Touchpoint Observatory: Badly Hand-Drawn Signs = Ruined Branding


You have spent thousands on your corporate branding, you keep a tight reign over the usage of your logo, you ship out expensively produced marketing materials to your franchise affiliates and… they ruin it all by creating crappily hand-drawn signs and sticking them in the doorway of the shop.

This is a trend that I have seen all over the place in Germany. I’m not sure how it started, but it is an awful touchpoint. It doesn’t even have a bit of “human personality charm” to it. It’s simply bad branding and confusing (what does that bar graph mean?). Worst of all, it kills off any other brand coherency that all the proper materials might offer.


This one is for my local post office. Deutsche Post have a similar official and franchise model to mobile telco stores and despite the branding guidelines that I am sure exist, this post office’s opening times look like they were drawn by a 10 year-old. Even an awful Word doc typeset in Ariel would be an improvement on this – home printers are ubiquitous these days. Oh yes, don’t forget this is a bank (Postbank) too. Would you trust your money with them?

Touchpoint Observatory: Service Sold in a Box


When companies struggle to get their heads around service, they often end up marketing services as if they were products. The above image is for television delivery from a big German consumer electronics chain store called Media Markt. Not just service, you will note, but “power service.” I’m not quite sure what that means – we don’t just deliver, but we plug it in too?


Applecare is one of the most high-profile examples of this. You can buy a box of Applecare, which has a CD (pointless these days) and registration papers in it. The above photo from the amusingly named robotpolisher on Flickr has a caption underneath that says it all:

“Possibly the largest cost/weight ratio of anything I’ve ever bought . This practically weightless tiny cardboard box which contains presumably just a couple of scraps of paper set me back an astonishing $315 for three years of service.”

Surely there are better ways to communicate what a service is and the value of it to the end customer?

Touchpoint Observatory: UK Lift Engineer Bodge Job


This lovely piece of work is in a multistory car park in Ipswich in the UK. There are two lifts next to each other and something must have broken or been changed in one of them meaning the usual function of one button calling whichever lift is next free no longer works. The engineers have obviously had to remove the old panel and install a new one. They should have fixed the source problem, of course, but they have made the whole thing even more hilariously worse by installing a second “button” that is this huge module. It doesn’t fit and they can’t re-cable it, so the bodge solution is to install as picture above.

To top it off, they’ve had to put on stickers to explain which button does what. Extra labels always being the sign of badly thought through interfaces (that link is NSFW, by the way).

Why does this matter? Well, as an Englishman who has lived in Germany for many years, this level of workmanship is just shocking and something you would never see in Germany. More important is what it signals about the care the owners of the car park are going to take of your car and personal safety in the place. The whole thing screams, “we don’t care.”

Touchpoint Observatory: SIM Card Vending Machine


In Germany, mobile phone contracts are 24 months by default, not just for an iPhone. Additionally, there is a culture here whereby contracts are automatically renewed for a year (in some industries, two years) if you don’t quit the contract in writing, three months before the end of it. Of course, most people forget and hate their telco forever more. The telcos haven’t got their head around this yet.

Pre-pay accounts are, of course, a lot easier, but you usually have to provide some kind of ID. I saw this vending machine in Heathrow airport – the first time I’ve seen the possibility to just buy a SIM card without any human interaction and just start using it. The vending machine appeared to be provider neutral, with all the big networks represented. Interestingly, some of the SIMs were just data-only, which is a sign of the times for mobile telcos (VOIP killed roaming, so let’s sell them data instead).

It is also a reminder that SIM cards are really the only product that the mobile telcos sell. The handsets are sold by the manufacturers, subsidized by the telcos (who also get a cut, of course). Telephony is pure service.

Touchpoint Observatory: Velobox


My home town of Offenburg has a whole load of Veloboxes at the station (at both entrances on both sides of the tracks). On one side they even have a Velobox and Lufstation (air station, where you can pump up your tires). The boxes are pretty large – the biggest of bikes would fit and I would imagine even two at a squeeze. They are in great demand and, amazingly, only cost around 15 Euros per year to rent, according to one user that I asked.

(As an aside, it’s a shame these companies have such awful websites – but then check out the site of the guy who is credited with designing it. Notice anything similar?)

I suspect they are subsidized as part of Offenburg’s effort to be one of the most cycle friendly cities in Germany. The city, which is small at about 65,000 people, has a bike hire service rolled out across it as well as free bikes that can be borrowed by visitors, free cycle-lane maps, and a hotline to phone in broken glass on the road to be cleared. The city also have a program to become an electric vehicle friendly city, with e-cars in their car-sharing fleet, public charging stations in prime places in carparks.

We also have grab handles for cyclists on traffic lights here, so you don’t need to put your feet down and you can get a good start when the lights change to green. I’ll try and photograph one soon.

All these small touch points add up to a sense of the city really being cycle friendly and gradually iron out some of the “glitches” that make cycling in cities irritating, such as cycle lanes suddenly ended at railings or a main road, or no cycle lanes at all. Why do the details matter? Because people’s barriers to use are so low, especially when using a car is so convenient. The more the glitches are ironed out, the less excuses people have for not cycling (although it’s -12ºC here today, which is challenging).

