Category: Customer Experiences

Design For Goals: JBoye09 Workshop Slides

November 25th, 2009 — 5:42am

I’ve posted the slides from my tuto­r­ial / work­shop Design For Goals at JBoye 09 on slideshare: they’re embed­ded below.

The struc­ture for this tuto­r­ial is part method review (on how to under­stand people’s goals in a struc­tured way), and part shar­ing of re-usable pat­terns found after research­ing goals.   Since the con­text of ori­gin for both the goals and pat­terns was com­plex inter­na­tional finance, some trans­la­tion of the raw mate­ri­als and exam­ples and the syn­the­sized pat­terns into a realm closer to home for ordi­nary peo­ple is likely in order.

As you’re going through the slides, I sug­gest using your own activ­i­ties that involve infor­ma­tion find­ing and mak­ing sub­stan­tial finan­cial deci­sions as a ref­er­ence.  Not all the exam­ples that I selected as the basis of exer­cises dur­ing the tuto­r­ial made across the cul­tural bar­rier between North Amer­ica and North­ern Europe: I was sur­prised at how many peo­ple (in a pro­fes­sional audi­ence) have never bought house or car…  Which proves yet again that this is one of the areas for user expe­ri­ence design to work on as a discipline.

And as we had a small, noisy, and rather warm room right after lunch, I should say big thanks to all the par­tic­i­pants and vol­un­teers — every­one — who made an effort to engage.

Even design edu­ca­tion is a work-in-progress, it seems.

2 comments » | Customer Experiences, User Experience (UX), User Research

Demographic Shifts and Experience Design Implications: Boomers and Mobile Devices

October 10th, 2007 — 4:30pm

Ongo­ing demo­graphic shifts (in the West­ern world) have mas­sive num­bers of Baby Boomers, with large amounts of dis­pos­able income — “Pro­jec­tions from Met Life Mar­ket Insti­tute show that by the time the last boomer turns 65 in 2030, the gen­er­a­tion will con­trol more than 40 per­cent of dis­pos­able income in the United States.” (from Some Like It Hot) — aging rapidly. I think we’re just begin­ning to see what hap­pens when busi­ness and Design respond to the impli­ca­tions of these demo­graphic and eco­nomic shifts by cre­at­ing both new busi­nesses, and new designs.
To some extent Design has a frame of ref­er­ence for the changes on the way: acces­si­bil­ity is a con­cern we already know, that will become a jump­ing off point to deeper, more con­tex­tual and more pow­er­ful design dri­vers. I expect these will chal­lenge design­ers to employ increas­ingly holis­tic approaches to cre­at­ing inte­grated prod­ucts / ser­vices / expe­ri­ences. The Jit­ter­bug cell phone from Great­Call is a good exam­ple of design that ini­tially addressed the chang­ing sen­sory and phys­i­cal needs of Boomers, but then goes fur­ther into con­sid­er­ing the entire mobile phone expe­ri­ence, from acti­va­tion to con­fig­u­ra­tion and daily use from the point of view of seniors and their expec­ta­tions for relat­ing to tech­nol­ogy. The end result was a new busi­ness.
Baby boomers and their par­ents haven’t been quick to adopt mobile phones, even for use in emer­gen­cies. The tech­nol­ogy is too com­pli­cated for many to learn quickly, and the screens and con­trols too diminu­tive for aging or infirm hands. …The Jit­ter­bug offers big but­tons, easy-to-read text, and sim­pli­fied, easy-to-use func­tions, an ear cush­ion, and an ergonomic shape. Per­son­al­ized ser­vices make it easy for users to retrieve mes­sages, and offers live oper­a­tors for call-related sup­port.
The Jit­ter­bug clearly shows acces­si­bil­ity as a mod­i­fier of already well-defined user expe­ri­ences, and how design can adapt these expe­ri­ences to meet dif­fer­ent needs. But Boomer needs exceed the point where sim­ply adapt­ing an exist­ing prod­uct expe­ri­ence with minor changes (not at the level of the men­tal model) is a solu­tion. And so the demo­graphic shift of Boomer aging inspired the cre­ation of a new com­pany, Great­Call, that designs inte­grated prod­ucts, ser­vices, and expe­ri­ences, like the Jit­ter­bug One­touch:

…The Jit­ter­Bug One­touch sports three over­sized but­tons for users who pri­mar­ily want a cell phone for emer­gency pur­poses, such as elderly or dis­abled users who need to be able to sum­mon assis­tance with the push of a sin­gle but­ton. One but­ton dials 911, one sum­mons live-operator call assis­tance, and the third can be pro­grammed for any ser­vice the user wants, such as an emer­gency num­ber, a tow­ing ser­vice recep­tion at an assisted liv­ing facil­ity, or a loved one.

Three but­tons that con­nect to pre­de­fined emer­gency ser­vices is not what I think of as a mobile phone, but it makes per­fect sense for this set of design needs.
More impor­tant, the Jit­ter­bug makes appar­ent that tra­di­tional sce­nar­ios for under­stand­ing mobile phone use do not ade­quately apply to seniors and aging Boomer pop­u­la­tions. As design pro­fes­sion­als, we know these sce­nar­ios, per­sonas, and other design mod­els serve as the basis for entire busi­ness processes, includ­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing, mar­ket­ing, sales, and ser­vice, as well as whole busi­nesses.
In terms of design and busi­ness responses to large cul­tural shifts, the Jit­ter­bug shows that inte­grated expe­ri­ences require inte­grated design approaches, which in turn require close inte­gra­tion and systems-based think­ing from all the enti­ties con­tribut­ing to the over­all expe­ri­ence in some way, from hard­ware through the Web based phone man­age­ment soft­ware.

