figure out how much time the designers actually spent using the type of product they designed.
When I get behind the wheel of a BMW, I know immediately that the team that designed it loves to drive. And I don’t mean just drive to work and to the store. I mean drive. As in… for fun. For thrills. Thirty seconds into using a Mac for the first time, the Apple design team’s passion for great user interfaces is also pretty obvious. Clip into a Look pedal, slip on a pair of Rudy Project Rydons, Squeeze yourself into a pair of Hincapie Sportswear bib tights or pull the cap off a Mont Blanc pen, and you will immediately feel the same thing.
Great design delights. Great design triggers smiles and compliments. Great design invites repeat business. Great design generates great word-of-mouth recommendations, endorsements and reviews. Great design is ALWAYS a win for everyone.
And bad design sucks.
For the third time in a week now, I found myself in a checkout line at my local Target store, and experienced the destructive power of bad design. Target painstakingly designs its stores and advertising to be inviting, upbeat and cool. I love shopping there because I know I’ll find something cool and inexpensive to buy for my house. So from ads to store design to product selection, Target is 100% conscious of the importance of great design, right? But then you get to the checkout, and it all comes crashing down. Here’s how: For some reason, a good deal of items at my local Target seem to come without bar codes. (As impossible as it may seem in this day and age.) And without a bar code, the cashier is completely helpless a checkout. If the item can’t be scanned, the purchasing process grinds to a complete halt. To get it started again, you need a price check: The cashier has to put on her blinking light and call a supervisor. The supervisor then has to stare at the product for five minutes to confirm that there indeed is no bar code anywhere on it. The supervisor then has to call someone on her little radio. That someone has to go to the back of the store to find the item, copy the bar code numbers from the shelf tag, and radio it back in – or write it down and walk it back to the front of the store. Meanwhile, the six families standing in line behind you are ready to beat you over the head with their $19.99 welcome mats and seasonal plastic tumbler sets. If you were in a hurry, forget it. What seemed like a simple, convenient little “oh hey, I’ll just buy it while I’m here” purchase turns into a “damn, I could have just gone to Wal-Mart instead” swell of regret.
A month before Christmas, your impromptu purchase of a $19.99 Michelin windshield wiper has caused a ten minute gridlock at register number nine on a busy Saturday afternoon. Because someone forgot to apply a bar code to a product, and also because the cashier and her system aren’t set up to identify the product without the precious bar code. In that one simple omission, every bit of great design that Target has spent millions of dollars to integrate into its brand evaporates. Not only for me, but for the six families standing impatiently behind me.
The lesson: Design thinking isn’t limited to products. Systems also require great design. And everything is a system. Your entire company is a system. Your customer service department is a system. Your warranty department is a system. Your checkout area – whether physical or electronic – is a system. Great systems are based on great design, and great design is based on observation: Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. Understanding what they like or dislike. Finding ways of delighting them, or at the very least, fulfilling their specific needs.
If you’re a CEO or other C-level executive, how often do you look at your own company’s processes from a customer’s point of view? How often do you call your own 1-800 number with a problem or question? How often do you go into a store to buy your own products “incognito” or try to return them through normal channels when they fail?
How much time does your company actually spend walking in the shoes of your customers?
Great design doesn’t start with a cool creative type sketching ideas in a posh studio. It starts with real world insight, out there where your customers and users live.
Want to be a great executive? Want to understand great design? Start by joining your customers.
Happy Thanksgiving week, everyone! 🙂