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

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).

Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour

posted in: Travel, USA | 0

I’m pretty out of the loop when it comes to pop culture. The answer to “Do you know _____” or “Have you heard/seen ____” is “Um. No…” 90% of the time. But someone who I DO know (this is rare, so it’s a minor source of pride) is Taylor Swift, and I saw her live in concert in Philadelphia on her 1989 World Tour!

taylor swift 1989 world tour philadelphia concert

I’ve been to three concerts before in the past, Death Cab for Cutie, Jason Derulo, and David Guetta. But Taylor Swift was different because (1) I had heard her songs more than one week prior to the concert, and (2) I actually knew the words to said songs (again, probably not something that the average person would be proud of, but you underestimate the extent of my mainstream ignorance). I nabbed a ticket as soon as presales came out in December, so it’s been an anticipated event on my calendar for quite a while. To see the concert, I even made a special weekend trip down to Philly, because for whatever reason, NYC was not included on her tour. (I’m sure there’s a business rationale for this, but she’s the AMBASSADOR for NYC. Just saying.)

Being the concert n00b that I am, I arrived at the venue, Lincoln Financial Field, 15min before the start time of 7pm. It turns out that it takes quite a while for 50,000 people to pile into a stadium, and the event coordinators fully adjust the schedule to accommodate this. I found my seat in the second-to-last row (yes, I bought the cheapest ticket I could fined, and somehow it was still close to $100), and then there was nothing to do but to wait.

taylor swift 1989 world tour philadelphia concert

The camera makes it look much further away than it actually was, I swear.

taylor swift 1989 world tour philadelphia concert

I got so restless that I wandered around the concession stands and finally bought a cheeseburger and a $4 water, which the event coordinators probably fully accommodated for as well.

taylor swift 1989 world tour philadelphia concert lincoln financial field concession stand

I also amused myself by noting the demographics of the crowd, which was probably unlike any other that Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, has ever seen. It was around 90% female, 70% young (which I operationally define as being born before 1989), and so, so overwhelmingly white. From my seat in the second-to-last row (and when you’re up that high, you can see a lot. Just not of the stage), I could only find four other people of color — two of which being my companions next to me. I was surprised because I thought she had a fan base that was at least twice as diverse (which still isn’t saying much…). But while everyone has danced to her music at some point, I guess mostly one particular demographic is willing to pony up $100++ to squint at her in a stadium.

Shawn Mendes kicked off the show at 7:15, followed by Vance Joy at 8:00. At 8:30, they amped up the crowd with videos prepared just for the 1989 World Tour, including trivia, behind the scenes for music videos, and interview snippets, and at 9:00 on the dot, Taylor Swift herself appeared.

taylor swift 1989 world tour philadelphia concert welcome to new york

Thank goodness for those two gigantic screens.

Her first song of the night, ‘Welcome to New York’ (I know videos are awful, but the goal of the videos was to save the experience rather than to try for the perfect cut).


Upon entering the stadium, everyone was given a white rubbery wristband that visibly contained LEDs but didn’t have buttons or any other means of activation. We were simply instructed to (1) wear the wristband, (2) remove the strip of plastic that separated the battery, and (3) have fun. As soon as Taylor took the stage, we discovered what it was for. The wristbands had no button because they were centrally controlled, timed to flash in rhythm with the current song of the set. Pretty cool!

taylor swift 1989 world tour philadelphia concert

taylor swift 1989 world tour philadelphia concert wristband

‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together':


One perk of being up high and far away: you can see the entire twinkling stadium. Because that — and not the performer — is clearly what I paid to see. After leaving the stadium the wristbands are set to flash colorfully when tapped or shaken. I don’t know how I feel about bringing a remote-controlled object back to my home, but who can pass up a cool reusable souvenir?

Taylor herself is an amazing performer, not unexpected given that she has had 10+ years of practice already. That girl knows her best poses and angles, and she has a talent for whipping up the crowd, even one that’s an unwieldy 50,000 people strong. The transition from song to song was seamless, so Taylor was fully present and fully on for two hours straight, when I was already hoarse from singing along by the end of the first hour. Much respect!

A runway that lifted up and rotated over the crowd:

taylor swift 1989 world tour philadelphia concert rotating stage

And ‘Love Story,’ redone in 1989 style:


The grand finale, with ‘Shake It Off’

taylor swift 1989 world tour philadelphia concert shake it off finale

What took me by surprise was Taylor’s eloquence. In the media, she is sometimes portrayed as somewhat spazzy, somewhat awkward, and generally “Omg omg — like, yeah.” But she gave earnest speeches as lead-ins to some of her songs, seeking to connect personally with her audience. She made a point of thanking us in person for supporting her 1989 album, shared some of the sentiments behind her songs, and made a variety of inspirational comments that drew from her own experiences. Aw man, she can sing, play instruments, and make good speeches?

Bring on the feelings of inadequacy. What am I doing with my life? Clearly not giving multiple concerts with tens of thousands of people in attendance. Realistically, I’ll never get to that point (“Not with that attitude!” yeah, yeah). But it is inspirational to see what someone can do at a mere age of 25. Let me set a goal of making “just” 50,000 friends, and I’ll move up form there!

After this concert, I understand the appeal of seeing artists live. It’s even more fun to sing along to your favorite songs when you’re doing it with the artist in the him/herself, even when s/he is an entire football field away. Maybe I should get more into music and other artists…nah. Taylor Swift is enough pop culture for me for now. One step at a time!

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