For two years, Jit­ter­bug and Samsung’s indus­trial design­ers col­lab­o­rated before bring­ing the new phones to mar­ket. Sam­sung under­stood imme­di­ately that there was a poten­tially large mar­ket for this new con­cept in mobile phones, but they had to be sold on doing more than cre­at­ing a novel hand­set: they had to be will­ing to design the prod­uct in tan­dem with Jitterbug’s ser­vice sys­tem.

Har­ris: “For them (Sam­sung) it was a hand­set. For us, it was a sys­tem. The hand­set was just one ele­ment.“

Result: The Jit­ter­bug phone design is sim­pli­fied due to the fact it is man­aged remotely through a Web-based inter­face. “It’s not just the design of the hand­set, or what the call cen­ters do, it’s all about the entire expe­ri­ence,“

From Jit­ter­bug Phone Designed for Seniors, and Sell­ing Tech­nol­ogy to Baby Boomers & Seniors.

Comment » | Customer Experiences, User Experience (UX)

The Importance of Customer Experience During Mergers

January 2nd, 2007 — 9:45pm

Merg­ers and acqui­si­tions activ­ity in 2006 reached record lev­els, and it’s likely that the pace will increase in 2007.
In the midst of the epic deal-making, com­pa­nies should look beyond imme­di­ate ben­e­fits for share­hold­ers and exec­u­tives, and pay very close atten­tion to the impact of merg­ers (and other major orga­ni­za­tional shifts) on cus­tomer expe­ri­ences. Why? Because acquired cus­tomers are eas­ily lost.
Merg­ers and acqui­si­tions cre­ate tran­si­tion points, moments when avoid­able cus­tomer expe­ri­ence mis­takes sour once strong rela­tion­ships with loyal cus­tomers of an acquired com­pany, and they depart per­ma­nently. This is dou­bly unfor­tu­nate: the right cus­tomer expe­ri­ence can bridge old and new for acquired cus­tomers, and pro­vide reas­sur­ing con­ti­nu­ity dur­ing times of sub­stan­tial flux in areas such as brands and iden­ti­ties, cor­po­rate cul­tures, orga­ni­za­tional struc­tures, sup­port­ing enter­prise archi­tec­tures and sys­tems, even cus­tomer ser­vice pro­ce­dures.
Well-managed cus­tomer expe­ri­ences offer two kinds of spe­cific ben­e­fits. The first ben­e­fit is an unex­pected (and thus more pow­er­ful) refu­ta­tion of estab­lished wis­dom from across indus­tries that defines post-merger ser­vice expec­ta­tions as bad. Con­sider these two exam­ples:
From If more US air­lines merge, who would ben­e­fit?:
Avi­a­tion ana­lysts like Kevin Mitchell of the Busi­ness Travel Coali­tion in Rad­nor, Pa. … argues that a flurry of merg­ers right now would raise prices, over­crowd already-packed planes, and cre­ate chaos for cus­tomer ser­vice for years to come pre­cisely because it is so dif­fi­cult to merge avi­a­tion cor­po­rate cul­tures.
“Of course, Wall Street is going to push it,” he says. “What’s good for investors, share­hold­ers, and man­age­ment may not be good for oth­ers: Lots of employ­ees will be laid off, and cus­tomers can look for­ward to 20 to 30 per­cent price hikes and sev­eral years of customer-service [mis­ery].“
And this from FCC clears AT&T merger:
Natalie Billings­ley, a super­vi­sor with the Cal­i­for­nia Pub­lic Util­i­ties Commission’s Divi­sion of Ratepayer Advo­cates, which advo­cates for con­sumer inter­ests, said the new con­ces­sions improved the out­look for AT&T and Bell­South cus­tomers. But she said con­sumers would have been bet­ter off if the merger had not been approved and expressed skep­ti­cism that cus­tomer ser­vice would improve.
“You hope that ser­vice will improve, but it hasn’t been seen with prior merg­ers,” she said.
The sec­ond ben­e­fit is bal­anc­ing the ser­vice dis­rup­tions com­mon to post-merger inte­gra­tion (some­times col­li­sion is the bet­ter word) efforts with a pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence ori­ented toward the longer term. This is espe­cially impor­tant for acquired cus­tomers, who lack exam­ples of how the acquir­ing com­pany han­dles cus­tomer rela­tion­ships, and need surety regard­ing it’s inten­tions.
Enter­prise busi­ness process, infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture, and tech­nol­ogy inte­gra­tions (your SAP or mine…) are notably prone to con­flicts that can dis­rupt cus­tomer expe­ri­ences in dra­matic and unex­pected ways. Much of the dis­rup­tion is eas­ily man­aged in advance by com­mu­ni­cat­ing upcom­ing changes to cus­tomers. The rest is best han­dled by the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence equiv­a­lent of the detour. While the details may prove com­plex behind the scenes, the basic idea is very sim­ple: tell acquired cus­tomers that things used to work one way, explain that they now work another, then show them how, and sup­port them through the required changes.
Because the idea is so sim­ple, orga­ni­za­tions that fail to antic­i­pate and respond to cus­tomer expe­ri­ence dis­rup­tions dur­ing inte­gra­tion efforts neglect the basics of build­ing sound rela­tion­ships with acquired cus­tomers. Neglect­ing acquired cus­tomers from the begin­ning is a good indi­ca­tor that the new orga­ni­za­tion places low value on cus­tomer rela­tion­ships in gen­eral. With bad expe­ri­ences dur­ing botched tran­si­tions, cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion declines, rela­tion­ships sour, and loyal cus­tomers leave.
Snap­shot of a Dis­rupted Expe­ri­ence
Amer­i­can­Bank recently acquired Mega­Bank, and inte­grated the two com­pa­nies’ on-line bank­ing tools. These tools served credit card cus­tomers, in addi­tion to bank­ing cus­tomers. But since nei­ther Mega­Bank nor Amer­i­can­Bank com­mu­ni­cated infor­ma­tion or plans about the merger (no detour…) to Mega­Bank credit card cus­tomers, the stream of per­son­ally addressed emails issued from mys­te­ri­ous sources inside Amer­i­can­Bank looked exactly like a credit card fraud spam broad­cast designed to snare the unwary.
Fol­low­ing the email broad­casts, Amer­i­can­Bank abruptly redi­rected traf­fic from the Mega­Bank account por­tal to the Amer­i­can­Bank web­site, with­out noti­fy­ing Mega­Bank cus­tomers of the switch, thereby mim­ic­k­ing another com­mon tac­tic in fraud efforts — the decoy log-in screen intended to extract user IDs and pass­words from unsus­pect­ing vis­i­tors, who do not rec­og­nize the dif­fer­ence between the legit­i­mate and fake log-in gate­ways.
More dis­rup­tive for Mega­Bank cus­tomers was AmericanBank’s deci­sion to erase their log-in names and then cre­ate new user names in those cases where Mega­Bank log-ins hap­pened to dupli­cate those of exist­ing Bank of Amer­ica cus­tomers, effec­tively dis­plac­ing them. This par­tic­u­lar change would have been trou­ble­some with ade­quate com­mu­ni­ca­tion, since user names and pass­words present exten­sive usabil­ity and mem­ory chal­lenges, but again Amer­i­can­Bank failed to notify Mega­Bank cus­tomers of the changes.
As icing on the cake, Amer­i­can­Bank cre­ated new pass­words for Mega­Bank credit card cus­tomers as well, again with­out noti­fi­ca­tion. The com­bi­na­tion of new log-ins and new pass­words made it impos­si­ble for Mega­Bank credit card cus­tomers to access any of AmericanBank’s on-line account man­age­ment func­tions.
Mega­Bank cus­tomers try­ing to use their nor­mal on-line account man­age­ment tools expe­ri­enced this series of inte­gra­tion steps as spam broad­casts, hijacked nav­i­ga­tion, recog­ni­tion fail­ure, dis­place­ment, and a pass­word recov­ery loop lead­ing to account lock-out. The only way to sort it out and regain access was a labo­ri­ous staged phone call that revealed the reg­u­lar to cus­tomer ser­vice chan­nels couldn’t han­dle on-line access prob­lems.
In the end, Mega­Bank cus­tomers incurred direct costs in the form of ser­vice charges to make pay­ments by phone while locked out of the on-line sys­tem, late fees for miss­ing pay­ments while sort­ing out the account access issues, and puni­tive inter­est rate raises based on auto­mated appli­ca­tion of con­tract rules trig­gered by late pay­ments. The com­plete reck­on­ing includes addi­tional indi­rect costs in the form of frus­tra­tion, con­fu­sion, wasted time, and the effort required to find a sub­sti­tute credit card ser­vicer.
All in all, the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence of the Amer­i­can­Bank and Mega­Bank inte­gra­tion pro­vided clear signs of:

  • mis­aligned busi­ness structures
  • mis­man­aged integration
  • an unbal­anced short term outlook
  • poor rela­tion­ship management
  • pun­ish­ing cus­tomers for bad busi­ness decisions

From the per­spec­tive of an acquired cus­tomer, it’s easy to rec­og­nize these as symp­toms of inter­nal ill health, man­i­fest as indif­fer­ence or ill will toward cus­tomers. Which equates to strong incen­tive to leave in 2006, and not return in 2007.

Comment » | Customer Experiences

My New Swedish Friends: Context, Mystery, and Discontinuities in The IKEA Product Naming System, Part 2

October 18th, 2006 — 11:21pm

For me, the cumu­la­tive con­tex­tual gap became too great to bridge. The inten­sity of so many new things made my own sub­sti­tuted con­text insuf­fi­cient to main­tain the tex­ture of mean­ing in my home — one of the most per­sonal and sig­nif­i­cant of set­tings.
The IKEA Brand
A well-developed brand evokes spe­cific emo­tional res­o­nances, and does so con­sis­tently with each customer’s expe­ri­ences. Brand design­ers and mar­keters care­fully choose emo­tions based on the per­son­al­ity the brand should estab­lish, and the busi­ness goals behind it. Brands often try to cre­ate con­nec­tions to the deeply rooted psycho-personal con­cepts and con­structs that shape our basic ways of think­ing and feel­ing. Brands attempt to become asso­ci­ated with “iden­tity”, “lifestyle”, or in the case of IKEA, “home”. The IKEA brand is built on asso­ci­a­tions with cost-consciousnes s, design sen­si­bil­ity, uncon­ven­tion­al­ity, and eco­log­i­cal aware­ness. Show­cased in the IKEA prod­ucts fur­nish­ing one’s home, these asso­ci­a­tions are meant to serve as evi­dence of an out­look and set of pri­or­i­ties for life in gen­eral.
Ambi­tion is one thing, and suc­cess quite another. Yet by all mea­sures, IKEA’s brand is suc­cess­ful: in addi­tion to superb sales and prof­itabil­ity (secured by the arcane cor­po­rate struc­tures that shield IKEA from tax­a­tion), it com­mands tremen­dous cus­tomer loy­alty, and inspires irra­tional behav­ior that bor­ders on blindly devoted. I cre­ate funny sto­ries about the mean­ings of prod­uct names to ease the mys­ter­ies of their ori­gins. But other sea­soned Amer­i­can retail cus­tomers like Roger Pen­guino and Stacy Pow­ell camp in front of about-to-open IKEA stores for weeks in order to win prizes of mod­est value.
When Roger Pen­guino heard Ikea was offer­ing $4,000 in gift cer­tifi­cates to the first per­son in line at the open­ing of its new Atlanta store, he had no choice. He threw a tent in the back of his car and sped down to the site. There, the 24-year-old Mac spe­cial­ist with Apple Com­puter Inc. (AAPL ) pitched camp, hun­kered down, and waited. And waited. Seven broil­ing days later, by the time the store opened on June 29, more than 2,000 Ikea fanat­ics had joined him.
From Ikea: How the Swedish Retailer became a global cult brand
The Flat-pack Reli­gion: Mys­te­ri­ous Faith
Penguino’s behav­ior is unusual by nor­mal stan­dards, per­haps even fanat­i­cal, but not unique among IKEA cus­tomers.
Christy Pow­ell, 48, camped out for eight nights before the open­ing of a new Ikea store on Inter­state 10 at Antoine in Hous­ton, Texas. Her quest to claim a US$ 10,000 prize meant she sat through siz­zling heat, a vio­lent thun­der­storm and the din of builders fin­ish­ing the car park. By the day of the open­ing, the queue behind Pow­ell had swelled to 700. After a 192-hour wait, she bought just 12 plates and bowls for $18 plus tax.
From Is IKEA For Every­one?
Pow­ell and Penguino’s sto­ries make the IKEA brand’s capac­ity to inspire peo­ple clear. Inspi­ra­tion is a rare achieve­ment for many reli­gions, let alone a con­sumer brand. Inspired reli­gious believ­ers test their faith(s) in ways often incom­pre­hen­si­ble and cer­tainly too numer­ous to count. At heart all these demon­stra­tions address the same goal of affirm­ing the con­sis­tency of a sys­tem of beliefs through per­sonal expe­ri­ence. Like the pil­grim who trav­els from afar and waits in pen­i­ten­tial devo­tion for entry to a tem­ple or sacred site, IKEA shop­pers endure traf­fic jams, and long lines (in the park­ing lot, in the store, in the ware­house, to load pur­chases into cars…) to pay for the priv­i­lege of mem­ber­ship in the global com­mu­nity of IKEA.
Pen­guino is a cit­i­zen of IKEA World, a state of mind that revolves around con­tem­po­rary design, low prices, wacky pro­mo­tions, and an enthu­si­asm that few insti­tu­tions in or out of busi­ness can muster. Per­haps more than any other com­pany in the world, Ikea has become a cura­tor of people’s lifestyles, if not their lives. At a time when con­sumers face so many choices for every­thing they buy, Ikea pro­vides a one-stop sanc­tu­ary for cool­ness. It is a trusted safe zone that peo­ple can enter and imme­di­ately be part of a like-minded cost/design/environmentally-sensitive global tribe. There are other would-be cura­tors around — Star­bucks and Vir­gin do a good job — but Ikea does it best.
From Ikea: How The Swedish Retailer Became a Global Cult Brand
How­ever well IKEA may under­stand my lifestyle — or at least the set of prod­ucts that might fit into my lifestyle and home fur­nish­ing needs — my expe­ri­ences of dis­ori­en­ta­tion and a sense of being con­fronted with the alien within an inti­mate set­ting are not the sorts of emo­tions cus­tom­ar­ily attached to a suc­cess­ful brand. To dis­pel part of the mys­tery of this per­sis­tent dis­con­ti­nu­ity, I set off to find out more about where my new Swedish friends came from: It’s a secre­tive place, full of inter­con­nected and opaque sys­tems.
A World of Sys­tems
Many reli­gions com­bine ele­ments of mys­tery and the inex­plic­a­ble with high lev­els of sys­tem­atic­ity (a par­tic­u­lar recipe the dis­ci­pline of com­par­a­tive reli­gion works to under­stand and artic­u­late). In the same way that brands can par­al­lel reli­gions in their capac­ity to inspire non-rational behav­ior, brands par­al­lel reli­gions by show­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of sys­tems. From a sys­tems per­spec­tive, a brand is a larger whole made up of inter­con­nected emo­tional asso­ci­a­tions and psy­cho­log­i­cally charged con­cepts that cus­tomers expe­ri­ence through many moments, spread across diverse chan­nels and envi­ron­ments (online or trans­ac­tional, adver­tis­ing, ser­vices, pack­ag­ing, lan­guage, etc.). IKEA’s cho­sen val­ues — eco­log­i­cal aware­ness, design sen­si­bil­ity, cost-consciousness — com­bine together to char­ac­ter­ize a mod­ern out­look that bal­ances the enjoy­ment of nov­elty and design-enhanced con­sumerism with longer-term goals. In this sys­tem, IKEA par­ti­sans can have fun, with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the future — their own or every­one else’s. It’s a solid com­pro­mise that demon­strates the clas­sic char­ac­ter­is­tics of a viable sys­tem (more on this shortly).