Touchpoint Observatory: Send your post from the restaurant


This restaurant in Freiburg, Germany, called Omas Küche (Grandma’s Kitchen) was super family-friendly, but what caught my eye was the first page of the menu. It has all the usual stuff about opening times and lactose and gluten-free diets, free wi-fi, etc., but then goes on to offer single cigarettes for sale for “Gelengheitsraucher” (casual smokers), a case with reading glasses of different strengths and they will even post your mail for you and have stamps available to buy at the bar. A nice set of service extras that have probably grown out of people asking for them over the years. Shame the website lets it down.

Touchpoint Observatory: Armed Ticket Collectors


These people – five in total – were ticket inspectors on an early afternoon bus in Luzern, Switzerland, very much a tourist destination. So why are they dressed like armed police (no guns, but with pepper spray and earpieces)? And what is a security firm, Securitas, doing supplying ticket inspectors to a public transport company?

Luzern has its share of social problems, but is very safe compared to other cities and has nowhere near the kinds of issues cities like London or New York have. I have seen transport police on trains in London, but the blurring of the boundaries by the use of uniforms and attitude is a poorly thought through touchpoint, much like the TSA uniforms and badges that they are hopefully about to lose in the USA. If certain people in society have special powers over others, it is important to be able to recognise that straight away, not be left unsure as to your and their rights and responsibilities.

The Irony of Neuroscience & Behaviour Change

I have been enjoying the Brain Culture: Neuroscience & Society series via BBC Radio 4’s podcasts recently. In the series Matthew Taylor looks at how developments in neuroscience are changing the way we think about everything from law and punishment to education and marketing. As a fan of Raymond Tallis’s writing, who is somewhat of a neuroscience sceptic, I found Taylor’s account pretty balanced, but not without asking some provocative questions.

The last episode looked at the use of neuroscience with regards to behaviour change, perhaps most famous through the Nudge concept favoured by the previous and present UK governments. Its also something that has gained some attention in service design and public policy/social design fields as a potential tool for designing for behavioural change.

The theory is essentially that by bypassing our brains’ rational level, we can be nudged into changing our behaviour on the semi-unconscious level, because our brains frequently make decisions before we are rationally conscious of them. This is put into practice in political environments, such as election campaigns, policy and public service systems (as in the case of using it for preventing no-shows to doctor’s appointments) or in the slightly scary sounding field of neuromarketing. On the one hand the practice appears extremely devious and devalues our sense of self and of being rational beings because it denies us the possibility of changing out nature (Tallis’s argument). On the other hand, neuromarketers claim that these techniques are no different from anyone who has baked bread or made fresh coffee in order to sell their house during viewings.

Science was built on the foundation of rational thought. Until recently economics and business thinking was also based on this rationale, much of it still is. The irony of the new discoveries in neuroscience, it seems to me, is that rational science is essentially getting excited about something designers and many others have know all along. People aren’t rational and make decisions – from financial investments to buying a car to getting married – based on their gut feelings, which they mostly post-rationalise afterwards. It’s also why we are so naturally rubbish at understanding statistics and probabilities. Science has taken several decades to rationally prove that we are irrational.

Pre-digital versus digital services

Seth Godin has written an interesting observation about a common experience of hospitals in a piece titled Pre-Digital:

A brief visit to the emergency room last month reminded me of what an organization that’s pre-digital is like. Six people doing bureaucratic tasks and screening that are artifacts of a paper universe, all in the service of one doctor (and the need to get paid and not get sued). A 90-minute experience so we could see a doctor for ninety seconds.
Wasteful and even dangerous.

He goes on to imagine what the experience would be like if everything were digitised. Everyone would know what’s going on without having to ask ten times, basically. “The entire process might take ten minutes, with a far better outcome,” he suggests.

I like a lot of what Seth has to say, but on this its worth really asking if it would be the picture he imagines. Given the UK’s £11bn pretty useless attempt at this, I’m not so sure. Sure, a well-conceived and integrated digital patient system would seem like a dream, but large, government I.T. projects are never well-conceived and integrated. They are mired in over-wrought requirements documents that are miles away from actual human needs, frequently taken on by companies that under quote to get the job and then blow out the budget and schedule later. The UK NHS project also ended up in a nightmare of privacy issues.

What Seth is arguing for here is really the classic “we need more technology to solve this problem” approach. It’s something that has served him well with many of his projects, like The Domino Project and it’s particularly an American approach to the use of technology. But the technological solution he describes masks the real need. The need is for a well-conceived and integrated system of communication and a quicker journey through the hospital system (a need and an organisation which, in turn, have their own underlying needs). It seems likely that digital tools and networks would play a part in this, but it’s by no means a given.

Had I not have had my own copy of an X-Ray (okay it was on my iPad) at the hospital recently, we wouldn’t have been able to access the one the specialist gave us (in a proprietary format) on CD because the hospital’s radiology computer had crashed and they had to wait two hours for the I.T. guy to come and fix it.

Sometimes a whiteboard is the most efficient or usable way to display who is on duty or who is to be operated upon. It doesn’t flake out due to a system error, doesn’t go down when power fails and requires active effort to delete and change a name, not a typo or entry in the wrong field.

They are tools only. The question to ask when considering what the best drill is should really be, “how can we make holes?” or even “do we need holes here?”