Tuesday, July 31, 2007

American Girl Place, part 2: Exhibits

In my first post on American Girl Place in Chicago, I showed the smart ways they orient customers to store offerings. In this post, I'll show you how they use museum techniques to add depth and a feeling of authenticity to their dolls and related products.

On the lower level of the store is the theater, showing a live musical production. The musical has also been made into a feature film by Warner Brothers. They include an exhibit, including the costumes, to take girls behind the scenes of the production.

Next up are vignettes, staged exactly like museum dioramas, telling the backstory on several of the dolls from each era. This Native American doll's story is set in 1764. "Kaya" is a Nez Perce Native American doll.

"Josefina Montoya's" story is set in New Mexico in 1824.

Pioneer "Kirsten Larson" lives in Minnesota in 1854.

Each of these dolls comes with a line of books, clothing, and other merchandise. This grounding in museum-style exhibits, however, adds a whole new layer of authenticity to their stories, making it seem even more like they might have been real girls.

Tip of the day: Adding rich layers to quality offerings enhances the value of your entire experience. How can you add story to your experience?

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bit Literacy book review

Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload
Mark Hurst (New York: Good Experience Press, 2007)

An empty inbox. This radical concept is at the forefront of Mark Hurst’s book: Bit Literacy. Hurst believes that emptying your email inbox at least once a day is key to achieving real productivity and a sense of completion that’s lacking in our daily lives. Hurst offers an easy-to-follow method that was totally freeing for me. How many people have inboxes that are so full we can’t find anything? How many people take tons of digital photos but can’t figure out what to do with them? How many people don’t even check their email any more at home because they just can’t deal with it? Hurst even tackles those health warning emails that people love to forward.

This book is a must-read for everyone and anyone. If you deal with computers, email, digital photos—you need this book. It is especially critical for people who say they don’t know anything about computers. It will teach you how to manage them, so that you can deal with them as little as possible. If you are a techie, you will also find organizational systems here to help you, although some of the information will seem very basic.

Hurst lays out a blueprint for managing the overload of information that comes at us every day in digital form. Chapter by chapter, Hurst explains how to deal with email, your to-do list, keep up with magazines and newsletters, sorting, naming and storing digital photos so you can easily find them later, etc. Every chapter lays out a clear method for keeping on top of the information that’s constantly coming towards us, so that we don’t feel overwhelmed. Hurst’s goal is to help his readers learn to be productive, so that you can actually get work done and have a life.

Mark Hurst is President of Creative Good consulting, helping companies create better website experiences, so it’s not surprising that he’s trying to help people have a better experience in their work and personal lives. He’s come up with smart methods for dealing with all aspects of our digital lives. I especially liked his suggestions for streamlining how to save files and organize digital photos. Some of his suggestions will take some time to implement. I don’t know how many people will switch over to different keyboards or sign up for his fee-based “gootodo” program, but he offers many practical tips that can help people learn how to manage their digital lives. This book will be especially helpful for older Baby Boomers who never “got” computers but now need to use them and young people who are just starting out.

As for me, somewhere in the middle, I’ll be referring to this book often, and emptying my inbox at least once a day. And those of you who write me personal emails will now be getting your response first, as Hurst suggests.

A blog ethics note: Creative Good was nice enough to distribute free copies of this book at a recent event I attended. I am happy to recommend such a wonderful resource to people.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

American Girl Place, part 1

The highlight of my trip to Chicago in May, aside from my book launch, was seeing American Girl Place in person. Thanks to Fast Company for turning me on to this amazing customer experience. (Listen to their podcast here.) I'll be writing several posts about it, as the experience was so rich in customer experience concepts.

The building exterior is simply, clearly, and strongly themed. This first flagship store opened in 1998.

The first thing you see upon entering is the concierge desk on the right. This acts as an advance organizer for what the store offers, including the theater show, the photo studio, and the doll hair styling salon.

An updateable special events board in the entry foyer plants the seeds for a return visit.