On closer exam­i­na­tion, this sort of sys­tems think­ing per­me­ates IKEA’s enter­prise at every level, from design, oper­a­tions, and logis­tics to it’s finan­cial and legal struc­tures. And it hap­pens on gigan­tic scales: rather than achieve suc­cess in a sin­gle cat­e­gory of life acces­sories, IKEA’s avowed is aim to cre­ate a com­pre­hen­sive range of prod­ucts for the home (per­haps a total­ity?), as founder Ing­var Kam­prad says explic­itly in his tract, ‘The Tes­ta­ment of a Fur­ni­ture Dealer’.
“The objec­tive must be to encom­pass the total home envi­ron­ment; that is, to offer fur­nish­ings and fit­tings for every part of the home whether indoors or out­doors … It must reflect our way of think­ing by being as sim­ple and straight­for­ward as we are our­selves. It must be durable and easy to live with. It must reflect an eas­ier, more nat­ural and uncon­strained way of life“
From IKEA: The Phi­los­o­phy
To real­ize Kamprad’s goal of com­pre­hen­sive­ness on the level of the indi­vid­ual cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, IKEA presents prod­ucts within an envelop­ing phys­i­cal envi­ron­ment of mas­sive scale and all-embracing com­plete­ness, syn­the­siz­ing a bizarre Sims–style fur­ni­ture­verse that cus­tomers nav­i­gate via pre-determined paths wend­ing seem­ingly at ran­dom through an end­less frac­tal con­glom­er­a­tion of minutely detailed, yet wholly con­trived, liv­ing set­tings.
What enthralls shop­pers and schol­ars alike is the store visit — a sim­i­lar expe­ri­ence the world over. The blue-and-yellow build­ings aver­age 300,000 square feet in size, about equal to five foot­ball fields. The sheer num­ber of items — 7,000, from kitchen cab­i­nets to can­dle­sticks — is a deci­sive advan­tage. “Oth­ers offer afford­able fur­ni­ture,” says Bryan Roberts, research man­ager at Planet Retail, a con­sul­tancy in Lon­don. “But there’s no one else who offers the whole con­cept in the big shed.” …The fur­ni­ture itself is arranged in fully acces­sorized dis­plays, down to the pic­ture frames on the night­stand, to inspire cus­tomers and get them to spend more. The set­tings are so life­like that one writer is stag­ing a play at Ikea in Ren­ton, Wash.
From Ikea: How The Swedish Retailer Became a Global Cult Brand
Over­all, one expe­ri­ences the IKEA store as a self-guided tour through a hybrid land­scape com­posed of deserted last-man-alive-on-earth-sitcom-sets, and impromptu shanty towns cre­ated by unseen pop­u­la­tions of refugees flee­ing brush wars and guerilla con­flicts deep in the inte­rior design, home-décor, and catalog-shopping hin­ter­lands. And like all things IKEA, these set­tings inspire unusual behav­ior, such as the guerilla film­ing of Real World satire skits.
Extrac­tive Archi­tec­tures
Any­one who’s vis­ited an IKEA store under­stands the obvi­ous par­al­lels to other well-known archi­tec­tures of con­trol, such as casi­nos (also here, includ­ing a com­ment that cites the IKEA par­al­lel, [found while research­ing this post]) and amuse­ment parks. I call this spe­cific vari­ant an ‘extrac­tive archi­tec­ture’ since the com­mon objec­tive of these forms designed to sep­a­rate vis­i­tors from the out­side world — envi­ron­men­tal cues like weather and day­light, or social chrono­log­i­cal frames of ref­er­ence — is to cocoon patrons in a fan­tas­ti­cal alter­nate real­ity that enhances the amount of time / money / atten­tion the cre­ators can extract from their vis­i­tors as they pass through.
The logis­tics behind the mas­sive IKEA stores also reflect sys­tem think­ing on truly gigan­tic scales: the IKEA shop­ping expe­ri­ence relies on a global net­work of auto­mated ware­houses and dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­ters as large as 180,000 cubic meters in size. In aggre­gate, these build­ings — there are 27 of them — would make the list of largest build­ings in the world. Nat­u­rally, IKEA exerts con­trol over the infra­struc­ture for this strange realm in the same fas­tid­i­ous fash­ion.
For Want of A Nail, The King­dom Was Put On Back Order
Given the effort and atten­tion to detail required to cre­ate and sup­ply this all-embracing (and also arti­fi­cial) con­text and tune it to an extrac­tive pur­pose, the uncom­fort­able and chal­leng­ing strange­ness of IKEA’s prod­uct names seems like a dis­con­ti­nu­ity in the oth­er­wise smooth con­tin­uüm of the IKEA brand. Or, if IKEA’s prod­uct names are not care­fully man­aged — mean­ing lit­tle or no effort goes into choos­ing them — then the prac­tice of nam­ing prod­ucts is the one aspect of the IKEA expe­ri­ence not to be thought through and care­fully designed from start to fin­ish. Which is a dis­con­ti­nu­ity at a more fun­da­men­tal level.
Per­haps the most com­mon form of dis­con­ti­nu­ity IKEA cus­tomers expe­ri­ence is sim­ple lack of prod­uct avail­abil­ity.
Ikea owns 27 dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­tres like this across the globe, cav­ernous ware­houses where flat­pack boxes make their only stop between sup­plier and store. The sys­tem is designed to oper­ate with math­e­mat­i­cal pre­ci­sion to shave away at costs. When a Fak­tum wardrobe is bought at Brent Park, the cash till reg­is­ters the pur­chase; the pur­chases add up until they trig­ger a warn­ing that stocks are run­ning low; and the mes­sage is passed elec­tron­i­cally up the line to the near­est dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­tre, from where more can be dis­patched. There is no waste of time, effort, or money. The sys­tem is per­fect.
Except, of course, that it isn’t — or at least it wasn’t the last time I tried to buy a Lyck­sele sofabed. Iron­i­cally for a com­pany so com­mit­ted to tol­er­at­ing mis­takes, Ikea appears to have auto­mated Kamprad’s ethic of fru­gal­ity to such a degree that the tini­est human error now cas­cades through the sys­tem, mag­ni­fy­ing itself and spark­ing havoc. A shopfloor worker at Brent Park for­gets to mark down that a box has been dam­aged and thrown out; the auto­matic trig­ger is never sent; a ship­ment of sev­eral hun­dred boxes remains undis­patched from the ware­house — and an angry cus­tomer ends up dri­ving back home along London’s North Cir­cu­lar, curs­ing Ikea bit­terly once more.

