Posts tagged “quality”

New Soap in No Bottles

During a recent hotel stay I came across this familiar tag, hanging in the bathroom.

As hotel guests, we’re empowered to make the decision about whether to reuse our towels or get fresh ones. They’ve framed this as an environmental issue, which it is, but it’s also about customers improving the bottom line for the hotel. So it’s a wisely-framed message; I suspect it works reasonably well (although I wonder about housekeeping staff in this equation; if they are seeking tips then perhaps that’s why I see fresh towels as often as I not).

In the shower itself, I found this dispenser.

Here’s the message in detail

A similar dynamic; if you give up a little something, you save the environment. However, in this case, you don’t have a choice, and more importantly, the packaging has a significant impact upon the experience. That dispenser connotes generic, low-quality shower goo, not the delightful little cleansing treats found in hotels.

This is a design/experience/messaging challenge that they just ceded. The goodness of environmental contribution could be better conveyed (even that blue tag is better looking and more enthusiastically written than the dispenser copy). The dispenser could reward you in the interaction. The quality of ingredients, normally messaged by the packaging, could be explicitly demonstrated (an interesting, if not entirely successful example is Method on Virgin America).

Related: The rooms in Seattle’s Edgewater Hotel have lovely big bottles of shampoo ($25 if you take them) but they lose some of the appeal when you see these bottles used by housekeeping to refill ’em.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood says MP3s sound good enough – [In ReadingAheda we explored the "Gold Standard" of previous generations of technology]
    SASHA FRERE-JONES: Is the MP3 a satisfactory medium for your music?

    JONNY GREENWOOD: They sound fine to me. They can even put a helpful crunchiness onto some recordings. We listened to a lot of nineties hip-hop during our last album, all as MP3s, all via AirTunes. They sounded great, even with all that technology in the way. MP3s might not compare that well to a CD recording of, say, string quartets, but then, that’s not really their point.

    SFJ: Do you ever hear from your fans about audio fidelity?

    JG: We had a few complaints that the MP3s of our last record wasn’t encoded at a high enough rate. Some even suggested we should have used FLACs, but if you even know what one of those is, and have strong opinions on them, you’re already lost to the world of high fidelity and have probably spent far too much money on your speaker-stands.
    (via kottke)

  • Yoostar lets anyone act opposite Hepburn, Brando – It's a consumer-level greenscreen system, so you can record video of yourself composited into classic movie footage. While it's amazing that this is being productized at a consumer level, the reviews make it clear that it's riddled with difficulties and limitations.
  • Microsoft tries Tupperware-party-esque promotion for Windows 7 – If you can find 9 friends and provide a decent pitch, you could be chosen to host a Windows 7 House Party and win a free signature copy of Windows 7. There are four pre-defined categories for the party: PhotoPalooza, Media Mania, Setting up with Ease, and Family Friendly Fun.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • The process of converting books to Kindle format introduces errors in the text – The cost of a printed book covers some degree of proofing and checking—not enough, but some. The cost of a Kindle book does not support editorial quality control, and the multi-step conversion process, handled in bulk by third parties, chops out content and creates other errors that no one fixes because no one is there to do QA.

    As the economics of publishing continues to change, perhaps one day soon, a Kindle edition will contain the same text as the printed book. Until it does, Kindle is great for light reading. But if it’s critical that every word, comma, and code sample come through intact, for now, you’re better off with print.

  • The Social History of the MP3 – For Reading Ahead, we're looking at other transitions to digital: "So omnipresent have these discussions become, in fact, that it's possible the past 10 years could become the first decade of pop music to be remembered by history for its musical technology rather than the actual music itself. This is a chastening thought, but at the same time we have to be careful not to overlook how the technologies we invent to deliver music also work to shape our perception of it. When radio came along, its broadcasts created communities of music-listening strangers, physically distant from each other but connected through the knowledge that they were listening to the same song at the same time. Where radio brought listeners together as a listening public, the LP started splitting them apart. The LP and 45 rpm formats took the phonograph, which had been in existence for over half a century, to the masses, right as the American middle-class was going suburban and privatizing their lives."
  • Medical Students Experience Life as Nursing Home Patients – Students are given a “diagnosis” of an ailment and expected to live as someone with the condition does. They keep a daily journal chronicling their experiences and, in most cases, debunking their preconceived notions.

    To Dr. Gugliucci’s surprise, she found nursing homes in the region that were willing to participate and students who were willing to volunteer. No money is exchanged between the school and nursing homes, and the homes agree to treat students like regular patients.

