Earlier this year, my dear friend, Hannah Koppel, gave me a paper angel she had made. Here’s a photo:
Hannah is a talented designer and ceramacist. And as the daughter of renowned silversmith Henning Koppel
, her gene pool leaves nothing to be desired.
Unfolded, the angel is a simple circle of paper. Nothing more.
I share this design with you because, for me, it represents the ultimate in what design should represent:
- spiritual and visual harmony
- freedom from unnecessary constraints.
This combination of elegance and simplicity is something all designers should all strive to attain. I’m grateful to know people like Hannah who can guide me along the path. And pleased to share this wonderful little gift with my friends in cyberspace.
Voting in Florida is always a challenge - just ask anybody who fought with the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County back in 2000. This year, Miami-Dade County, my county of residence, forgot to send me an absentee ballot, even though I had sent in the paperwork back in September.
Today, getting nervous as election day approached, I spent 25 minutes on hold before an actual human confirmed my worst fear, "We have no record of your request." Luckily, today was the last day to register for an absentee ballot, so I jumped through the hoops again.
And this time it got through. Here's the mail receipt I just received:
E-mail received on Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Anyone else notice something odd about this message? Ah, Florida. How can we trust our officials to count our votes correctly when they cannot even figure out days of the week?
Let's get banzai on this. This is a plain sandwich package served to passengers by KLM. It's a decently tasting line of sandwiches, and they even manage to have a fair turn-around, but that's not the point. Let's take a look at the packaging.
It's actually a rather neat package, airline-wise, as it allows easy and space-savvy stacking in the tight, space-hungry aircraft environment. It might be not entirely environment-friendly, but it sure helps storing and handling. And it looks stylish, Italian name and all (What? On KLM flights? Never mind).
Anyway, the usual scenario goes like this. Just when you are about to fall asleep you receive your sandwich package from the friendly flight assistant, so you fumble to open up your small tray table, you mumble a 'mmthnkya', and you get ready to eat your share of global food. The package looks friendly and easy enough. That little extra plastic jutting out on the left corner says 'pull me' in a soft soothing voice. It's aligned with the way we are supposed to scan the package, in a left-to-right fashion reinforced by the writing and the labeling. This is also consistent, ergonomically, with the majority of us being right-handed. Opening it up in your tight little personal bubble doesn't feel too constrained or cumbersome. Cool. You do it.
The foils comes away easily, the package deflates in that reassuring way that drives away all fears of botolinum and you smile that 'see, it was the altitude, I told you' kind of smile. And obviously, since the package peels from left to right, you tend to eat the sandwiches on the left first. You may even consider not stripping away the protective plastic foil at once, as you never know what to do with it then. And here disaster strikes.
The package falls miserably to the right as it gets unbalanced. And if it was too close to the tray edge, it is probably already resting on your dress, suit or shoes. Well, you say, after all it's just a plastic sandwich package for airline use, for heaven's sake. Mh. I beg to differ. First, that's precisely the situation where you do not want this kind of things to happen, since you may spill pesto sauce or chili dip on your lap quite easily and do not get to have extra clean pants for nightclubbing until you are back from Hong Kong, which kinds of spoil the fun. Second, the package actually can
stand even while you are eating away. Check this:
And for the sake of being picky, it would require just a little extra to make it even more visible and affordable with a little color, to win over that extra-resistance to actually open it up with your left hand. And finally, the plastic foil could be glued in the middle as well, where the package is split in two, to state the idea of 'eat these first' even more. Honest to God I'll stop falling for it and would not need a stain remover from the flight assistant ever again.
I’m thinking a lot about the shopping experience these days. And as my wife just returned from a weekend in Cairo, Egypt, we’ve talked a lot about bazaars.
In a strange way, this seems related to some of the issues we ponder when creating e-commerce experiences. Findability in particular, doesn't seem to be a universally positive trait.
In the built environment – and quite apart from the cultural issues (American-style malls are sterile and repetitive) - I suspect the true value of a bazaar is that it creates an atmosphere of discovery. After all, who has ever made a good shopping discovery in a sterile and repetitive environment? That’s why people of all cultures flock to their local equivalent of a bazaar, flea market, boot sale, bargain bin, Loehmann’s Back Room, etc.
Antiquarian book collectors speak of “sleepers.” These are rare volumes that have been overlooked (and underpriced) by the shop owner. If you want to find a sleeper, you have to find a cluttered shop, plow through the teetering stacks, and probe the mildewed boxes. It is rare to find a sleeper in a posh antiquarian book shop where every volume has been perused by several experts, carefully categorized, and reverently displayed on an appropriate shelf. Dust is optional.
The Great Bazaar in Cairo is interesting. On one side of the road are shops specifically created to entice tourists. On the other side of the road, you’ll find the Egyptians. Both sections are exciting. But the south side is honest; the north side is pure fantasy.
Today, in our eagerness to promote findability, we have perhaps neglected serendipity. Not that messy design can effectively recreate the bustle of a bazaar or the claustrophobia of a junk shop, but we probably should be thinking about ways to encourage exploration and discovery as a way to enhance the user experience.