From The mir­a­cle of Älmhult
Dis­con­ti­nu­ities within com­pre­hen­sive sys­tems, like tax code loop­holes, the back­door in WOPR’s pro­gram­ming in Wargames or Neo’s spe­cial pow­ers in The Matrix, mat­ter because they sig­nal inter­nal incon­sis­tency; and often presage changes in sys­tem state from sta­bil­ity to insta­bil­ity. Unsta­ble sys­tems often exhibit low via­bil­ity, mean­ing they are not “orga­nized in such a way as to meet the demands of sur­viv­ing in the chang­ing envi­ron­ment”. In sim­pler lan­guage, dis­con­ti­nu­ity often sig­nals and leads to fail­ure.
Emo­tional and expe­ri­en­tial sys­tems such as brands rely on very high lev­els of inter­nal con­sis­tency. They must exhibit sta­bil­ity and via­bil­ity at all lev­els, and across all touch points, espe­cially the con­text sen­si­tive areas of vocab­u­lary and nam­ing that form much of the lin­guis­tic aspects expe­ri­ence of a brand. Given the sen­si­tiv­ity and sig­nif­i­cance of cul­tural con­text, IKEA’s refusal to trans­late its prod­uct names seems coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. How­ever, per­suad­ing — or com­pelling — peo­ple to speak your lan­guage in pref­er­ence to their own is one step toward per­suad­ing or com­pelling them to think from your frame of ref­er­ence. Evan­ge­lists of all vari­eties know this well, and so does IKEA.
The Ikea path to self-fulfilment is not, really, a mat­ter of choice. “They have sub­tle tech­niques for encour­ag­ing com­pli­ance,” argues Joe Kerr, head of the depart­ment of crit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal stud­ies at the Royal Col­lege of Art. “And in fol­low­ing them you become evan­ge­lists for Ikea. If you look at [police] inter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques, for exam­ple, you see that one of the ways you break somebody’s will is to get them to speak in your lan­guage. Once you’ve gone to a shop and asked for an Egg McMuf­fin, or a skinny grande latte, or a piece of Ikea fur­ni­ture with a ludi­crous name, you’re putty in their hands.“
From The mir­a­cle of Älmhult
Still, forc­ing me to speak a for­eign lan­guage at ran­dom does noth­ing to con­vert me to your way of think­ing. Like medieval Catholics who recited the liturgy in Latin with­out com­pre­hend­ing it, I may appear to be a con­vert to IKEA’s wacky reli­gion by refer­ring to my new Swedish friends using the hard-to-pronounce and impossible-to-spell-properly-with-an-English-keyboard names they inher­ited from their home­land, when in real­ity I am merely mouthing the phonemes of a sacra­ment I do not in the least under­stand.
With a lit­tle research, I dis­cov­ered there is a sys­tem for nam­ing IKEA’s prod­ucts:
“There is a sys­tem,” Maria Vinka, one of Ikea’s 11 in-house prod­uct design­ers, is say­ing, wedged into an easy chair in Älmhult’s own branch of Ikea, as she attempts to explain the fiendishly com­plex logic by which the com­pany names its prod­ucts. “For bath­rooms, it’s Nor­we­gian lakes. Kitchens are boys, and bed­rooms are girls. For beds, it’s Swedish cities. There’s a lady who sits there and comes up with new names, mak­ing sure there isn’t a name that means some­thing really ugly in another lan­guage. But it doesn’t always work. We gave a bed a name that means ‘good lay’ in Ger­man.“
From The mir­a­cle of Älmhult
All of the many sys­tems com­pris­ing the IKEA enter­prise seem opaque to vary­ing degrees. The own­er­ship struc­tures that chan­nel IKEA’s mas­sive rev­enues and prof­its to des­ti­na­tions unknown, and shield the inter­linked com­pa­nies from tax­a­tion, reg­u­la­tion, and over­sight are espe­cially con­vo­luted, and serve to main­tain very low lev­els of trans­parency and tight con­trol by Ivar Kam­prad and his fam­ily.
…Kam­prad set about cre­at­ing a busi­ness struc­ture of arcane com­plex­ity and secrecy. Today, there­fore, The Ikea Group is ulti­mately owned by the Sticht­ing Ingka Foun­da­tion, a char­i­ta­ble trust based in the Nether­lands. A sep­a­rate com­pany, Inter Ikea Sys­tems, owns Ikea’s intel­lec­tual prop­erty — its con­cept, its trade­mark, its prod­uct designs. In a labyrinthine arrange­ment, Inter Ikea Sys­tems then makes fran­chise deals with The Ikea Group, allow­ing it to man­u­fac­ture and sell prod­ucts. “The big ques­tion is who owns Inter Ikea Sys­tems,” says Stel­lan Björk, a Swedish jour­nal­ist, who in 1998 wrote a book, never trans­lated into Eng­lish, detail­ing the extra­or­di­nary opac­ity of the company’s organ­i­sa­tion and the extent of its tax avoid­ance. The answer to Björk’s ques­tion seems to be that no one knows. “It seems to be owned by var­i­ous foun­da­tions and off­shore trusts,” Björk says — some based in the Caribbean — “through which the fam­ily con­trols it.” The moti­va­tion behind all this mys­tery, the com­pany insists, “was to pre­vent Ikea being split up after his [Kamprad’s] death [and] to ensure the long term sur­vival of Ikea and its co-workers.“
From The mir­a­cle of Älmhult
And fur­ther:
The IKEA trade­mark and con­cept is owned by Inter IKEA Sys­tems, another pri­vate Dutch com­pany, but not part of the Ingka Hold­ing group. Its par­ent com­pany is Inter IKEA Hold­ing, reg­is­tered in Lux­em­bourg. This, in turn, belongs to an iden­ti­cally named com­pany in the Nether­lands Antilles, run by a trust com­pany in Curaçao. Although the ben­e­fi­cial own­ers remain hid­den from view–IKEA refuses to iden­tify them–they are almost cer­tain to be mem­bers of the Kam­prad fam­ily.
From IKEA: Flat-pack account­ing
A Lit­tle Help From My New Swedish Friends
In Part 1 of this essay, I talked about the mys­te­ri­ous con­text of IKEA prod­uct names, how I’d devel­oped a habit of recon­tex­tu­al­iz­ing the names of the IKEA prod­ucts, and ended by not­ing that after encoun­ter­ing too many at once, the names became a source of dis­com­fort rather than inspi­ra­tion for whim­si­cal enjoy­ment.
In this sec­ond part, I went look­ing for some infor­ma­tion on IKEA’s prod­uct nam­ing prac­tices to bridge this gap. I found out that IKEA chooses names as pro­saically as most other house­hold acces­sories design­ers shep­herd­ing a brand expe­ri­ence for retail con­sumers; by bor­row­ing from the deep and local­ized reser­voirs of their root cul­ture. I also found a series of inter­con­nected but opaque sys­tems — finan­cial, logis­ti­cal, philo­soph­i­cal, brand­ing, expe­ri­en­tial — that show their own strange form of sym­me­try and inter­nal con­sis­tency.
I’m left feel­ing a bit like an IKEA shop­per who’s com­pleted their first trip through one of the iconic blue and yel­low stores, and is now out­side, blink­ing in the sun­light, bemused and a bit puz­zled by the com­pre­hen­sive strange­nesses I’ve just encoun­tered, but look­ing for­ward to spend­ing some time with my new Swedish friends.
PS: If you’re won­der­ing what the future holds for IKEA con­sider this:
The Ikea con­cept has plenty of room to run: The retailer accounts for just 5% to 10% of the fur­ni­ture mar­ket in each coun­try in which it oper­ates. More impor­tant, says CEO Anders Dahlvig, is that “aware­ness of our brand is much big­ger than the size of our com­pany.” That’s because Ikea is far more than a fur­ni­ture mer­chant. It sells a lifestyle that cus­tomers around the world embrace as a sig­nal that they’ve arrived, that they have good taste and rec­og­nize value. “If it wasn’t for Ikea,” writes British design mag­a­zine Icon, “most peo­ple would have no access to afford­able con­tem­po­rary design.” The mag­a­zine even voted Ikea founder Ing­var Kam­prad the most influ­en­tial tastemaker in the world today.
From Ikea: How The Swedish Retailer Became a Global Cult Brand
PPS: For ref­er­ence, IKEA names prod­ucts in the fol­low­ing fashion:

  • Uphol­stered fur­ni­ture, cof­fee tables, rat­tan fur­ni­ture, book­shelves, media stor­age, door­knobs: Swedish place names
  • Beds, wardrobes, hall fur­ni­ture: Nor­we­gian place names
  • Din­ing tables and chairs: Finnish place names
  • Book­case ranges: Occupations
  • Bath­room arti­cles: Scan­di­na­vian lakes, rivers and bays
  • Kitchens: gram­mat­i­cal terms, some­times also other names
  • Chairs, desks: men’s names
  • Mate­ri­als, cur­tains: women’s names
  • Gar­den fur­ni­ture: Swedish islands
  • Car­pets: Dan­ish place names
  • Light­ing: terms from music, chem­istry, mete­o­rol­ogy, mea­sures, weights, sea­sons, months, days, boats, sailors’ language
  • Bed linen, bed­cov­ers, pillows/cushions: flow­ers, plants, pre­cious stones
  • Children’s items: mam­mals, birds, adjectives
  • Cur­tain acces­sories: math­e­mat­i­cal and geo­met­ri­cal terms
  • Kitchen uten­sils (cut­lery, crock­ers, tex­tiles, glass, porce­lain, table­cloths, can­dles, servi­ettes, dec­o­ra­tive arti­cles, vases etc.): for­eign words, spices, herbs, fish, mush­rooms, fruits or berries, func­tional descriptions
  • Boxes, wall dec­o­ra­tion, pic­tures and frames, clocks: col­lo­quial expres­sions, also Swedish placenames

