In what has turned into a spirited discussion between Dustin Curtis and an in-house UI designer at AA, I think Curtis has begun a dialogue that reflects a larger problem in corporations…the vast majority of them anyways. Although I’m personally not a fan of his aesthetic choices in his AA homepage redesign, Curtis does begin his rather scolding wish-list with the correct framing:
“Treat this as a serious emergency across your entire company. Your shortfalls in customer experience do not stop at the website.”
It’s a very intelligent suggestion - one that can only come from someone outside the company. It highlights my problem with design discussion within the walls of corporations. Amongst any group of people on the inside, discussions tend to miss the point completely. While corporations hem and haw about the size and placement of the logo and color-scheme, the real issues get lost in a pile of marginalia. In order for design to become the discussion to be had, a company has to acknowledge that they have fundamental communication and customer experience problems at the core of their business. I have almost never been in a meeting with a client in which we discussed how their ethos and intelligence come through in the voice, tone, and aesthetic of everything they do. How everything (in the case of American Airlines) from aircraft lighting design to the aesthetic of your terminal reflect how you feel about your customer, and about yourself as a viable entity.
A brilliant friend and ex-colleague of mine, Jack Cheng, proposed that Delta create an open-source business model while emerging from bankruptcy. He coined it “Terminal D.” As Delta rose from the ashes caused by its prior sins, why not ask travelers what they really wanted. Accept anything: seat designs sketched on a service napkin, menu suggestions via text message, requests for more terminal charging stations via customer bitching…anything. After years in graphic and environmental design, advertising, and “future of…” thinking, I am now wholly convinced that the only way to success is through design. Not make-pretty. Hard-nosed, carefully considered design of every single thing your customers touch (or don’t touch) from “hello” to “b-bye.” And this requires a strong pedigree of centralized design leadership. Taking a design-by-committee or piece-meal approach is like fixing your pantyhose with Alabama Chrome. Here’s to hoping we quickly find the next generation of great design leaders in business.