Friday, April 10, 2009

Sign Fail

I learn as much from bad design -- probably more! -- than I do from the good. Following my post on signs and signals, here's a common mistake we all make when we create signs whose information is incomplete.

Where is the designated area?

Not here...

Hey Bikes!
But no sign that says it's a designated area
(that glowing blob above says "Loading Zone")

Monday, April 6, 2009

Unexpected Acts of Service

A new coffee shop opened up around the corner from me a couple weeks ago. It's a little like what people are calling a "Coffee 2.0" shop. These are the post-Starbucks coffee houses usually staffed by very intense, lean, bearded dudes and tattooed women who park their fixed gear bikes behind the counter and work their shift with their pant legs still pegged. The menus are sparse. Five drinks maybe, often no food, certainly no CD's or insulated mugs. The foam is poured seriously into exacting patterns: hearts, Christmas trees, apples, friendly lions.

While I like the monastic attention to that's given to the coffee drinks, the experience is often marked by a total lack of humor and, more often than I wish, poor service. Want a smile? Not today. Want a custom drink? Good luck. I've seen a sign at one place that basically said "We don't customize in order to respect the integrity of the drink." Huh?

This new place has been getting its bearings for the past couple weeks. Service has been up and down. But today I stopped in, grabbed a pound of beans and was walloped with a couple surprises.

"Hey, thanks for coming in. How are you going to brew those?"
I make espresso.
"Good -- they're great for that. What kind of machine?"
I told her.
"Nice. We're using that blend to brew our espresso right now. Same roast date even. I like it a lot, it's pulling awesome right now. Would you like a shot on the house?"
Hell yes!

The interaction was quick. The shot cost the cafe almost nothing. The attention and questions she offered were free. The experience was something I won't forget. Guess where I'll buy my next bag?

I was reminded of our kind of service. These small, thoughtful extra miles are what we do really well. They're not easy to invent on the spot, customized for every different customer, but they don't have to be. It was obvious that she'd offered people shots for buying a bag of coffee before. She had her own system that let her give service that felt fresh and personal and not contrived at all.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Making Signs for Speedy Decisions

We use signs and signals in our work every day to tell us when and what work to do. Alarms ring at 11:30am to signal the duddle. A garbage bag is full, hopefully signaling to empty it. A full buffer zone signals a picker to help their neighbor.

There is a dash of art and some science to making a good sign. Probably most important, a sign should be appropriate to its purpose. Where you need speed, a sign should be able to be understood quickly. Think of highway signs, meant to be read at 70 mph: big, bold, easy to read, using a shared conventional language. Where speed is not as important... well, I'm not going to go there. I think speed is almost always important for signals and signs. If I make a sign that takes a minute to understand when another could get the job done in ten seconds I just wasted your time. In lean terms I just loaded you with a lot of over-processing. Signs are used over and over so the over-processing waste adds up. A lack of urgency shouldn't be an excuse to make a complex sign.

Here's a list of 6 sign and signal options, ordered from quickest to understand to slowest. I'm sure I'm missing some since I'm working from experience, not a referenc manual, so I welcome thoughts and additions. (They're also ordered in terms of how much information they can carry -- more on that in another post.) When you make a signal, start at the fastest to see if it can do the job you need. If not, move to a slower option. If it doesn't work, keep going. Also, consider if you can break the task into jobs that need simpler, faster signals.

Types of Signs, Fastest to Slowest
1. Sound
2. Light
3. Color
4. Graphic image
5. Pictorial image
6. Text

Can you break the job down so it uses more simple signals instead of one complex one?