Trans­la­tion from orig­i­nal in Ger­man by Mar­garet Marks

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My New Swedish Friends: Context, Mystery, and Discontinuities in The IKEA Product Naming System

October 3rd, 2006 — 3:10pm

I used to think of each IKEA prod­uct I brought home as a sort of for­eign house guest. They came from a far away coun­try. Each was dif­fer­ent than the oth­ers in size, shape, and appear­ance. And all had names I didn’t under­stand and couldn’t asso­ciate with any­thing famil­iar. Some of these guests left soon after they arrived. But many — the ones that fit in well with the rest of the house­hold — stayed longer. These joined the group I call “my new Swedish friends”.
A name should carry some depth of mean­ing; it should tell you about the friend it iden­ti­fies. But my new Swedish friends had mys­te­ri­ous names that told me lit­tle about them. To make up for this dis­con­cert­ing lack of con­text, I cre­ated my own sto­ries and mean­ings to enrich their quirky names. Imag­in­ing the story behind the name of each new arrival became part of the rit­ual of wel­com­ing them into the home.
Cast of Char­ac­ters
Here are the mean­ings I imag­ined for the names of sev­eral of my new Swedish friends:

A comic-book vil­lain in the Swedish ver­sion of Superman
Orig­i­nal name of the mon­ster in Beowolf
How you feel after drink­ing too much and tak­ing a taxi home over a bumpy road.
The mas­cot of the Swedish National Park sys­tem. Wears a pointy gnome hat.
Break­fast bread typ­i­cally served with pre­served fruit spreads; pop­u­lar with retired Uncles.
An unpleas­ant med­ical con­di­tion treated with pun­gent ointments
Qual­ity con­trol instru­ment for steam-engines used by boiler makers
Replaces “Schnell!” when Das Boot is dubbed into Swedish
Botany term iden­ti­fy­ing a plant part that the Vic­to­ri­ans illus­trated in com­pre­hen­sive hor­ti­cul­tural guides, but per­mit­ted only mar­ried sci­en­tists above the age of 45 to view while under direct super­vi­sion from tech­ni­cal librarians
The weather in Stock­holm dur­ing early spring
An under­ground art-film col­lec­tive active dur­ing the height of the Swedish Beat Move­ment, in the late 50’s.
Noto­ri­ous indus­tri­al­ist and brief­case man­u­fac­turer in the Pre­war era
A folk-music instru­ment played by min­strels in the Mid­dle Ages
Last name of a famous avi­a­tor: Tom Sel­l­eck met this man with while prep­ping to film “High Road To China”. Like many Swedes, Komers was tac­i­turn; how­ever, this does not account for Selleck’s ter­ri­ble performance.
Slang for bitchy
Stan­dard name for the Audit­ing depart­ment in large companies

