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Experiential Design Gone Wrong

Must it be so difficult to get the basics right?

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I can’t think of two more dreaded chores than visits to the BMV and the phone store.

At least you know what you’re in for when you go to the BMV; the government entity has no obligation or incentive to provide a pleasant or “experiential” environment – although, I suppose you could call standing in line like cattle with the colorful local denizens who give “People of Walmart” a run for their money … experiential.

But the hip, high-energy, high-profit mobile phone store? These purveyors of the hottest electronic brands are expected to be at the cutting edge of retail design. We’ve covered some cool, award-winning projects in these pages, including AT&T flagships and, in our March 2015 issue, Telstra. But somewhere along the line for one brand, the message got lost. My local AT&T store failed this customer, and I’ll tell you why.

Someone at corporate must have said, “Hey, let’s get these sales folks out from behind the counter to interact more with the customer.” And they do just that, and very well. On a recent visit, a representative warmly greeted me as soon as I crossed the threshold, a digital tablet slung at his side in a holster-like belt, posted my name to a digital queue and invited me to browse the product selection while he serviced the customers ahead of me. I browsed. And waited. Browsed some more. Waited some more.

Browsed out, I searched the room for a seat. A single, brightly colored ottoman was already occupied by two gum-snapping teens. So I planted myself in a corner, away from the drafty entryway, determined to stick it out. An elderly, feeble-looking couple shuffled in, blinking in response to the visual onslaught, and baffled (like me, I’m sure) by the brave new world of electronic wizardry demanding their attention. The chipper young rep greeted them, explained the drill (browse, wait, browse, wait) and disappeared. Finally, in response to my indignant nagging, the frazzled rep took pity on the two and dragged a couple of battered metal folding chairs from the back room.

I’m sure the store’s designers would consider this rogue move an aesthetic blight on the carefully color- and material-coordinated concept. I, in turn, was miffed. How could the designers not have specified adequate seating in their store planning? Were they so consumed with the overall fabulousness of the project that they neglected to consider the customers’ basic needs? (And speaking of basic needs, I wonder if they even had a restroom?)

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As the material, spatial and technological options available to store designers expand ad infinitum, let’s not forget the service-driven design fundamentals. Think like the customer. Be the customer. It’s not complicated, but it is critical.

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