Hand Sketching Ranks #1

In the pre-meeting of InfoCamp, Paul, an user experience professional, shared the results of the prototyping tools survey.

Prototyping tools survey top-line results:

  1. Hand sketching
  3. Axure
  4. Balsamiq
  5. OmniGraffle
  6. Visio

Ideas 18-2 Storehouse Management in Fashion Stores

There are still many jobs that require a good memory. One of them is the sales assistant in fashion stores.

The storehouses in fashion stores are usually small, compact, and too crowded, as more space is allocated for the display area and fitting rooms. Therefore, it is often difficult to keep everything in good order and easy to find. Imagine a sales girl standing on a ladder or chair trying to find a pair of shoes for the customer waiting outside. It happens every day in a fashion/shoe store. In some stores, the newly recruited sales assistants are asked to sort out the storehouse for their first day, so that they can get familiar with where everything is and find it immediately for customers.

The situation is similar with the luggage deposit at hotels. I remember seeing an angry guest in a five star hotel. She needed her luggage to catch the plane, but the staff wasn’t able to find it for her immediately. The staff at hotels put labels on the luggage for identification, but in order to find the luggage very fast, they still need to memorize where the luggage had been put.

I think a good solution for the storehouse in fashion stores is using RFID tags with an information system. For the user end, I would prefer a RFID tag reader to identify the tags, together with a touch screen for the sales assistants to select the required goods fast and easily. The RFID tags should be able to make “beep” sounds to indicate their locations in the storehouse.

idea, by H.Z.

HP TouchSmart 600 PC

Your World at your fingertips!

A good friend was involved on this project, which makes me feel really proud.^_^

It seems to be designed for home use, but I’ve seen many exciting applications in fashion/shoes stores and companies!

Happy Mid-Autumn Day

It’s the Mid-Autumn Festival in China today. I almost forgot it until one friend sent me festival wishes from China. Sometimes people forget their hometown festivals. One of my friends from the US is working in China, and he almost forgot about the Labor Day.

There are lots of memories about this festival. I first learned to talk about it in English at our English class in junior high school. There was a lesson about this festival in the English book, and I learned the words like Mid-Autumn Day, moon cakes, family get together, etc.

Last year, I talked about the culture of Mid-Autumn Festival to my students of Chinese as second language, and they found it very interesting. It really is, if you believe the fairy tale that there is a laurel tree on the moon, a beautiful lady is living in the magnificent palace on the moon, alone with her snow white rabbit… and she used to be a lovely young woman living on earth.

( lady named “Chang Er” of the fairy tale, pictures from http://www.oklx.com)

In China, it’s difficult to ignore this festival. You would find advertisements of moon cakes everywhere, in super markets, department stores, and hotels. Even if you don’t buy them yourself, it is highly possible that you might receive some as gift from others. Companies give moon cakes to employees, clients, and other important contacts. I think everybody in China eats some moon cake during this festival.

Oh, one more thing, there will be full moon tonight, or tomorrow night, if according to the saying, “the moon on the 15th is not so full until the 16th” (The day is calculated as Aug. 15th with Chinese lunar year calendar).

(moon cakes, photos from http://www.2dayblog.com/2009/09/16/starbucks-mooncake/ , http://fashion.ef360.com/Articles/2009-7-29/132650.html )

Ideas 18-1 Cashier’s at Grocery Stores

“What kind of pepper is it?” The man at the cashier’s of a grocery store asked me. He had difficulty with the price.

In grocery stores, it seems the staff at the cashier’s has to memorize all the prices of different vegetables and fruits without package. They have to identify different kinds of peaches, tomatoes, peppers, etc.

How to make it easier?

Use labels that can be identified by computer systems:

  1. Paste such labels on each vegetable and fruit.
  2. Put such labels beside the vegetable and fruit so that customers can paste on the plastic bags by themselves.

Use charts/computer systems at the cashier’s:

  1. Place a chart with photos, names, and prices on the cashier’s desk, or a digital one in the computer.
  2. Use a camera to identify the vegetable or fruit. Then, the information is displayed in the computer for the cashier to choose or confirm.

I think, in the near future, identifying systems with cameras will be found in many supermarkets and grocery stores. There will also be computers with touch screen at the cashier’s. Maybe the customers can also order the grocery online in advance..we will see!

How to Propose a Fashion Store Design to Chinese Stakeholders

Many fashion brands have their retail stores in China. Commonly, in the cooperation between a Chinese company (the distributor or the licensed producer) and a “foreign company” (the brand owner), the foreign company is responsible for the design of the retail stores, and the Chinese company is responsible for the construction work of the stores.

Both parties agree to do so for two reasons. First of all, the foreign company wants to take control of the image of its brand, and sometimes the brand owners need to unify the images of all their stores around the world. Second, the Chinese company tends to believe the foreign designers have better ideas and more creative designs, so they are willing to let them do the job.

Fashion brands often ask professional design studios to design the shop image. No matter how good the design is, if the Chinese company doesn’t agree, the design proposal may never be put into practice. I used to work for a Chinese fashion company that distributes Italian menswear, and I saw many design proposals from top Italian design studios turned down by the stakeholders of the Chinese company. Because the designers didn’t understand the needs of the stakeholders, some really good and creative designs got rejected.

Besides the design itself, the way of proposing the design also plays an important part in making the decision. The designers should try to avoid the following two mistakes:

1. The designers like to have the clients wait for a long time, and then show them one or two highly rendered designs.

This is risky because if the clients don’t like any of them, much time is wasted doing the render work. Moreover, the clients get impatient after the long waiting.

