Good design enables people to do (achieve) what they want without them realizing it. I know, it sounds a bit daunting, but this is how very good design works.
A well-designed product, service or experience helps people achieve their goals without shouting out-loud “notice me” and “praise me”.
Services such as cruises and theme parks that are purchased entirely for the experience are exceptions to this rule. Nobody goes on a cruise for transportation - getting from, say, Anchorage to Vancouver.
The bulk of services, however, are not bought exclusively for the experience. They are bought for fulfilling a need that is not living the experience itself. Very good experience designers understand the essential need a customer has and then design an experience that fulfills that need seamlessly (without disruption).
For example, in a restaurant which understands that people who dine with friends are looking for a place to interact with their social connections will not have its waiters ask three times “is everything all right with you?”. Such well-meaning questions which are supposed to show customer centricity (and try to upsell) are unnecessary interruptions in a conversation over dinner. The mere fact that two (or more) people having dinner are engaged in a conversation is a clear indication that “everything is all right”.
Personally, I had countless meetings in coffee shops around the world and I still can’t understand why some cafes that offer the option of sitting down at a table have loud music. Isn’t having a brief conversation the point of having a coffee with someone in a coffee shop?
The handbag counter
Relatively recently I came across this example of a pharmacy design. The counter for handbags (highlighted in red) caught my attention because it shows that the architect designed the place with an understanding of customer behavior.
Photo credit Matius Design Studio
In Romania, where the pharmacy is, people go to the doctor and get a prescription (a physical piece of paper) which they bring to the pharmacy and get the drugs (medicine). At the pharmacy, the client needs to give the prescription to the pharmacist.
Quite often, prescriptions are held in handbags, thus the counter for the handbag is a design feature that helps the client do what she wants (i.e. getting the medicine) more smoothly. Naturally, the small counter is useful for people who hold their wallets in handbags.
I noticed a similar handbag counter at a bank branch in the USA. It serves the same purpose – helping the client interact with the service provider’s employee.
Features such as the handbag counter, comfortable chairs and the absence of loud music go, most likely, unnoticed by the customers. And that is how it should be. In a coffee shop, two people chatting over a cup of coffee should not notice that the chairs are comfortable and that they don’t need to shout to one another. In a retail space (e.g. pharmacy, bank) in which handing out papers is involved, clients should not notice that they can hand out papers to service providers with less effort because of the handbag counter.
Good design is invisible and useful – it helps clients achieve what they want.