A while back a designer posted an unsolicited redesign of the American Airlines website. He wrote “I spent a couple hours redesigning your front page. This is what I settled on. Imagine what you could do with a full, totally competent design team.”
The implication of the whole project, of course, is that American Airlines, a multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporation, didn’t have a designer who could spend a day messing around with the buttons on their website. Of course they do. They probably have 50 of them. That is not the problem.
Naturally he missed many of the systemic issues in favor of aesthetics. For instance, the confirmation time after purchasing a ticket online from American Airlines is north of 45 minutes to an hour – a ridiculous lag for any real time transaction processor. Or, should their website even be a priority when they have old planes that could be made to feel new again with small changes to the entertainment consoles or their archaic overhead storage?
You leave the analysis struck not by its value but by the bitter, obnoxious condescension. American Airlines was never the issue, only ego. It does not come as a shock to find that the author is 22 years old.
Here’s what I’ve learned: separate yourselves from these low-level Others by resisting the temptation to assume it is all very simple and straightforward. It is not. Don’t fool yourself. The problem is rarely the fact that they didn’t have you there to think about it for two seconds. What comes to mind after a cursory glance is an illusion – your young brain baiting over-extension. Deny this impulse and the attention it may offer. Focus on real strategy. On truly understanding what you’re talking about. Leave the bullshit attitude alone because it doesn’t get you anything but alienation.
Clearly Dustin overlooked the bureaucracy that exists in a billion dollar corporation like AA. But I wouldn’t write-off his unsolicited redesign completely.
Now you could be right that their website is not a priority. Perhaps AA’s focusing on some more important, profitable initiative (e.g., new entertainment consoles). I’d like to believe that. But it’s more likely that AA is just not a very technology-focused company. The website will never be a strategic priority for the company, especially one that annually flirts with bankruptcy.
Perhaps Dustin is merely pointing out the immense benefits from a small investment in the website that could have a huge impact to customer experience. Now the politics to implement such a small investment are abominable (when I was at Amex, changing the background color on americanexpress.com cost well over six figures). But most of the politics exist from culture and inertia, not some overly complicated technical issue that naive 22-year olds cannot comprehend. This is a management issue, not a complex R&D puzzle.
You display a cognitive bias here in the blog, Ryan, which is that you react to the way people say things as much as to what they say. This is a problem. For one thing, a lot of the tone that you’re sensitive to — condescension, arrogance, and so forth — is just a remnant of the medium, which separates people from the consequences of their tone of voice. When you say, “you leave the analysis struck not by its value,” the fact is that YOU leave the analysis in this way, and in doing so risk missing its objective value. It’s not a virtue to get hung up on something that distracts you from value — like making a judgement based on someone’s tatoos.
There is very little objective value in Dustin’s redesign. No more than a random sketch of a building handed to a mayor or a councilmen by a resident.
I think this is your first post of which I have to disagree with the premise. Several companies have lost my respect and business because their websites sucked, and I could have redesigned them to be better in a few hours. In a tight economy with competition, small luxuries like a user-friendly website or good customer service can mean the difference between profit and loss. My last boss knew this, and that is why his business is expanding while roughly 40 out of 110 others in the same industry have closed in this city.
Your point, however, is still good.
Just because you can “see” the Boston Celtics play basketball, doesn’t automatically mean one can play “like” them..
Spiffy websites are probably more valuable for one shot products. However, airlines generally sell a multiple use product (the flights) and consumers talk about their experiences. They talk a lot, too.
“How was your flight?” “Horrible. Never fly Delta/Air India on a flight to/from London/random Congolese airline again.”
Holiday’s point is valid. Redesigning the AA website is pure fuckery when improving AA’s actual flight experience to a point where it was superior would have millions of customers jumping through any and all hoops they have to buy tickets. Calling out AA for their web design take some degree of boldness, but it’s born of a mindset almost entirely disconnected from real world results.
For those who disagree with the AA example, make sure you read the response Dustin received from an AA design employee. He mentions how he has 6 re-designs sitting on file as well, but that so many parts of the company have autonomy over their own clusters of the site. The design team within AA is trying to do their work, but they’re doing so within the confines of their system.
I’d agree that upper management could benefit from Seth Godin’s recent post about catching up with your online presence, but none of that changes what Ryan said — The tone of what Dustin wrote was from the perspective of “How can everyone else be so stupid to not do this instead?” He doesn’t apologize for saying the design team are idiots and that they should all be fired. He just blanks out what he said before and posts the response. But it’s still the same song and dance “Well someone else is a complete idiot that never gives any thought to this.”
Is he wrong? Maybe not. Does he have anything to back up his opinion other than that it’s the most convenient belief? No.
Wish I had a nickel for everyone I’ve met who simply could not grasp the concept that if something doesn’t make sense, it is very rarely because everybody else is dumber than them. Like you say Ryan, they overlook the rest of the picture. Cable news pundits make their living on people who can’t get past this concept. Good post.
I don’t know if you cared about the entire back-and-forth between AA and this 22-year-old, but his level of arrogance wasn’t really that high at all. It was more frustration and optimism. Like you mentioned, he’s 22, and well-educated, and has talent. As you’ve said, young people who work in careers like this actually know what the fuck they are doing, and rise to the top once they finally get a job.
He mentions in his post that he did know about a lot of the channels that website refreshes have to go through, and understands the bureaucracy behind a significant undertaking. What he also mentions is that he’s lucky enough to have been a part of several projects were instead of concern for everyone’s ego’s and pet projects those who were hired to redesign a website were trusted to do their jobs, and make accommodations later.
The problem he saw was definitely deeper than the front-page, and his solution was actually a very honest and simple one. Change, now. You are losing business, and you don’t have to. Why make bureaucracy an excuse, for a company that’s a very bad one. It means the company is being pulled in too many directions and should fire a lot of people, and reorganize others. Airlines specifically do a large portion if not a majority of business online, and in the AA response there didn’t seem any risk involved in simply changing the website and dealing with everyone after.
If it was my job, and I was forced into that level of complacency where my time was well-spent telling off bloggers, than I’d start shopping for a new one, or take the risk of implementing a design I was hired to do and accept the risk and the reward that it may bring.