Modern Man Inspiration Destination #03: The Mall
Mall = Rich cultural mecca of commerce and general shenanigans. While the mall as we gen-xers know it is a dying breed, this could generally be applied to any commercial center for shopping and yes shenanigans (bonus for using one of my favorite words twice in 2 sentences). I will preface the rest of this by saying ALWAYS HAVE AN EXIT STRATEGY. What am I talking about? This well meaning exercise in observation can and will quickly become your own private nightmare if you get swallowed up by the traffic and congestion the Mall will so graciously supply. It will start with a rush on the food court, then a sale at the Gap, followed by a bum rush on Starbucks and of course the fond farewell of parking lot gridlock as hundreds of cars try to squeeze out of one exit where everyone seems to be attempting a left hand turn without a light. This is real people. And that is just a normal Saturday. You really have to up your game for holidays and sales. People have been trampled to death during Black Friday sales. Consider yourself warned.
Back on topic…
The Mall (AKA Terrordome) is a magical and terrible place. One thing is certain, it will give you plenty of inspiration so keep your eyes and ears open. For the purposes of this discussion I want to talk about people watching, as that is typically my primary objective in this destination. I encourage making a game of it! This sort of exercise will get your creative juices flowing and really help you improve your ability to develop personas. Design is so connected to story telling that it becomes a necessity for designers to become story tellers. In order to a compelling story we must first understand the who component. Picking somebody out of the crowd does not satisfy this criteria. It is only after you dig deeper through observation of minute details that you will have your “who” that you seek. What are they wearing? What does that indicate about their social or professional status. Are they confident? Shy? Where have they shopped? What is the cadence of their movement? Are they on a mission or simply strolling about? Your observations will provide you with some rules or basic criteria for the world of your persona. Once you have established those rules and exhausted all your visual cues begin to fill in the blanks. THIS IS STORYTELLING. YOU ARE NOT PASSING JUDGEMENT. ASSUMPTIONS ARE A NECESSITY. I say all of that in caps because we are constantly told not to judge a book by its cover. Again I say you are not judging these people, so free yourself of inhibition! After I compile my observational data I like to start developing the rest of the story starting with why they are here and what they are shopping for. Hint – time of day can inform this even further. For example you have to have flexible or no employment to be shopping at 10am or 2pm on a Tuesday. The more you observe, the more you learn, the more this reflex is developed. Next time you develop a product / use case your persona will start to materialize in an eerily true to life manner (you may actually even see a clear face for this person/persona). We will talk more about character and story development in a later blog, but I want to ensure that I leave you with a few parting words of advice. Don’t stare – That’s just creepy and weird. Just keep it to casual observations and not so much on the stalking. Start by looking for patterns – Patterns will strengthen your insights. Is that man too old to be shopping at Hollister? (trick question, if it is a MAN then the answer is of course YES) Play by the rules – The only rules you have are those set by your observational data. Stay true to these and you will be able to create a “real” person. People create parameters for themselves to govern their decision making. Respect this and you will be fine. Have fun – This is important. If you are not having fun you are doing it wrong.
What makes me an expert on this topic? I logged my time in the Terrordome (the one they call the Mall of Georgia) as a retail manager (in several establishments that I will not name to protect the innocent). This experience left me with very useful scarring. I’ve seen things (he said with widened eyes and a twitch of insanity) but I’m alive to tell the story, so I will leave it at that.
Go forth and people watch!