The coat and package check, a nice service in chilly Chicago, also undoubtedly increases stay time.

Another unique service they provide is the doll hospital. You check in your injured doll and they send her off to be fixed up.

Tip of the day: Clearly orienting customers to your offerings sets up the experience they can choose to have. Offering special services that show you care about customers' needs and comfort allow them to spend more time with you.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Integrating your online and actual experiences

When I was getting ready for my trip to Chicago in May I decided to scope out good restaurants in walking distance of my South Loop hotel. I found this one, Tamarind Sushi.

Their website allowed me to read the menu and get a feel for the prices and atmosphere.

The website was completely accurate and integrated with design elements from the actual restaurant.

I liked the little design touches like the bamboo.

The food was so fantastic and reasonably priced I went back 3 nights later, enjoying excellent service both times. An Experienceology highlight!

Tip of the day: You build customer trust through consistency. Integrate your online and bricks-and-mortar experiences.

My only suggestion for Tamarind would be to reduce the Flash animation on their website. It's hard to navigate because of the way the Flash loads. If someone doesn't have Flash, they can't get this restaurant's key content: location, hours, menu, catering. While it was themed, I found the very short track of music—repeating endlessly—distracting. If you're offering music on your website, it's good to have a longer track that plays through just once. Better yet, allow the viewer the choice to click to play it. People surfing the Net at work don't necessarily want to set off a music track.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Creating the Dead Sea Scrolls visitor experience

I was honored to join the team at the San Diego Natural History Museum to help develop the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition, open from June 29-December 31, 2007. This post also features some of the amazing partners who helped make the experience so special for visitors. The exhibition is co-sponsored by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation and features pieces loaned from the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, The National Library of Russia, The British Library, Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, The Saint John's Bible Project, and the San Diego Public Library/Wangenheim Rare Book Room.

Some of our goals as a team:
• creating an exhibit experience that puts the scrolls in context, both in time and in place
• take people on a journey to Israel
• show the similarities in climate and geography between San Diego and Israel
• tell the story of the scrolls’ discovery and conservation
• give people a feel for the nearby archeological site—Qumran—as we were showing many objects found at that site
• present the show in a way that allowed people of differing faiths and belief systems to feel comfortable
• explore how the ideas represented in the scrolls have influenced the world over the last 2,000 years

Here is one of the comparison photo pairs from the queue area before you enter the show. The flip-up label below each pair asks the question, "Israel or San Diego?" The educational panel on the right compares Israel and San Diego as biodiversity hotspots. The photo show, in the first gallery, features Israeli photographers Duby Tal, Neil Folberg, and Yossi Eshbol.

This is the introduction about the discovery of the scrolls. Next to the cave is the Bedouin man who first found the scrolls. His first-hand account is quoted to the right. My thanks to Jim Trever for sharing his father's wonderful photographs with us.

One of my favorite characters in the scrolls story was Kando, a Arab antiquities dealer. With the help of the Allegro Archives at the Manchester Museum we were able to find this wonderful photo of him outside his shop (he's in the center, wearing the fez), and then created a rustic display case to show some of the actual boxes and tins that held scroll fragments. Thanks to the Old Coin Shop for donating three period-appropriate coins to dress this case.

A scaled-down replica of the archeologists' tent (custom-made by Tentsmiths based on photographs) helped create the feeling that you are there. The rustic cases, all built by the carpentry wizards in the museum's exhibits department, show the actual camera, baskets, surveying equipment, and hand-painted topographic plans from the dig (on loan from the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem). The plans were scanned at full size by the team at Giant Photo, laminated, and put out on the table for visitors to look at more closely. The wonderful photograph, also from the Ecole, shows members of the team having a midday meal. Giant Photo did an amazing job printing and mounting the photos and panels for this entire show, all 12,500 SF of it!

The biggest challenges for me as an exhibit developer/storyteller:
• Sifting through the many versions of the stories
• How to present religious documents without doing a show about religion itself
• Creating a show where, regardless of their interests—religion, science, archeology, history, art or culture—a visitor would feel welcome.

It was challenging material. Once you start reading about the scrolls, it’s clear that no one agrees about them! For example, you might think it’s straightforward to report who found them and when they were found. But, every telling of the discovery is somewhat different. Were they found by accident by a shepherd boy or quite deliberately by a Bedouin relic hunter? Were they found in 1945 and hung in a tent for two years or found in 1947 and taken to Bethlehem right away to be sold? We weighed all the information carefully and then worked on writing the panels to reflect the unknowns.

Another source of controversy is: Where did the scrolls come from? While many scholars and archeologists believe the scrolls were connected to the nearby site of Qumran, there are nearly as many who believe they were brought from Jerusalem to protect them from the invading Romans. Some of these scholars can get pretty fired up about their theories.

We decided as a team early on to try to have the people in the story tell the story, using first-person quotes throughout the entire experience. The educational panels make it clear throughout the show that there are conflicting theories, and that we will never know for certain who wrote the scrolls, who hid them, and why.

At the end of the experience we ask visitors, “What do the Dead Sea Scrolls mean to you?” Their comment cards are collected and become part of the exhibit experience for others to read. This "talk-back" area also features a gorgeous sculpture called My Torah by modern artist Becky Guttin.

I hope that you will take a trip to San Diego to see this amazing show. I’m very proud of the end result and was honored to work with such amazing people on the design and content team and it’s gratifying for the show to be getting nice reviews and very positive visitor comments. I would like to thank the team at the museum for allowing me to be part of their world for a year, as well as the many, many people who contributed resources to make the show so special. If I didn't mention you here, please know that we appreciate your contributions!

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Out-of-control yummy, part 2

In my last post I mentioned my amazing dining experience at Cafe Gratitude, an organic vegan/raw restaurant in Berkeley, California. Their experience extended to the bathroom, as your image in the mirror combined with this statement: I am completely fulfilled in this now moment.

When our server Faith brought us our check, she asked us the question of the day: "What inspires you?" I asked her if they have different questions and who chooses them. She said the owners and managers choose the questions, and everyone is asked the question at the beginning of their shift. They do what she described as a "clearing process," letting go of anything negative on their minds before stepping out onto the floor to work with customers. It explained a lot about the positive vibe in the place, and the chefs in the kitchen (all visible) looked really happy to be cooking such wonderful food.

At the cashier's station I noticed the shop, which sells the Abounding River game, the cookbook, hats, and even these wonderful bumper stickers (which I think were free). I will definitely go back to this restaurant and purchase some items on my next trip. This is a perfect example of my Finale step, extending your experience into people's lives beyond their visit. (It only works when you've created a wonderful, unique experience and you offer high-quality merchandise that beautifully reflects your brand.)

Tip of the day: How can you extend your experience into your restrooms? Through merchandise? How can you help empower your employees to give a great experience? While this groovy restaurant may be very different from what your experience offers, see how you can apply these tips to your business.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Out-of-control yummy, part 1

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I had an amazing dining experience at Cafe Gratitude, an organic vegan/raw restaurant in Berkeley. I had never been to a vegan restaurant. As I was dining with a friend who is vegan (and I am off sugar and gluten), it seemed like a good choice. I had no idea I would still be raving about the food a month later.

They did a lot of wonderful things to create a great experience for diners. They've got an excellent catchphrase/tag line/mission statement: What are you grateful for?

All the tables are themed.

The gorgeous "place mat" is actually a board game called Abounding River. The owners created the game and then found an artist to realize their vision. The artwork is used throughout the restaurant in posters. This corner says, "Generosity."

Our water bottles said, "divine" and "peace." Don't know if this was inspired by "Messages from Water" (in the movie "What the Bleep! Do We Know?") but they were very beautiful and inspiring.

Every plate, cup, and bowl asks the question, "What are you grateful for?"

