11th March 2017
159 Hyndland Road
Noticing that one of my breakfast visits from last year had been given a revamp, I thought I should pay another visit to see what changes had been put in place. Advertising a new “Med-style menu” I was hoping that I might be offered something a little more out of the box than usual. Being fairly well known throughout the West End for its original appearance I was slightly confused by the need for a change, but maybe they were just looking to keep things fresh.
As I have developed as a designer, an opinion that I have become very sure of is that the more work that a designer puts into a product, the less work the user will need to put in during use. This may appear to be quite an obvious statement, but it had been on my mind for a while and over the past few weeks I have experienced examples, both good and bad, that illustrate the point very clearly.
The most recent example that prompted me to write this post was actually software based. Last night, I needed to quickly tabulate some information so I decided to test the table function in Pages as opposed to my usual choice of Word. I was instantly struck by how easily the table was formatted and how visually comfortable it appeared in the document. To measure this more quantitively I ran an experiment between the two programs, where I simply inserted a table and input basic information without any additional formatting, in order to see the difference between the outputs.
The results barely even require an explanation! The table in Word is nothing more than 20 boxes on a page containing information with no discernible significance. Pages however, automatically applied the font I was using in the document, left aligned titles in bold, right aligned the content and gave each piece of information suitable padding. I love this example for its simplicity and how it shows how even a little added effort at the design stage has a phenomenal pay off when applied to such a regularly used tool.
Last night also provided me with a great example of how neglecting this extra effort at the design stage can result in an unnecessarily stressful user experience.
When my desk lamp broke, I decided to set up a replacement which I had received at Christmas. Unfortunately, things didn’t get off to a great start. Packaging design had clearly been an after thought as the polystyrene lining didn't allow any space to get my fingers in and the only way for me to extract the product was to tear apart the protection. Removing the individual parts from the polystyrene was a similar feud and resulted in an explosion of polystyrene balls.
As I began to assemble the lamp, the lack of design rigour became apparent. The product thankfully had the cable fed through the copper stand to assist the setup, but the way in which it was packaged meant that I had to forcefully haul on the cable in order to line up the two pieces.
What really caught my attention was how difficult it was for me to attach the stand to the base. A heavy disk of marble is one of the most awkward things ever to balance while you’re trying to feed a bolt through a small hole and fit two washers and a nut to it. When I tried to tighten this bolt with the provided spanner I was forced to try and grip the cylindrical shaft, balance the base and turn the bolt. Unsurprisingly this just resulted in the stand turning with the bolt.
Where I really felt that some design thinking wouldn't have gone a miss is in aiding the user in the alignment of parts. As mentioned, attaching the stand to the base was problematic but trying to do this and line it up with the centre of the disk was near impossible. A similar problem occurred when I tried to attach the top section to the copper stand. Forced to screw a miniature bolt into a piece of unthreaded bar with no alignment aids was not a pleasurable experience and resulted in some cursive language being thrown around my room.
Eventually the light was assembled and is now sitting on my desk as an appropriate reminder of what not to do.
The third example is a funny one. For my birthday I received an Amazon Echo Dot, which I had been intrigued by ever since its release, and although I am yet to decide whether or not it is a piece of great design, there are aspects that lend themselves to the focus of this post.
Although AI technology is clearly not at the level where we can flawlessly interact with it, the Echo (or Alexa) shows that by putting in the work at the design stage it can give off the impression of being more advanced.
After using Siri on my iPhone and MacBook for a while now, the thing that always strikes me about it is that you need to learn how to use it correctly. In order to get the most out of Siri, you don't have a conversation, but instead need to use the correct phrases in order to get the response or action you desire. This to me seems like excessive user input. What I quickly noticed about Alexa was how naturally I could interact with her. For example, instead of saying “Alexa, track my Amazon delivery” in a Siri like manner, a more colloquial “Alexa, where’s my stuff” will provide you with the information. It is as if there is another level of interpretation, where the Echo takes any generalised statement and converts it into the type of language you would need to provide Siri with before the internal processing happens. It also does a scarily good job of almost guessing what you mean. It is this slightly more advanced interpretation that provides an improved experience and is why I think it illustrates my point where the increase in work being done by the software design results in a decrease of work for the user.
Unfortunately, the “Med-style menu” must have been reserved for a la carte dining as the breakfast menu remained unchanged. Feeling especially hungry this weekend, I opted to go for the full breakfast which, if I’m honest, I was a little underwhelmed by. A single sausage and a single rasher left the plate looking a little empty and the fact that it came within about 3 minutes of ordering, it was clearly far from freshly prepared. My associate’s breakfast looked a little more enticing but it struggles to compete with the benchmark quality for poached eggs found throughout the city.
Maybe I just caught the kitchen on a busy morning, but all the components just seemed to be missing the professional touch that you expect - especially with Epicures being one of the more expensive places I’ve visited.
It’s rare for me to be disappointed by a breakfast but with the exceptional standard that has been delivered by 2017 so far, I’m afraid that this visit was unable to step up to the mark.