We’re having a nostalgic moment…and a bit of a worry. Are we designers too interested in making changes that we forget about the beautiful elements of the past? Has a drive to create ‘improved’ new experiences that reach mass audiences helped kill the trusting, comfortable feelings we used to get from our neighborhood stores and services?
The success of the big box retailers, resulting in the death of many local ‘mom and pop’ stores, is an example of how ‘progress’ and innovation can have some negative impacts on society. But in large part the success of these stores has been driven by distribution systems, purchasing power and business strategies. These stores don’t all have refined design approaches or sensitivity. Perhaps a more tangible example for us designers can be seen in our banks.
There was a time when banks were local institutions where bank managers knew customers on a first name basis and the community trusted that their money was being cared for. Your parents or grandparents can probably remember such a time. The building might have been a bit ‘worn’ and smelled a bit musty, but there was something a bit comforting about the bank experience, like a well-worn leather chair.
Compare that to the slick, sterile feel of our banks today. You enter what usually feels a bit like a combination of a Starbucks and a mobile phone store. There are some bits of fake wood, lighted displays and perhaps some marble on the floor. You see glossy printed brochures, new light fixtures, posters with people in suits…
We don’t mean to suggest that the new bank experience is necessarily bad. Many designers are devoted to such things as finding ways to improve how customers communicate with the bank, innovative service offerings, accessibility and others. The way we live necessitates changes in the relationship between the bank and the consumer. We expect near instantaneous access and we travel in ways our relatives did not – we want to walk into any branch of the bank and have an expectation of the services. It’s just that some of what made the old experiences comforting can’t be designed; they need to develop organically and over time.
We mentioned how the old bank experience involved trust and emotional comfort on a level we don’t feel in modern solutions. Without question, some of the erosion of this emotional connection has resulted from the banking scandals over the years. Some has also come from the aggressive growth of corporate banks and decline of the neighborhood institution. But is some of it because of the design industry’s drive to create uniform user experiences, strong and consistent brand touch points, and the next great thing? Are we so focused on the future that we forget the past?
There is a dilemma and a balance…
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