Unhappiness Machine

I posted the content below over on the Macquarium Blog, but I’m repeating here for posterity, and to first add a couple other thoughts:

1. It’s amazing how easily corporations can fool themselves into feeling good about the experiences they create for their users by making elaborate dreamscapes & public theater — as if the fictions they’re creating somehow make up for the reality of what they deliver (and the hard work it takes to make reality square in any way with that imagined experience). This reminds me a bit of the excellent, well-executed dismemberment of this sort of thinking that Bret Victor posted this past week on the silliness & laziness behind things like the Microsoft “everything is a finger-tap slab” future-porn. Go read it.

2. Viral videos like the CocaCola Happiness Machine don’t only fool the originating brand into feeling overconfident — they make the audience seeing the videos mistake the bit of feel-good emotion they receive as substantial experience, and then wonder “how can my own company give such delight?” I’ve seen so many hours burned with brainstorming sessions where people are trying to come up with the answer to that — and they end up with more reality-numbing theatrics rather than fixing difficult problems with their actual product or service delivery.

Post after the cut — but it looks nicer on the MQ Blog 😉

Coke Happiness Machine Video on YouTubeI don’t know about you, but I’ve been seeing the CocaCola “Happiness Machine” video off and on for several years now. It keeps being passed around as a champion of great customer experiences. If you haven’t seen it yet, feel free to check it out on YouTube. It’s up to over 4 million views and still counting.

Every time I see this movie I get a little more frustrated and annoyed. Maybe I’m a big old Scrooge for feeling this way. Or maybe I’m just human.

Because when I use a Coke machine, I don’t encounter a benevolent puppet-show-cornucopia of good feelings, free pizza and flower bouquets. I experience something very different. So I made my own little movie — and here it is.

So what happened here? And what’s my point?

The product was a Coke — but in order for me to get to the product, I had to go through some very impersonal, unpleasant machinery.

That’s not unlike what so many organizations are having to do on the web and other digital media: they’re not really in the software business, in the same way that Coca Cola isn’t really a vending-machine-design company. But the experience I have with the core product is definitely affected by the experience I have with its medium of delivery.

Using a vending machine like this hasn’t gotten much better in about 20-30 years, frankly. This machine I used is pretty new, but it’s much like the one I used in my high school break room in 1983 (one of the first I encountered that took paper money, not just coins).

Does the machine meet the requirements of its engineering? I suppose so… it takes money (sometimes), and spits out a product. It makes it clear what brand the product is and what you’ll get for your dollar. But what it doesn’t do is have the right kind of conversation with me around the product.

Why can’t I see which brands of soft drink are in stock and which aren’t? Even when I push the button it won’t tell me — I have to put in my money first. Why on earth?

And why would anyone design a machine like this so that it shakes the soda so it spews all over me when I open it? (Reducing the carbonation, btw, making it less pleasant to drink once the foam dies down …)

I’m not just picking on Coke by the way. As a native Atlantan, I grew up drinking this stuff like water, so I’m picking on it partly because it’s part of my background. But we run into things like this all the time, whether soft drink machines or school systems, auto repair or the doctor’s office. Bureaucracy is its own kind of ‘soft machine’ and often needs re-designing as much as any mechanical contraption.

When we make machinery — software or hardware — experience design is about getting at these human dimensions, and making sure the medium of delivery not only avoids spoiling how the customer feels about the product, but enhances that experience.

Author: Andrew Hinton

I use information to architect better places for humans. More at andrewhinton.com.

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