Trim the fat. Less is more. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Most of us have heard these phrases before. The common thread they share is their emphasis on minimalism. Minimalism, in design, is a term that began in the arts as a term for producing simplified, yet avant garde work, but has been adopted into common nomenclature to express certain cultural trends.
I have been guilty of referring to myself as a minimalist in the past. There is something adventurous and rogue about the idea of purposefully living with less. It’s intoxicating to me. As I get older this idea becomes less of a personal mandate as I’m continually collecting responsibilities at a faster and faster pace. But nonetheless, there’s nothing I enjoy more than a good purge of my possessions. It not only clears room in my home for open space and new opportunities, but it also cleans my mental palate to become less cluttered and less weighed down by the accumulation of mental baggage, emotional saddlebags and anything not governed by functionality.
My typical rule of thumbs is, if you haven’t used an item in the past six months, then let it go. There are exceptions to the rule. Living in a seasonal country like Canada puts a kink in my system because things like snow tires and winter coats are absolutely essential, even though their active life is approximately four to five months a year. Purging yourself of seldom used items like old clothes, kitchen items and accumulated knick knacks will make life for people like myself so much easier.
So how does this figure into the world of design? Minimalism is everywhere. Reductive styles like Bauhaus and Constructivism were forged following the postmodern era creating iconic design figures like Frank Lloyd Wright, Dieter Rams and Tibor Kalman. Their design sensibilities and cultural voice have lived on to inspire the next generation of creatives, and has morphed and found itself a new place in our current state.
Being a so-called “minimalist”, one of the questions I’ve began to ask myself is, how much can I simplify or reduce before my lifestyle or design sensibilities become handicapped? Can minimalism be too reductive? I’m going to say yes. When the form of the item or action outweighs the function, then something is fundamentally wrong and not living up to its potential.
So where does the whole robbery thing come in? I assure you it’s coming. I just had to set the stage for this bazaar tale to unfold. With that being said, let me tell you a story about a foray into spacial design and how I tried to use a minimalist approach to solve a particular problem, which potentially led to the theft of $26,000 in smartphones.
Our objective was to update the look and functionality of the point of sale (POS) kiosk. Our goal was to create an attractive and accessible kiosk that competed with rival cellular providers located in ISC.
During the preliminary work phase I carried out various research and fact-finding methods such as conducting interviews with kiosk sales staff, consulting architectural manuals and developing a competitive analysis of the Touch Unwired competition.
The most significant research I conducted was visiting the Touch Unwired kiosk and interviewing their sales team. The questions I asked were simple and non-specific because I wanted to get an overall impression of the basic user experience. Some sample questions are as follows: what do you like about your current work station? What do you dislike about your current work station? What work station changes would make you happier? What circumstances would make your interactions with customers more significant?
The kiosk is located within an indoor confined commercial space, so I consulted the ISC contractor guidelines regarding mandatories, and familiarized myself with the vendor operations rules and regulations. The guidelines informed me of the structural regulations such as the kiosk height and measurements, building materials, electrical components, fire and safety standards, etc.
The goal was to establish a POS kiosk that would be competitive with mobility providers in ISC, including: Bell, Telus, Virgin Mobile and Koodo. We recommended a minimalistic and streamlined simplification of their current kiosk. The open-concept layout would encourage engagement between sales staff and customers.
One of the initial concepts was to use different types of woods within the exterior design as a differentiator between Touch Unwired and their competition. Wood is natural, warm and familiar to northwestern Ontario culture; whereas the competition utilized manufactured and geometric polymer-heavy displays.
I designed three concepts with differing aesthetic looks that focused on increased customer interaction to garner a more positive user experience.
Touch Unwired and Tbaytel approved one of the minimalist concepts provided; however, it was decided not to use any wood texture on the facade. We also decided to only use one single pillar projecting from the kiosk. The purpose of the pillar was to create a landmark within the ISC that could be recognizable at a distance. This layout created increased access to products and encouraged more customer/sales team interactions.
The colour palette selected was based on the co-branding of Tbaytel and Touch Unwired’s visual identities. Both companies use orange as one of their brand colours, so it felt natural to use this commonality as a bridge between both brands.
The updated kiosk has a striking contemporary look that stands out from their competition. The highly visible single orange pillar creates a strong focal point from a distance, and has become a landmark within ISC. Levelling the counter space and removing the old, modular structure of the previous kiosk created an intimate experience for the sales team to interact with customers inside and outside of the kiosk. The lower countertop also created an environment that did not make the sales staff feel trapped inside. The doors were removed to allow the sales staff to move freely inside and outside the kiosk to engage with customers in a more informal way. Increasing the active counter space drew larger crowds instead of producing line-ups.
This project focussed heavily on functionality and user accessibility as opposed to aesthetic appeal. After interviewing the Touch Unwired sales team and hearing their first-hand experiences, it was important to take their ideas and feelings into consideration. Keeping the customers and employee satisfaction in mind when designing the physical workspace was the greatest challenge I faced during this project.
The flat and open counter space of the kiosk created an uncluttered environment that boosted customer interaction and decreased the theft of mobile device accessories such as protective cases, power chargers and auxiliary cords.
Approximately a week after the completed construction of the new sales kiosk, there was an incident. On March 15, 2015, the newly redesigned Touch Unwired sales kiosk was robbed at 9:20 pm by three unidentified individuals.
I can’t help but think if the new design of the kiosk encouraged these individuals to rob the kiosk. The new open-concept design flirted with the closed off relationship between the employee work station and the customers role of outside observer. Did my minimalist approach lead to a weakened sense of security? In the past, Touch Unwired only had issues with over the counter phone accessories being stolen during working hours. So imagine their surprise when $26,000 worth of smart phones were stolen within a week of their new kiosk launch. I still can’t wrap my head around if this occurrence was purely coincidence or a malfunction in the design of the structure?
So in a roundabout way, this brings me back to my earlier question, can minimalist design be too reductive? In reducing the structural design of the kiosk to solve one problem, did I create an entirely new one?
Hypothetically yes. But potentially no. I’m not 100% sure. The point can be argued either way. We may never know, but it’s interesting to talk about because unless the criminals are caught and I can interview them like I initially interviewed the Touch Unwired staff, we’ll never really know.