Tip of the day: A unique vision like this, realized with such attention to detail, can never be copied. You simply have no competition when you create the category.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

A family-friendly 4th of July

We had a great time visiting this local park, an alternative to the crowded beaches.

One of the highlights was the parade, including a horse and carriage and a band.

Costumed interpreters helped kids make crafts like old-fashioned bunting.

These battlefield reenactors shot off the cannon every hour.

Tip of the day: Special programs can bring your site to life. Adding crafts, music, food, and other activities, especially people in costume, makes for a memorable event.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Warming up the doctor's office

I had the opportunity to view the offices of North County Ob/Gyn in La Jolla, CA. From a patient experience perspective, they are doing a great job. It's clear that someone thought through everything she didn't like about going to this type of doctor and tried to fix, improve, or soften it. Cold in the room? Here's a blanket. They also cover the stirrups in colorful "toe" socks—warm, friendly, and fun.

No cold splat of sonogram gel on pregnant bellies in this office. It's pre-warmed for comfort.

The bathroom provides a generous basket of feminine products, no doubt much appreciated by patients.

Isn't it nicer to give a urine sample when the cups are stored in a friendly basket?

Here's their website description: NCOG Medical Group has been providing sensitive, compassionate obstetrics and gynecology care in a warm, respectful environment since 1969. This is a great example of extending your business' mission into practice.

Tip of the day:
Amenities like these aren't expensive, but they make a huge impact on how customers or patients feel about you. If it's clear that you care about their needs, and have tried to address potentially negative aspects of their experience, you've gone a long way. For doctors who are reading this, patients are far less likely to sue for malpractice when they've had a good experience.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Weird messages

On a recent trip, I encountered some oddly phrased and unsuccessful signs.

I knew the airport security screening was thorough, but "sterile"?

Getting on the plane, I was reminded not to feed the birds, as "birds endanger aircraft." Hmmm, I don't see any birds. I certainly wasn't planning on feeding them while in the gangway. But now, they've planted a new fear about flying.

Surely there's a better location for this staff-only message?

A medication for treatment of bipolar mania welcomed me to San Diego. (You guessed it, the pharmaceutical convention was in town.) But if I am arriving on a flight, I'm walking quickly past this dense message. If I've already attended, I've already missed them at booth #1142. Is this a smart way to spend ad dollars? Why not just say the name of the drug, what it treats, and the web address in big letters? Maybe a regular passenger has a manic aunt who could use this drug.

"Your car is number 43." Is this it?

Repaint your stall numbers. It is THE most important information you have to convey.

Tip of the day:
Think about what you're saying, and who you are communicating with. Have other people read signs before they get fabricated. Choose people who know nothing about the topic. If they understand, go ahead and have them made.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Making candy an experience

At the Hershey store in Chicago, they sell more than just candy.

You can have a "factory worker" experience, complete with photo I.D.

You can create your own custom cupcake.

You can have your birthday party here.

You even feel like you're inside a candy jar.

Tip of the day: All kinds of products can be turned into experiences with creative thinking like this.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

When buildings go horribly wrong

When in Chicago I stopped by my alma mater to visit a favorite professor. I had not seen this new building, but had read about it in our alumni mailings. The first floor, intended to be a comfortable student lounge, had already been abandoned as a failure.

The space felt cold, with terrible acoustics. It wasn't a place you'd want to linger in.

There was no building directory, so I had to guess which floor my professor might be on. The elevator doors opened into blank hallways like this, with only the floor number indicated.

Which door to enter? Would I be locked in (or out) if if I ventured through? The building inspired no confidence. In fact, it felt actively hostile.

I felt sad for the students and staff members who had to work in this expensive mistake, as I couldn't wait to get out.

Tip of the day: Choose an architect or designer committed to user-centered design. Act as an advocate for your customers, be they students, patients, visitors, or guests in the space. It's the designer's job to make you happy, so make sure that they are designing a comfortable, friendly space. Visit their other buildings or interiors before you hire them. Choose based on how their work makes you feel, not their reputation. Many famous names design for themselves or their peers.

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