    “My motivation is really to have somebody from the inside tell us what it’s like to be a resident,” said Rita Morgan, administrator of the Sarah Neuman Center for Healthcare and Rehabilitation here, one of the four campuses of Jewish Home Lifecare.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Mini places last in J.D. Power quality study – but mfr. thinks this is a good thing? So what is "quality"? – Mini says it deliberately engineers quirks into its cars, like oddly placed dashboard controls or unusual interior lighting, that drag down its ratings in such studies. But Jim McDowell, vice president of Mini's U.S. operations, said those design features are central to the brand's personality.

    "Mini has some idiosyncrasies that we engineer into our cars. We want to make our cars remarkable little cars." McDowell attributed Mini's poor performance in J.D. Power's most recent study to design quirks like the windshield wiper control. In the Mini, it's a button that presses rather than a knob that turns. Its cars feature adjustable ambient light colors ­ not an option you're likely to find in your standard Dodge Ram pickup.

    J.D. Power says the top five problems reported in the overall study were wind noise, air conditioner or heater control problems, interior scuffing, audio control problems and brake noise.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Mass Customization of the Fiat 500 – A number of folks we recently met in Europe mentioned this new (although an updated classic) car as being perfect for their needs. The variation and customizing, while perhaps not unique in today's marketplace (I'm imaging the Mini's variability is similar if not beyond) was still striking: "The 500 is available with four different trim levels: Naked, Pop, Lounge, and Sport. Customers can choose also between 15 interior trims, 9 wheel options, 19 decals, and 12 body colours. There are over 500,000 different personalized combinations of the 500 that can be made by adding all kinds of accessories, decals, interior and exterior colours, and trims."
  • Searching for Value in Ludicrous Ideas – Allison Arieff writes about "inventor/author/cartoonist/former urban planner Steven M. Johnson" whose "work tends toward the nodes where social issues intersect with design and urban planning issues." I'm reminded of my formative experiences with Al Jaffee features from MAD magazine where he's describe future products or technologies, or explain (fancifully) the workings of some current product (i.e. bars of soap that are made with quick disappearing stuff on the outside and then a small interior core that takes a long long time to dissolve).
  • Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt – Suggested to me by René Vendrig at the Amsterdam UX Cocktail Hour, after my talk on looking at cultural differences based on everyday observations. He tells me "It is about traffic, but the real subject is human psychology and how we deal with that kind of situations."
  • It's Not TV, It's HBO – HBO's standard-creating slogan, giving words to the premium experience of their programming.
  • It's not just coffee, it's Starbucks. – New ad campaign for Starbucks attempts to differentiate on quality, but sounds just a bit familiar.
  • All This ChittahChattah | Flying the sneaky skies – (see link for screen grab)

    While checking in online for a United Airlines flight, you may be offered the opportunity to upgrade to Economy Plus. It’s likely that most people decline upsells in many situations, though. The default would be to click “no thanks” and move on to completing the transaction. But United has done some tricky and manipulative interface design. The bright yellow arrow with bold text placed on the right is almost irresistible. E-commerce sites have trained us to envision a transaction moving from left to right (granted that they’ve landed on that model since it corresponds to how we read and other cultural factors); it’s very easy to click on the arrow and make a purchase you didn’t want. It takes cognitive work to search for the preferred option which is a lowly blue-underlined unbolded text link off to the left.

  • Evil-interface design in airline website design spanked by European Commission – "Another common problem is the use of prechecked boxes offering services like travel insurance; consumers must uncheck the boxes to remove the unwanted charge." I've written before about United's website being slightly more subtle in their evilness, by offering an upgrade during check-in where the highly visible (colored graphic arrow) button in the default location will cost you tons of money; it's more effort to realize, locate, and decline the offer. Why do we live in a world where major brands want to sell us things that we don't want by tricking us? It's unconscionable that any company can claim to respect consumers and then pull crap like this.
  • Cyd Harrell of Bolt | Peters reacts to the ludicrous Dell campaign trying to sell computers to women, in 2009 – "…a woman, with the last Dell I will ever own. It’s my current laptop, and I chose it because I needed a computer powerful enough to run screensharing tools and high-res video; I needed mobile broadband to stay in touch with my clients and employees, and not just my kid (heresy!); I needed my screen to look great when I go to meetings with clients. That is to say, I needed it for work. Dell, let’s make it official: you can bite me and the millions of other women who take themselves and their technology seriously."

    I love the articulate passion here, as well as the insight into what may have happened organizationally/culturally at Dell (ahem, really crappy research) that leads to such a horrendously offensive sales pitch to HALF of their buying population

Parody as Time Capsule

Here are two cartoon shorts that reveal powerful and dated perspectives on consumer culture and the automotive industry. Dated isn’t bad; in these cases it tells us a lot about what the concerns of the time were.

From 1974, a pilot for a MAD television special. It’s the credits and the first segment, a cynical interview with an automotive executive. The theme of poor quality screams out loud and clear.

From 1951, Tex Avery’s Car of Tomorrow. Silly concepts that speak to social attitudes and concerns from that period. Which ones have changed? Unlike the MAD piece which frames its critique by being very current, this cartoon looks to the future and reveals these values somewhat more indirectly.

Mom’s Quality Correspondents at McDonald’s

Last year McDonald’s set up a panel of high-profile over-achieving moms. Their latest version appears to be drawing from the ranks of the everyday customer.

In a bid to convince health-conscious moms that its food is nutritious, McDonald’s says it will bring the group of mothers fully inside the company. The moms will visit restaurants, processing plants, orchards and test kitchens.

Beginning June 20, the moms will keep an online journal for roughly three months about what they see – and how they feel about it. The journal will be posted on the McDonald’s website and, the company hopes, read by other moms. McDonald’s insists it will have no input on what the women write.

McDonald’s dubbed the program Mom’s Quality Correspondents. The moms were picked from 4,000 applicants by Arc Worldwide, a promotions specialist.

They aren’t being paid, though McDonald’s pays for their travel. They got laptop computers for the program that they will be allowed to keep.

The women will be journaling – not blogging – says Starmann, meaning consumer responses to their comments will not be posted on the site. But the six mothers are free to respond to consumers or to post comments on other blogs, she says. They also will appear in videos at www.mcdonaldsmom.com.

Radisson doesn’t quite get basic tech

Like the phone.

Last weekend I needed to set a wake-up call, and either introversion or bitter experience leads me to trust an automated service more than a human being, but even so, I always look on the phone for instructions on how to arrange for one.

p1000523.jpg
Right. Press the button and you’ll either end up in the automated system or you’ll be speaking to someone who can handle it. I press the button, but nothing. Press again, nothing. I try the other buttons and they all simply click. The phone has special function buttons but they are unprogrammed.

Okay, all is not lost. The room has another phone in it.
p1000525.jpg

But this phone has a different interface. Here we’re told to touch 77 (why is touch the verb, anyway?). Doing so brings me to the voice mail interface, which does not have any wake-up options.

Two phones, two different interfaces, both screwed up. I called 0 (or touched 0, if you prefer) and spoke to someone (shudder!) and it was handled.

It’s just a weird failure of attention-to-detail.

Walker on Poketo

Rob Walker’s Consumed takes a look at Poketo

The project that became Poketo began in 2003 with a show at a space called Build, in the Mission District, featuring work by six artists. This time, in addition to paintings, the exhibition included wallets. The physical objects were all the same (stitched-together vinyl and plastic, folding to 4 inches by 4 inches), but each artist printed his or her own design on a set of a dozen wallets, which were priced at $15 each. While it is not unusual for a well-known artist to dabble in consumer goods that are more accessible to a wider audience, the wallets essentially reversed that formulation. These consumer goods served as promotional items that might draw attention to the work of a lesser-known artist. “We wanted to expose our friends to the wider world,” Myung says. Wallets were a particularly good medium, in that they are carried around, not hung on a wall at home.

We bought two of these gorgeous wallets at WonderCon a couple of years ago. I got a lot of great comments for my interesting wallet, featuring a sci-fi cartoon scene with aliens and interplanetary landscapes.

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Not my wallet, but similar, by the same artist, Martin Ignatius Cendreda.

But it was a piece of crap. It was horribly designed, with insufficient holders for cards and an extraneous change purse (change purse? In a wallet?). And it didn’t last at all. I repaired it myself with clear packing tape many times. I was thrilled to have an ordinary item that was made special by its visual and artistic appeal, but why trade off basic functionality? Eventually, I gave up. I bought a recycled rubber wallet that is more subtle in its beauty (and its story), and I won’t go back to something that doesn’t work for me. I’d like to have seen Walker (or anyone else that reviews the work of these darlings) acknowledge that the product isn’t usable and doesn’t last.

More Reasons to Hate Amazon

I am pretty fed up with how Amazon conceals information in order to eliminate or reduce customer service complaints. Not to solve problems, but to disempower the customer to actually do anything about it.

I ordered a used book (i.e., Amazon Marketplace). It came with some bent corners. Now, when I ordered it 2 weeks ago, did I pay the least amount for an “Acceptable” condition book? Or did I pay more and get a “New” book? I can’t tell from the book itself, so I go to the web. I look at my account info, I look at the confirmation email they sent me, I look at the detailed order page.

Nowhere is the promised condition indicated. I looked and tried and clicked. One of the links in the confirmation email even went to a dead page.

I guess it could be somewhere incredibly buried and I’m too much of a stupid user to find it, but I suspect rather that they don’t want to deal with this class of problem, so once you make the purchase, they delist the item and that info is gone-gone-gone.

