Business Advice

On the importance of design

There’s no doubt that design is important. As human beings, we reference and understand the world around us through design cues. And good design is so often not the complicated stuff – genuis often lies in simplicity. And doing something simply is often harder than being complicated and overblown (Blaise Pascal put this perfectly).

However, there are times when simplicity needs to be made more complicated to fulfil its intended function.

My favourite tale around this centres on a red-eye flight I had to take last year to a conference in Manchester. Having been up since 3am in the freezing cold, and having to had to jostle for a parking slot at an unfeasibly crowded airport, you can imagine that I wasn’t in the peak of physical alertness.

So I’m on the plane and the breakfast arrives. On being presented with some kind of ham concoction, I request the vegetarian option (ten years and counting…) and, a few minutes later, this little package arrives on my tray table.

It’s a sandwich of some kind in a clear plastic wrapper with the British Airways branding on the label. At the bottom of the label, is a little green bar with writing inside.

Pushing aside my conference notes and presentation speech, I go to grab the package, only to see the word ‘Bacon’ written in that little green tab.

I had asked for the vegetarian option and had put up with plenty already that morning (including being served tea when I’d asked for coffee). Added to which, I was hungry. So I go for the ‘Call Attendant’ button, in doing so knocking my conference programme onto the tray table.

The program collides with the little package and spins it around – and I realise that what I thought said ‘Bacon’ actually said ‘’. My finger’s hovering over the button by this point as though I’m testing the wind or asking to be excused from class. People are probably looking. I pretend to stretch and crack open the vegetarian option.

OK, aside from the fact that I was too quick to jump to a conclusion, a little more forethought could have gone into the packaging. If they’d have written ‘vegetarian’ in that little green bar, it would have all been OK (in defence of the sandwich, it was very tasty if a little scaldingly hot).

There were plenty of other places to put on the package, but maybe they hadn’t reckoned on a tired red-eye commuter asking for the vegetarian option. Who knows?

But this story, for me, underlines why design is important, and why my team now turn adverts etc upside down, just to make sure that we’re not advertising something we shouldn’t be when our DM or print is the wrong way up on the coffee table.


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