Wordless Instructions

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Sometimes, we feel like the best way to communicate — in particular, to give instructions — is to use more words. If you describe something in more detail, it surely becomes clearer. However,... READ MORE

The Astonishing Feat of User Error

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This afternoon, I hat just settled into a thought-provoking book after a relaxing meal of avocado toast when my phone rang. Thinking that it was just an automated message from the NYPL saying... READ MORE

Creative Workshop #2: Easy as ABC

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To exercise my creative muscle, I am completing creative exercises from David Sherwin’s Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills.  #2: Easy as ABC Design a typeface that will be composed from elements in... READ MORE

Bungy Jumping – Lessons on Taking the Leap

posted in: Journal, New Zealand, Travel | 0

Bungy jumping, or some form of extreme free fall, has been on my bucket list for a quite a while. My thoughts are, if I can push myself to accomplish something that I am primally afraid of because there is the threat of actual, physical death (even if in reality the threat has been mitigated such that there’s a higher chance of dying when crossing the street), then I can do anything. Public speaking, heartbreak, salary negotiations? Oh, please.


With that in mind, I signed up for bungy jumping on the last day of my trip to New Zealand. It’s easy to put your name down for something far in the future, pat yourself on the back, and forget about it, but eventually time catches up with you. A few days prior to the jump, I felt the regular anxiety that sets in before any big speech, performance, or event (petty things that I was shortly never going to be afraid of again). Not overwhelming, just an undercurrent of unease that once in a while rears its head up and whispers, “Psst, 2 more days.”

Eventually, it came time to check in on the day of the jump. I signed my life away with a couple of waivers, got weighed no less than three times (the crew recorded it in huge numbers on my hand for all to see, but nobody cares about disclosing their weight in the face of potential impending doom), and found myself standing in line for the platform, in the middle of the Kawarau Bridge.

kawarau bridge bungy jump platform line

Not thinking about it helped to control the anxiety, and I did a fairly good job of suppressing my fear as others disappeared off the ledge before me. I was fine as I stepped into the harness, fine as the crew bundled my ankles up in a tightly-strapped towel, and fine all the way up until I stood up and hobbled my way past the railings and to the end of the platform.

kawarau bridge bungy jump

Then I looked over the edge.

And then I was 100%, completely and utterly not fine. Excuse me, you’re saying I have to to — What? Oh…sure, smile and wave over here. Now wave over there. Okay, back to what I was saying, I–

“Ready? 3…..2…..1…..”

Now or never. I spread my arms, tried to remember to go upper body first in a swan dive, and used every ounce of will in my body to propel myself forward.


Immediately, every thought that had been running through my brain got replaced with just one: “#&@% WHAT HAVE I DONE??” But there was only a split second of sheer terror, after which — well, I mean, I had already committed, hadn’t I? I resolved to enjoy the experience, but it doesn’t take long to fall 43 meters. Before I knew it, I was already bouncing back up “like a helpless, dangling piece of meat,” as a friend so flatteringly put it.

kawarau bridge bungy jump

The whole ordeal took only 40 seconds. 40 seconds between tipping over the platform ledge and laying in the safety of the floating raft below. 40 exhilarating seconds that caused closer to 40 hours of quiet, slow-creeping anxiety, but also a disproportionate, unquantifiable amount of accomplishment and joy.

kawarau bridge bungy jump raft

Bungy jumping, check!

I proved to myself that I can push past my fears to accomplish even a death-defying goal (I know, I know, I wasn’t actually going to die. But please humor me). Now, when I go to give my next presentation, prepare for my next interview, or find myself making the next life-altering decision, I… well, I’m probably going to feel just as anxious as before.

But I did glean one important lesson from the experience, which is this: JUST JUMP. The longer you stay on the ledge, surveying and contemplating all of the horrors that might befall you, the more afraid you get, the more willpower it takes, and the less likely it is for you to follow through. The key is to take action before your mind even has a chance to process the fear. And before you know it, you’re spinning through the air, having the time of your life.

You’ll also end up with a pretty great story to tell.

Video of the jump here, with funny commentary by a nearby Chinese family:


Wordless Instructions

posted in: Design Blog, User Experience | 0

Sometimes, we feel like the best way to communicate — in particular, to give instructions — is to use more words. If you describe something in more detail, it surely becomes clearer.

However, what percentage of users actually read the menu? And the thicker it is, the less likely users are to even open it.

Therefore, whenever possible, it’s better to go with fewer words, not more. In the best case scenario, a product would be so intuitive that it wouldn’t need any instructions at all.

Take, for example, clothing. Aside from a tag with washing instructions (which I admit that I rarely read either), clothing typically doesn’t come with many words attached. Even when it does, tags are pulled off immediately before wearing. So if there is an action that the user should take, how can it be communicated?

Below is a clever example of wordless instruction. As with pencil skirts and suit jackets and other types of formal wear, this jacket comes with the two bottom flaps sewn together and is meant to be cut before being worn. The manufacturers could have said so on a tag, or placed an instructional sticker nearby, but instead they opted for the simple and elegant solution of sewing with white thread. On a black jacket, the white stands out like a sore thumb, and it’s obviously not part of the design of the jacket. Without asking any questions, and without reading any words, you know to take out the scissors and cut the two flaps apart.

wordless instruction to cut jacket thread

(Yes, the thread above is fabricated. I had already finished cutting before I realized the wordless, instructional genius. So this is a digital replica of the jacket the way it came.)

