Last week I was in Seattle, for the annual MVP Global Summit. It was my first Summit, and my first time in the U.S., so I got to experience both the country and the Summit feeling for the first time. And I had an amazingly great and illuminating experience.
This blog post will be a little bit less technology related, but I think most of what I am about to say will fit into the general UX thoughts series I have on this blog.
I’m coming from Hungary, one of the most pessimistic countries in the world. The first thing that stroke me right after getting out of the airport is that most cars were bigger than what you have in Europe. A lot more SUV-s, a lot more big cars.
The second thing was that people in the shops, on the street were very kind. They greeted us warmly, asked where we were from, smiled a lot and shown genuine interest in us. This is something that people who work in the service sector are only learning in Hungary. Here, everybody could make us believe that they are very happy to see us. The key is, they were not just selling their products – the entire time from the moment you enter the shop until you leave is an experience. And it is this experience that they have to sell, too.
The chocolate experience
Here is an example. I bought a chocolate bar. Here is what is written on the back of the package. Go on, read it.
See? The chocolate promises to have an effect on all your senses: vision, smell, hearing, and of course taste… and touch is also there somewhere. You have to start with deep Yoga breathing, too. This promises that you will experience a lot more than just a bar of chocolate.
I followed every instruction to the letter. I prepared myself for the ultimate in chocolate experience. I even took a photo of the chocolate, embedded with the text “ritual”, with a Seattle skyscraper in the background. Here it is:
So, how was it? Well, the actual taste was not so good. I’d say it was below average. For the same amount of money, I could have bought a 300 gramm Milka chocolate bar in Europe that tasted a lot better. (Makes me wonder whether there is an “experience bubble” that is bursting along with the current economy crisis, especially as people I have talked to said that you can get so used to the niceness of the shop people that you ignore it – you only realize when it is missing or when it is exceptionally good.)
The Science Museum Shop experience
Here is an example of an exceptionally good shopping experience. I saw this guy in the shop of the Science Museum. In the shop you can buy a lot of crazy and not so crazy stuff. Such as this “air gun” that blows a small package of air that you can feel even 10 meters away, and makes you look around to see where the little wind came from. So, this forty-something guy just has the big yellow air gun in his hand, and fires at random customers. At first I thought that he prefers young women only, but then I saw the way he handled a mischievous boy and his mother. It was just amazing to watch how much experience he had with kids. He could keep the guy from causing harm, entertain him, showcase some of the cool stuff the shop had to offer, and even make a good impression on his mother, all at the same time. I stopped to talk to him, and asked him to allow taking a picture. I genuinely believe he was the soul of the shop, and he was shocked when I told him that. It was all just natural to him. By the way, around this time he moved on to another job, so you will find him in another tourist attraction in Seattle…
The same is and will be true for UX design: there is a certain minimum level of UX quality that you simply expect and discard the product if it does not meet your expectations the same way that you won’t get back into a store where you are treated badly. And if the UX is exceptionally great, you will like even the mediocre product a lot better. Just as you return to a shop where people have been very nice to you, just for that heart-warming feeling. The thing is, when people realized that in order to keep customers coming back you have to be nice to them, every shop put emphasis on this issue. Eventually, the spreading of this idea raised the bar and it became harder to be exceptionally good.
The MVP Summit experience
After soaking myself with the general “feeling” of the US culture for a few days, the Summit started. I met Max Trinidad accidentally while trying to get our Summitr sample together. Asked him about wireless credentials. We began to talk, I showed him our stuff, and he became one of my new friends. A real nice guy, with amazing attitude and friendliness. He helped me a lot, introducing me to new people, and it was a pleasure to just run into him during breakfasts.
I expected that there would be great sessions, we would learn a lot about stuff like Silverlight 3, Blend 3, WPF 4, etc – actually I should have brought a clone with me, as sometimes I should have been at 3 places at the same time. Oh well, I should have thought about cloning myself when I was born, now it’s too late… :)
But the most exciting part of the Summit was the connection to the people I have only known so far from the pictures on their blogs. People, like Dave Campbell of Silverlight Cream, whom I met on the bus on the first day, and sat next to him on most of the sessions later. A very nice guy, and seeing my helplessness he introduced me to a lot of also very nice people. Thanks again, Dave!
ScottGu had our very first session, and that’s when I realized that all I had to do was to raise my hand to talk to the top cream of the technology world I’ve been living in for the last 10 years. And so I asked him a few questions…
I also managed to get some serious sentences, later even a whole 20 minutes of interesting conversation out of Justin Angel. There is one rule for talking to him: at a party, you have (a lot of) fun with him, at work you either have fun or get serious. Justin, nice meeting you! Btw, on the picture, he is warning us again that NDA violators will be hunted down by KGB agents.
And last but not least, I also have to mention my friend and fellow Dotneteer, Istvan, who was not only my roommate, but also helped organize the whole trip, guided me through Seattle and helped me enormously in finding my bearings in a foreign country.
So, what is the final verdict? In just one hour, I could get into touch with people I was trying to reach from Hungary for almost a year. It is all about networking. Even the biggest superstars are very nice and take you seriously. They do not talk down to you at all. The guys and ladies carrying the microphone around for questions? They are Program Managers themselves!
I had a most amazing week in the US, and definitely learned a lot about the value of experience! See the rest of my photos at Zoomery Summitr.
Mar 22 2009, 01:01 PM