I’ve written them to ask, but I don’t expect much from Amazon’s help, given past experiences.

Not a good day for e-commerce here at any rate – an eBay seller sent me the wrong item, so now I get to go through that whole hassle in resolving that. Sigh!

Update: Amazon wrote me back and in fact this info is available. Instead of looking at the recent orders in your account, you have to do the following from the main account page
Click “Your Auctions & zShops account” in the right-hand margin.
Click on “Amazon Payments: View all recent purchases.”
Ater logging in, enter the appropriate search dates to find the order you want.

DIY, okay

diy

Design-It-Yourself is a new Ellen Lupton book to help plain folks like me avoid the unnecessary time and expense of working with skilled designers. I’m especially amused by how poorly written and badly laid out (Hello? Typography? Punctuation? Caps? Bullets?) the page is. Hey, wanna look like crap? Buy this book!

simple ideas on how you can “think like a designer”

clear and coherent explanations of design technologies, from silk-screening to web development
what materials you’ll need to get your job done

where to find and buy them

How Hard is It To Get A Lamp Right?

We’re trying to start 2006 properly lit. We’ve just been suffering from too few lamps with too low wattage. So we got three lamps. One from West Elm we hope will arrive soon. One from Room and Board, and one from Lamps Plus.

The lamp from Room and Board was really disappointing. The whole retail experience is all about calm quality and modernism. The lamp we purchased was a Kovacs product (or so we see on the box) complete with a tag inside filled with purple prose about the future legacy we’ve purchased (I kid you not) and then followed by impenetrable instructions on a piece of photocopy paper. I guess the brand design stops at the labels. Anyway, the legs were not assembled properly and screwed together all askew. A crucial part was missing (that we couldn’t tell from the instructions) and the rest of it wouldn’t screw together.

We took it back, and they happily went and retrieved another from the basement. I decided to open it and look for similar warps in the product, and voila, it was also bent. That was their last one; they’ve ordered one to be delivered to us – will it arrive intact? I’m skeptical, we’re 0 for 2.

The LampsPlus lamp (made by Orbit) arrived today. I put it together, plugged it in, looks great. I then go to remove the wrapping from the lampshade, and there’s a gross stain on it. Oops, we’ll have to pack the whole thing up and ship it back for exchange – on our own dime? Or we can take it into a store. It’d be great to just exchange the shade, and not have to deal with taking the whole thing apart, packing it up (in its arcanely efficient way), fitting it in the car, and then taking a new one home and reassembling it. I bet they won’t do that.

Update: the replacement Room and Board lamp was complete but broke during assembly. Still waiting on the replacement shade for the LampsPlus lamp. Sigh.

Six Feet Under or Over The Shark


What’s wrong with Six Feet Under? In May 2001, Tad Friend had a long article in The New Yorker (not that I can find online anywhere) about the impending premiere of this show. Alan Ball talked about all the typical TV-writing tropes and how they would stay away from them. I’m pretty sure he mentioned the example of an elderly black or Asian man projecting wisdom, and I’m sure there were others. The point of the writing, he stressed, was to move away from that, into something that was not television. That is the HBO slogan, isn’t it?

Now we watch this week’s episode. A separated wife hires a nanny, and emphasizes that she plans for her to carry in the bottles of water. The nanny arrives and instructed by the wife that the bottles are indeed too heavy for her, so if the nanny could please bring them in when they arrive. Naturally, the nanny doesn’t work out, but the estranged husband appears on the doorstep to drop off the kids, and he’s dutifully carrying the bottled water.

We’ve known these supporting characters for several seasons, through the ups and downs of their relationship (mental illness, meddling siblings, financial struggles, infidelity, lying, etc.) and this particular need – the bottled water – has never been mentioned. It was introduced in the episode purely so it could be wrapped up by the end of the episode. Indeed, the need that the bottled water symbolized was pretty much out of left field as well. Now this kind of lame trickery is exactly what Hollywood is good at. Tell you how to feel, set it up, deliver it. Bang, boom, payoff, done.

Hey, elsewhere in the episode a group of grieving/celebrating women chanted anti-men slogans, but then began to sing. One woman began to sing first, in a quavery and not-very-musical voice. But then others picked up the song, and it gathered strength, musically, as more women joined in, their voices joining together in a lovely and uplifting moment. The voices got better, the initially-quavery singer begins a call-and-response, the camera circles around their candle-lit and Womanly Faces as the song grows.

I think there’s nothing more Hollywood-in-the-past-10-years than that scene.

It seems that they created some founding principles, or a mission/values statement, but they chose not to stick to them. They might have done well to have read Built to Last, a now-classic management book that explains how other business efforts stayed successful, and if I recall, that values statement was part of the common thread.

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