Assign­ing a story or mean­ing to each name became an antic­i­pated, nec­es­sary step in the cycle of choos­ing, buy­ing, installing / assem­bling, using, and then accept­ing each IKEA prod­uct. Whether humor­ous, whim­si­cal, or sim­ply ran­dom, cre­at­ing con­text for the prod­ucts made them ordi­nary and famil­iar.
Con­text Is King
In terms of cus­tomer expe­ri­ences and con­sumer prac­tices, this behav­ior is re-contextualizing prod­ucts with an exist­ing con­text, one that for some rea­son is not suf­fi­cient or accept­able. For each prod­uct, I cre­ated a web of cul­tural asso­ci­a­tions — albeit fic­tion­al­ized ones — to replace the expected but miss­ing net­work of con­nec­tions I’ve come to expect and rely on to make judge­ments about the things I incor­po­rate into my life.
Why does the miss­ing con­text for sim­ple house­hold items mat­ter? Part of my habit comes from the fact that I enjoy mak­ing up sto­ries and spec­u­lat­ing about the prove­nance of all sorts of things: it’s part of explain­ing the world as I find it. Craft­ing sto­ries for their ori­gins also off­sets the frus­tra­tions of being a con­sumer left to man­age every­day house­hold needs with strangely incom­plete items, like shelves sold with­out mount­ing screws, or cur­tain rods not pack­aged with hang­ing hooks. Know­ing something’s ori­gin — even if I’d just made it up out of whole cloth ten min­utes ago — gave me a mod­est pos­i­tive feel­ing of surity and con­fi­dence when con­fronted with the unknown.
Sto­ries About Rome Not Being Built In a Day Were Not Built In a Day: Or, The Effect of Inten­sity On Cul­tural Fab­rics
The IKEA brand evokes a strong set of val­ues and an out­look on lifestyle deci­sions that is well known and eas­ily rec­og­nized. Those val­ues and the implied out­look suc­cess­fully trans­fer to the indi­vid­ual prod­ucts sold by IKEA. Thanks to the umbrella of the IKEA brand, the lack of con­text for my new Swedish friends wasn’t trou­bling. As long as we were intro­duced one at a time.
But ersatz cul­ture is not as durable and sat­is­fy­ing as the real thing, as the cre­ators of fan­tas­tic con­structs of all types know well [MMOG, Yugoslavia, Iraq]. While mov­ing and fit­ting out a new liv­ing space with home office fur­ni­ture, kitchen acces­sories and many other inven­tive and afford­able , I met *many* new Swedish friends *all at once*. Bring­ing so many IKEA prod­ucts home empha­sized their strange­ness in a chal­leng­ing way. In response, I made up quite a few new sto­ries in rapid suc­ces­sion, to knit them into the fab­ric of the famil­iar.
Still, I was trou­bled because I was aware of hav­ing to make up so many sto­ries at the same time. And since I’d just moved, the larger envi­ron­ment that had to incor­po­rate so much new­ness in a con­cen­trated dose was itself in flux. End result: the influx of the cumu­la­tive strange­ness of names, the sub­sti­tu­tion of arti­fi­cial con­text for real, and the inten­sity of new­ness on sev­eral lev­els out­weighed the strength of the con­tex­tual asso­ci­a­tions my new friends retained from IKEA’s brand.
To be con­tin­ued in Part 2

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A Tale of Three Dustbusters

April 29th, 2006 — 12:21pm

What fol­lows is a brief tale of cus­tomer dis­tress and redemp­tion, fea­tur­ing a cast of char­ac­ters includ­ing sev­eral well-known play­ers in mod­ern drama:

Fret not read­ers, for this yarn has a happy end­ing in a wind­fall for yours truly.
Chap­ter 1: Sir Qual­ity Con­trol Fail­ure
For a brief period in 2005, hap­pily relied on a Dust­buster to help keep things neat and tidy. When the machine died sud­denly after two months of ser­vice, we felt sad­ness at hav­ing placed faith in yet another defec­tive con­sumer good. These feel­ings turned to relief when Black and Decker promised to send a replace­ment within “7 to 10 days”.
Chap­ter 2: Queen Fickle CRM
Four weeks went by. We called again: our records had been “lost”, so another order was placed. Emo­tion­ally unre­li­able CRM sys­tems will some­times decide to break up with you, but — lack­ing the con­fi­dence to tell you directly — leave you find out in awk­ward ways like this. Not to worry for us, how­ever, we would have another dust­buster in “7 to 10 days”.
Chap­ter 3: King Chron­i­cally Unsta­ble Sup­ply Chain Man­age­ment
Four weeks passed. When we called again, the order­ing sys­tem was down for the week­end, and no infor­ma­tion was avail­able. While their enter­prise class SCM sys­tem with five nines uptime was out, the magic of post-it notes — which rarely expe­ri­ence down time, except dur­ing peri­ods of humid weather — allowed Black and Decker to assure us we would receive a replace­ment in “7 to 10 days”.
Chap­ter 4: Duke Con­flict­ing Mas­ter Data
Four weeks passed, leav­ing sorely in need of dust­bust­ing capa­bil­ity. We called a fourth time, to learn our replace­ment was on back order, and would arrive in “7 to 10 days”. As a cour­tesy, we’d been upgraded to a more pow­er­ful model — pre­sum­ably to help us pick up all the dust accu­mu­lated over the past three months.
Chap­ter 5: Wind­fall, and Happy End­ing
The next day, we found three dust­busters, all dif­fer­ent mod­els, shipped from dif­fer­ent places, with dif­fer­ent order num­bers, and dif­fer­ent cus­tomer IDs on the labels, wait­ing on the front porch.

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