Sure, it may be a step that you come to expect if you buy lots of formal wear, but I appreciate the loud and clear indicator. I have been that person that struggles with limited mobility in a pencil skirt until someone informs me that I am supposed to cut the obscure, thin black thread that I never noticed. By using thread with such high contrast and making an obnoxiously large pattern, the manufacturers make sure that you understand what is to be done — and all without a single word.

The Astonishing Feat of User Error

posted in: Design Blog, User Experience | 0

This afternoon, I hat just settled into a thought-provoking book after a relaxing meal of avocado toast when my phone rang. Thinking that it was just an automated message from the NYPL saying that one of my books on hold had become available, I picked it up to hear, “Hello, Jessica? Are you still coming for your 1pm appointment with _____?”

Awwww Crap.

The haircut appointment that I had set up a month in advance was in fact for today instead of tomorrow, as I had originally thought. The man on the phone explained, kindly but understandably impatiently, that because I was (more accurate, would have been) a first-time customer, they would waive the same-day cancellation fee. However, according to policy, I was forever barred from making appointments with _____ again. Good day, *click*

A remarkable thing is that the salon had sent me a text message the day before, presumably to avoid precisely what had occurred. And I had thought it funny that they would send me a reminder 2 days in advance, but I carelessly and readily replied, “Yes.”


It just goes to show that no matter how many failsafes you put into place, there will always be someone–a user with her own assumptions, who ignores your instructions and doesn’t read your reminder texts– that blunders through and evades your best efforts.

And that user can be anyone, even someone with the best intentions whom peers and colleagues would otherwise describe as organized and responsible in other settings.

On the business side, then, what could the salon have done in order to prevent this from happening, or at least to minimize the damage?

1. Put more failsafes in place. Ask that users reply to confirmation texts with the time and date instead of simply responding with “Yes,” or send out another reminder text a few hours before the appointment. However, doing so requires additional labor, and also inconveniences ALL customers for the sake of the few.

2. Stricter policies. Charge for the full service or a nominal fee if a customer misses the appointment–and don’t waive it, even out of kindness to first-time customers. This would, at least, partially cover the opportunity cost of the missed appointment. However, there’s a potential downside to this as well: A study ran at a day care that wished to deter parents from picking their children up late found that instituting a late fee increased the number of late pickups. The introduction of the monetary fee decreased the parents’ guilt, and justified the late pick up because, hey, they were paying up for it. I don’t know to what extent customer guilt would help the salon, but it’s worthy of consideration especially if they’re looking to establish long-term relationships with these customers.

3. Be lenient, and go all the way. Accept that mistakes, accidents, and other circumstances happen and cut the customers some slack. In this case, the salon was already lenient by waiving the fee. However, I don’t know that revoking future appointment-making privileges would necessarily be the best move to follow. Had I been able to reschedule, I might have demonstrated that I actually am quite capable of keeping track of appointments, and given a substantial tip in gratitude for being given a second chance. I can see the logic behind the policy, though, in order to protect the business and weed out a segment who could very well turn out to be bad customers.

It’s not clear which of these options works best without being the business owner and without conducting a true experiment. But I’m grateful that the salon was understanding of my mistake, and it looks like I’ll just have to live with my split ends for a while longer.

Creative Workshop #2: Easy as ABC

posted in: Creative Exercises, Design Blog | 0

To exercise my creative muscle, I am completing creative exercises from David Sherwin’s Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills.

 #2: Easy as ABC

Design a typeface that will be composed from elements in the world around you. Assemble your twenty-six-character alphabet using only found objects or environments. Letters may be documented through collage, photography, photocopying, digital illustration, and other appropriate mediums. (120 min)

The weekend that I chose to tackle this challenge, I was also scheduled for two five-hour bus rides. Given that I couldn’t bring many things with me and also had virtually no mobility, the options for this project were limited.

But what about paper? Easy to carry, and possible to arrange and manipulate in close quarters. The only origami I know is the classic paper crane, but it sounded like fun to experiment and see what I could come up with. I had a few basic requirements:

  • Start with a square sheet
  • No cutting or tearing
  • No gluing or taping

I blew the 120 min time limit out of the water (no need to say by how much), because it turns out that transforming squares into abstract letters with no plan requires a lot of trial and error. It also turns out that supplying a bunch of paper and issuing the task of creating abstract letters is a great way to occupy and bond with a creative 10-year-old. My 10-year-old helper gave me a big creative boost, and she is solely responsible for the ‘k’ and for making the ‘a’ as cute as it is.

An origami alphabet of lowercased letters:



Fortunately, a lot of letters utilized the same shapes. ‘b,’ ‘d,’ ‘p,’ and ‘q.’ ‘e’ and ‘g.’ ‘u’ and ‘n.’ And ‘m’ and ‘w.’

‘x’ was a killer, and my favorite is ‘j’ (but I could be biased).

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