Archives For experience design

I came across a lovely example of unintentional experience design when I was back in the UK last week. Apologies to those of you who reside in the UK and discovered this some time ago but for those of us living in the desert of commercial radio in the US this quirky accident is delightful.

If you tune to the right channel on the UK’s digital radio system you get a continuous, 24 hours a day soundtrack of birds and woodland. It is beautifully peaceful and an incredibly good background soundtrack to work to. I will let the text from the UK digital radio website explain the back story.

The audio was originally recorded for the test transmission of Classic FM prior to its launch in 1992. It was later used for the imaginatively named station “D1_temp” and won plaudits from listeners who complained when it was taken off air in June 2005.

Birdsong returned to the airwaves in early 2008 and was upgraded in April of the same year to become available in stereo and for 24 hours a day. Listeners and Birdsong enthusiasts should be aware that the transmission could cease at any time and that the recording is not commercially available.

Please note that the line up of birds featured in the cast may change without warning due to illness, weather and migration.

For those of us outside the UK it can be played from the website here.

I suppose eating is an experience we get quite attuned to and with the proliferation of great restaurants around it can be easy to become blasé. This week I had a couple of great dining experiences that felt quite unique and make me think that there is still plenty of room for innovation in the restaraunt industry.

I  was traveling with colleagues to Grand Rapids, Michigan where we were staying at a just opened JW Marriott hotel. We arrived from California in the early evening expecting to have a simple meal somewhere in town before meeting with our partners at Steelcase the following day. Instead, as we walked into the lobby we were met by one of the members of the Steelcase team and informed that an arrangement had been made for us to eat in the hotel’s stateroom. Images of a grand private room with overbearing waiters flashed through my head and I began to consider ways that we may get out of the invitation. We were escorted into the restaurant and then through the serving doors into the kitchen. We began to feel like Presidential candidates arriving for a speech and the interest and anticipation began to grow. We were greeted with enthusiasm by sous chefs, pastry chefs and waiters. Already this was beginning to feel special. We were finally taken into the chef’s office where a table had been laid for us to eat dinner. Instead of a stuffy stateroom we were deep in the private domain of the chef surrounded by his cookbooks, favorite wines, favorite music and the clutter of a large-scale culinary operation. What followed was a perfectly delivered meal where we chatted with the chef about the locally sourced food and how he cooked it as well as having great conversations amongst ourselves. Every piece of the experience felt like the chef and his staff designed it personally for us.

The second meal gave us a chance to see how a great architect planned our dining experience even though he died many years ago. When the famous twentieth-century architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed his houses he gave great thought to every aspect of the owners experience. If you visit the Meyer May house in Grand Rapids and take a tour with one of the docents you will hear how this relatively modest house in a suburban neighborhood was designed to protect the privacy of owners and guests through the overall layout of the building. Once inside you will also hear how detail after detail supports his overall objectives for the design of the house. We were fortunate to be invited for a meal at the house and when you sit at the dining table you see how carefully Wright considered the experience of eating with family and friends. The table is situated so that every person gets a view to the outside. The lighting is removed from the ceiling and placed on columns at each corner of the table so as to soften the quality of light on each persons face. The chairs (which along with the table were specifically designed by Wright) are very high backed to create an intimate feel to the gathering. He demanded that no high centerpieces were placed on the table to obscure the view between diners. Just as he did throughout the house, he engineered the dining experience to be as optimal as possible.

The design of search

August 24, 2008 — 3 Comments

Google disrupted search partly through the use of design. Of course it was the search algorithm PageRank that was the big technical breakthrough followed by AdWords and AdSense but the simplicity of the interaction was also key to getting users to weave search into every aspect of their internet behavior. If you want to know more about how the Google interaction developed then check out Bill Moggridge’s book Designing Interactions. Google took the world by storm but is that the end of the design of search?

A new search engine by the name of Cuil indicates not. I love Cuil because it uses design thinking to create a better search experience. Yes, it also has some technical innovations that allows it to search more of the internet than Google or other competitors but the big breakthrough for me is that Cuil presents information in a way that is more useful and interesting. Instead of creating a long list of results it lays them out a bit like the page of a newspaper. It creates pages of links that are related and displays them as tabs and it also creates categories that are displayed in a box. The final piece is that Cuil integrates images with the search results so that you can scan visually as well as by text.

I haven’t spent enough time with Cuil yet to know whether it does a better job of getting to that one specific thing but I do know it is far better for searches where you are not sure what you are looking for. It is great for browsing and takes you to links you might never have thought to look for or couldn’t describe with specific search terms.

Check it out. It may just be the next evolution of the design of search.

I got a great present from my wife the other day. It was a set of Bodum coffee cups. They are the double walled ones with a vacuum in between. Like a vacuum flask, they keep hot liquids hotter for longer and cold liquids colder. The revelation for me was how much better my morning latté now is. The old experience was a great first taste, where the coffee was at the right temperature, and then a steadily degraded experience with each subsequent sip. If I was particularly engaged in what I was reading the coffee would be cold by the time I got to the last few mouthfuls. With the new cup every sip is as good as the last and I catch myself savoring a mouthful of great coffee many more times a day. So the question I asked myself is whether the new cup is a great product or a great experience.

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