Instead, in the beginning, the designer should propose the overall tones first. It is very important to know what “feeling” the clients look for. It is not enough to state it by words such as “modern” or “classic” because the Chinese clients may have totally different understandings of these words. For instance, two companies agreed to have a “modern” look for the new stores. Then, the Italian designer proposed a design with very dark background color, stone-like floor and dark metallic furniture. When the Chinese clients saw the design, they denied it immediately. They said, “We prefer bright color and simpler design. The color is so dark that it won’t look nice in a modern department store.”

Assessing the overall tone and suitability for the settings should be done as early as possible to make sure the design is heading towards the right direction. It also makes the clients less anxious if they can really see how the design work is done step by step.

2. The designers often propose one shop window design together with one shop design as a package.

This is risky in that if the Chinese clients don’t like the design of shop window, they may deny the whole proposal without further thinking about the other interior designs of the shop. The shop window image is one of the most important considerations in a store design, and the Chinese clients really expect to see something amazing.

Therefore, the designers should be more flexible in shop window designs. For example, they can try to propose the same dummies with different background scenes to show the flexibility of the design. For example, show the clients how the background can be changed with each season. The clients need something versatile, which can not only be used throughout the years, but also display a distinct image for each season.

The designers can also divide the shop window design into several elements, such as the dummies, the small furniture, and the background. By doing this, there is a better chance to decide on something with each proposal. For example, the Chinese clients may not like the background or the furniture, but they may find the dummies nice, so they can at least decide on the dummies. This makes the proposal more constructive and the clients more confident in the designers.

Then, ask the clients how they feel about the furniture. Is it better to have it round, or square? What apparels do they plan to display on them? It’s much better than just asking the Chinese clients what they like. They are not professional designers, and they may find it difficult to describe what they want, so it’s better to make your questions more specific.

It is also better because the Chinese clients would be able to begin producing the dummies in advance. It takes time to have them customized and delivered.

The same strategy can also be applied in proposing the shop interior design. For instance, after the overall tone of the shop is decided, the designers can propose several designs of the main/fixed furniture, each in different colors and materials. Again, this makes it easier for the clients to choose and decide, and then the Chinese client can begin to produce the main/fixed furniture in advance.

Some background knowledge

Why is it so important to have the Chinese clients decide on something early and produce them in advance? To get the answer, it’s necessary to get some background knowledge about opening a store in China’s department stores:

  • It’s not easy to get a location in a good department store. In some top department stores in China, a brand needs to wait for two or three years to get the chance. There is a lot of investment in money and relations. If the sales result is bad, the store will have to be closed to give space to other brands. Shop image is vital in attracting customers and promoting sales, and it has to be good. All these worries make the Chinese clients stressed.
  • Time is limited for the store construction. The department store often requires the construction be finished within a month. Dummies and furniture take several weeks to produce and deliver, so the Chinese clients often wish to have them produced in advance. If the design of the dummies and main furniture are decided early, it gives the Chinese clients enough time to have them produced. In contrast, if the design is denied over and over again without agreeing on anything, the Chinese clients will lose confidence in the designers, and they become really worried about meeting the deadline. It is highly possible that they will discard the design totally and choose other ready-to-use designs, for the reason that “there is no time to wait.”
  • It takes time for the department stores to examine and approve the design proposals. The Chinese clients want to settle the framework of design early and have the complete design plans finished early, so that they can summit the design plans to the managers in department stores. Early summit results in early approval, and then they will have more time to prepare and build the store.

In short, the Chinese clients want to decide on a good design as early as possible. If the designers can carefully consider their clients’ thoughts and needs and pay attention to the process of proposal, their design ideas will have a better chance to be agreed and accomplished.

The Library, Dressing Codes, and Easy Access

(the bronze sculpture in a public library in Shanghai,  photos from http://www.dianping.com/shop/1796581/photos)

One day, I had a pleasant talk with a Librarian at Seattle Public Library. We talked about the dressing codes for patrons and the location of international language department at the library, and I found something interesting.

I mentioned a library in Shanghai, China, where the international language department is located on the 8th floor, above all the other reading rooms, specially furnished like a private study room, and exclusively opened to foreigners. In contrast, at the Seattle Public Library, the international language department is on the ground floor, where everybody can come up for information and services.

(the international language department of a library in Shanghai,  photos from http://www.dianping.com/shop/1796581/photos)

I asked him, “What do you think is the consideration? Is it about equality?”

He smiled. “Well, the word equality is too big. I’d rather say it’s for easy access.”

“Yes, easy access!”  I nodded, “It’s on the ground floor so that people can find it easily.”

“And it’s convenient for the senior patrons and the physically challenged ones. As to the library you described, it is trying to show the best to the world.” he said with a witty smile, “That’s why it’s luxurious.”

“And that’s why it’s called ‘China Window’.” I said, and went on with another question, “Do we have dressing codes for patrons? In the library I just mentioned, patrons wearing tank tops, shorts, and slippers are not allowed to enter. “

In fact, this dressing code is commonly seen in China’s many public libraries. I searched online and found the similar regulations of “dressing neatly” on lots of libraries’ websites. Here is a true story. My friend Wang wanted to study in the library, but he was stopped by the safeguard at the entrance for wearing a sports vest, shorts, and flip-flops. In the end, he had to go home and change into some more formal T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers.

“Yes, we do have.” He thought for a second and answered seriously, “They can’t be barefoot, or wear nothing.” That was a joke, and we both laughed.

(the building, lobby, and general reading room of a library in Shanghai, photos from http://www.dianping.com/shop/1796581/photos )