On a day that I’m giving a workshop, I like to arrive at the location a couple of hours before everyone else. Sometimes the room has already been set out in a particular fashion, but other times the room is a blank canvas. When the room and furniture options are new to me, I will stand at the front of the room, close my eyes, and look. I’m trying to see in my head what I want the room to look like – in light of the interactional patterns I hope to engender through the day. Where precisely should the tables be? Where do I put the chairs? Sometimes only small changes are possible based on the shape and layout of the room, while at other times, larger changes are possible. Seeing with my eyes closed can be for just one minute, but sometimes longer.
It’s not just at a workshop either. On one project I was going to be interviewing academics about their needs from the new SharePoint-based intranet, and the room I was given for interviews was a tutorial room at the university (think meeting room with tables down the middle and 12+ chairs). Again, seeing with my eyes closed allowed me to say to myself that I actually only wanted one table in the middle of the room, and two chairs. This would create (or force) the interactional style I wanted for the interviews: one-to-one, direct, personal, focused. So I moved all the other tables to the edge of the room, stacked the chairs away, and laid out the room the way I wanted. The academics entering the room may have been expecting a normal tutorial room, but what they got instead was a custom-designed interview room. And yes, I did put the room back to its previous layout when I’d finished.
Sometimes I wonder if the designers of customer experiences in retail operations and airport check-in areas do the same. Each have a particular set of objectives in mind, and unless it’s a brand new store or airport, an existing layout – with supporting routines, training curriculums, and expected responses from staff. But what is today doesn’t have to be what is tomorrow. Someone has to look at the current setting and lay out a new vision – a new line of sight, a new way of seeing possibilities and opportunities beyond what is currently formed. Mixing in some of the new possibilities – cameras that can track product being put into a customer’s shopping basket, or machine-based check-in stands (or mobile apps on a device that is tied to an individual account) – allows a re-imagining of what could be. And hence someone is able to imagine a store with no need for checkout lines or an airport with no need for check-in agents.
Seeing with your eyes open will blind you to the possibilities of what could be, because you are visually captured by what already is. Seeing with your eyes closed creates new vision.