Trade-ups, not trade-offs
Several years ago I designed a product called Table & Tennis, and I’ve been selling it on a really small scale for a few years. I’ve never really done much marketing for the idea, or tried to scale it up (yet) because there are a lot of parts to the process, mainly international shipping and logistics that just didn’t feel resolved for me.
Even without the marketing, I have gotten a decent amount of interest. Some of my favorite blogs have covered it, including Notcot, swissmiss, Gizmodo, Core 77, Wired, and many others, and I recently did a little interview with Inc. Magazine about it. I never created an e-commerce store for it, just simply had my email on a tumblr blog, and over the past few years about 1000 people have contacted me to inquire about the table. In the world of the internet those aren’t big numbers, but to me it seems pretty significant, especially since it’s a pretty expensive item. Of course the number of people that actually ended up getting the table is much smaller, maybe about two percent. This really isn’t the point I’m trying to get to, but it must have some significance since it popped in my head, but moving on…
The reason I’m writing this revolves around a couple of hurdles I’ve encountered with this product. A nice product is one thing, but everyones’ experience with the product, and their experience obtaining the product is the most important part to me. Many people think the table is beautiful, or cool, and that is one of the goals, but the bigger piece to me is the philosophy behind it. It never felt right to me how divided and hierarchical business and offices often felt. I think it’s a shame and unhealthy if you can’t have some genuine fun with the people you work with. I also know how important play and physical movement is for health, creativity, and culture, and yet, it was often ignored or pushed to the closet until the one time a year it was okay to play. Again, I’ve gone off the rails because this also isn’t the main reason I’m writing this.
Okay, back on track, I hope… The most recent Table & Tennis order has turned into a poor experience, at least in my opinion. After the table was finished being built, the shipment got delayed a bit because of some of the factors associated with international shipping, and I’m sure partly due to my inexperience and not having the knowledge to anticipate certain things that may come up. Every order has a different set of laws, forms, costs, etc. because there are different rules for each country. When the table was finally delivered to the customer’s office, they started to assemble the table, but didn’t finish because they said the table was defective, when in fact they didn’t bring a wrench, so they couldn’t put it together properly. Important note: I’m not blaming here, something I always loved about design, but only a few years ago realized applies to every aspect of life, is that this is on me to decide what to do. For example, I could create a friendly instruction kit specifically for the delivery crew. Address them by name, give them my email, supply the wrench, etc.
So in the case of this delivery they left the table unassembled in the company president’s office. They left packing supplies and a mess from the office all the way through the company to the elevator. Of course there are 100 other things that happened after this, but I won’t bore you with all that. The result so far is a bad experience, which is what matters most to me. This bothers me to no end, and effects me all day, and for several days until everything is taken care of.
I’m finally getting to my point :) The people that ordered the table appreciate my concern and efforts to make the situation better, they even told me not to worry about it, that it’s not my fault at all. I told them I really appreciate that, but I absolutely feel accountable and responsible. Maybe I didn’t technically screw up the assembly, or leave a mess in their office, but I created and sold them the product, so ultimately it should be my responsibility.
When people around me see how affected I get when something like this happens, they often say things like, ‘You did what you can, so let it go.’ Or ‘I’m sure you have already gone above and beyond for them, don’t let it bother you.’ Or my least favorite of all, ‘You just need thicker skin with this stuff.’ Isn’t that like telling someone to ‘Get greener eyes.’ Or ‘Just jump higher if you want to dunk.’ There are trade-ups and trade-offs to everything. Sure, I hate feeling down, or embarrassed, or frustrated, or letting my mood effect my time with my wife, but if I didn’t react like this I probably wouldn’t be the type of designer I am, because I believe design = empathy. I wouldn’t be able to come up with ideas that connect with people because I wouldn’t care about how they feel. I wouldn’t have sent the current customer a chocolate and fruit basket today, I wouldn’t be looking at flights to Canada right now to see if it’s feasible for me to go meet the table assembly crew this weekend, and on and on.
Now, I definitely agree there has to be a healthy balance. I need to do everything I can to improve the situation and decide how I want to deal with it in the future, but I can’t allow this to become an issue that is bigger than life itself.
It’s pretty interesting because I always felt like the best designers were pretty sensitive people, and that was why they were great designers. Because they observe and pay attention to how people feel, and genuinely care and are affected by what they see. The irony was that they (and myself included) were always being told by our bosses to essentially ‘get thicker skin.’ The reality is people can have thick skin in some areas of their lives and thin skin in other areas, and it’s probably important not to change that. I know I personally don’t want thick-skinned designers working on health related products, or cars for me!
Anyway, I wanted to share this because it always helps me to write my thoughts down, but also I’m sure there are lots of people that can relate to this, with different details of course, but similar thoughts and emotions.
There are a bunch of other topics and conversations that are inside this post, but not expanded upon, but if any of this is interesting to you, here are a couple of books you might enjoy checking out: