We are surrounded by all sorts of sounds all the times. Some we choose; some we don't. We set an alarm clock. We set up music playlist for our exercise. We choose podcasts for our commute. We play music for dinner parties. In between those moments, we have down time. We are surrounded by sound (or noise) that we did not design. Some are oblivious; others are obnoxious. Also in between those moments, we switch devices. From an alarm clock, to smart phone, to our car audio system, and to smart speakers in our dining room. We juggle multiple accounts, multiple playlists, and multiple apps. Can we design and edit the sound around us all the time, across different contexts and different devices? This was one of the ideas that my students today...
I went to Office Max to pick up chairs that I ordered earlier. The store was almost empty. I was happy to see my chairs stacked up in the cash register area. I thought it would a quick stop at the cash register to pay for the chairs and leave. Perhaps 5 minutes total.
There were two employees at the cash register. One was dealing with a customer who tried to get a refund. The other was trying to find a product that a customer wants to buy (if you buy a big item there, you bring a card from the floor to the cash register and they will bring to you). I was the first one behind these two customers. Lucky me, I thought! Well, not quite. The one customer at the cash register #1 did not seem to have receipts, and also got some type of discounts because she was a member of the "club". It seemed like a complicated return case and the cashier finally asked for a manager. When the manager came, three of them were going through the customers iPhone to find an email from the store. In the meantime, the line was getting longer, but the manager did not seem to be bothered by the growing line. At the same time, at the cash register #2, the other cashier did not seem to be able to locate the product the second customer wanted to purchase. He was running around the store, while the customer was waiting. The line was getting longer and longer, some of the customers starting to complain loudly that the store should have more people manning the cash registers. (I wasn't one of them!) The customer at the register #1 noticed that she was causing a long delay behind her, and suggested that she might come back later. To my surprise, the cashier told her that the customer could walk over to the customer service counter where a couple of employees were just standing. I was asking myself, "why on earth didn't the cashier tell the customer to go to the customer service desk, in the first place? and why didn't manager act as a manager, but as a super cashier?" Finally, my turn came. The cash register #1 crashed; cashier asked me to come to the register #3. I left the store with the chairs. Total time wasted: 40 minutes.
Store Two: Apple Store
Then, I went to an Apple Store. The store was packed with people checking out the latest iPhone X. I wanted to pick up new iPhone cases for myself and my son. I went straight to the shelf to pick up two cases. All employees were busy talking to customers. So, I whipped out my iPhone, started Apple Store app, scanned the barcodes on the back of the cases, and used Apple pay to pay. I walked out with two cases in my hand. Total time experienced: 5 minutes.
No wonder why the traditional retailers are dying. It is not technology. It is bad management. Apple is just good at using the technology to create good user experiences.
Herbert A. Simon, the late management scientist and Nobel Laureate, argued that we are living in an "artificial" world, one that is shaped by man-made artifacts. Throughout human history, we have mobilized our collective power with increasingly powerful tools to transform the natural world to advance our civilization.