In the previous post, I wrote about the different ways I optimize for empathy in design. It was easy to apply these, seeing as I was designing for someone I know. What about when designing for someone I have never met, and had only interacted with over the internet?
As if to test my pontificating, such a scenario presented itself over the holidays. I received an order for a bag I had made, and mailed it. I imagined it was a gift for a guy, as
- The order had been placed through a male name
- I had just created a ‘For men’ section and was eager to convince myself it was already taking off
- The bag was a unisex design.
I received a gracious email saying that the writer’s dear husband had purchased her the bag as a Christmas gift, but that the strap was too short for her.
I think that one of the advantages of making bags is that unlike shoes, they are often one size fits all. For everything else, a strap adjuster is usually a good solution. The thing is that
- Sometimes, from an aesthetic point of view, a strap adjuster introduces at least two additional metal components, that can sometimes remove from the aesthetics I had in mind.
- A shoulder bag is usually fine. However, I had listed this as a cross-body bag, and for fuller-bodied people, what this means is that the bag strap has to be long enough to cover some of the width of their shoulders, lateral rib-cage, and chest/bust. So it almost becomes like clothing, where bust measurements, shoulder measurements, etc come into play. I hadn’t thought of this as I placed the listing under the cross-body category. I am now more careful to only place bags with ample-length and an adjustable strap in this category.
I thought that this would be a good opportunity to put some empathic design into play. It was after the holidays and I could make out time to create a bag that the client would be happy to wear. Also, unlike scenarios where the client places an order and I mail it in and communicate thanks via email, I had had a bit more communication with this client. Many of the people who order from Minku have this warmth about them. Sometimes I have to send customer care emails for situations like when someone is personalizing a gift, or when items would take longer to mail out, because I need x number of days to make their custom order. I receive the warmest and most patient of email responses. It makes this job really fulfilling, partly because I know I can relax and do a good job. I also work very well under pressure, but I try to avoid it, as I am lucky enough to be the person I report to.
For step one of making a bag that the client would like, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind sending me a picture of some of the bags she owned, just maybe two or three of them placed together. I told her this would give me an idea of her bag taste, and help me come up with something for her. At first I received no response, and I thought this was expected, because who really wants to get that intimate with someone she doesn’t really know? There might be an element of it that seems to say show me your style and I’ll judge you and make you something I think suits you, and I had to be proper with the wording, to remove the slightest misread sense of judgement. However, I found it important to request this information, because I needed more than a blank slate to work with.
When the returned bag arrived, we had the touchpoint of conversing again, and I asked again, just in a no-fuss way: if you can send me a photo of two or three bags, then I’ll get an idea and can work with more direction. If you don’t feel comfortable sending it, this is totally fine, and I’ll make a bag with the strap of the length we already discussed, and mail it by x date to avoid delaying this.
She sent me the photo the same day, explaining that the challenge had been deciding which of the bags to send me a photo of. It was really cool to receive the photo, because I knew almost immediately which of the styles I had been ruminating over, to make for her. I hadn’t tried padded quilting before, but I really wanted to. Even though none of the bags in the photo she sent to me had padded quilting, I felt that this was my chance to give it a try, to achieve the more structured style of bag she seemed to lean towards. Also, leather quilting is really pretty, and I wanted the challenge.
I sent her a photo of the bag, and I received the best email, saying how much she loved it. I have to say that I feel I also got lucky, because it is not like I am suddenly a mind reader or a photo reader. It is a combination of having a gracious client and working to understand people’s taste and translate it into something that, though different, they will still like.
The bag arrived about a week earlier than I had expected, and I got the best email from her.
First, spirit animal – whenever I’m stoked about something, I think that I would cry. And sometimes, when I am telling someone that their gesture/gift/words made me want to cry, I can see the look on their faces like, “no, that’s not what I was going for” but I still use the expression anyway because it’s how I feel :) So it was nice to see the client use the same expression. I totally understood the feeling she was trying to convey.
So I felt like it was a successful interaction. The thing about this work is that the emphasis has to be that I want to make bags that people want to wear. On average, people have tens of bags, so it would be unrealistic to think that wearing one bag every day for two years will be a mark of success. However, the thought of switching to the bag should delight them, like yay I can’t wait to switch my things into this Minku bag, with its glorious aso-oke interior and how the contents of my bag hit the light differently; its comfortable strap, the artisan details, the form of the bag, and all the compliments I will get.
For me, that is the dream. And it made this unplanned empathic design experience 100% worth it.