Design With Care

Earlier this week, I purchased a new cable modem. Normally, I would have ordered online. However, not having the time to wait for a shipment, I was forced to find a nearby brick and mortar store. The two choices were Staples and Best Buy. I chose Best Buy, as my wife had received an online coupon for the store. I went to Best Buy, picked up the modem, and handed the cashier the modem and my coupon. There was just one problem: he wouldn’t accept it.

You see, after printing it onto a sheet of paper, my wife had cut out the coupon on the dotted lines. And thus, the cashier would not accept it. He wanted the whole sheet of paper, not just the coupon portion. The reason? The rest of the page contained a bar code he needed to scan in order to accept it. This was frustrating.

Never mind that discount amount in question was small. Never mind the corporate policies that prevent retail employees from being empowered to actually help their customers. Never mind the manager at the store who also refused to accept the coupon. Do, however, mind the designer who created the coupon.

Coupons, if you weren’t aware, are traditionally printed on paper. They can be contained with an advertisement or printed together with other coupons in a booklet or flyer. Printed coupons use the convention of a dotted border to indicate what part of the paper should be cut out with scissors so that it isn’t necessary to take the whole booklet or flyer to a store in order to use it.

My wife’s behavior to cut out the coupon on the dotted line was entirely logical and sound. She didn’t want to carry a whole sheet of paper around with her, so she cut out just the portion that she would need as indicated by the dotted lines. After all, that’s how coupons work.

The designer who created the coupon did not understand (or take the time to think about) the function of the dotted lines. Presumably, the designer used dotted lines simply to make the coupon look more coupon-y. But the designer did not consider the function of those lines. If a barcode is indeed needed to process the coupon, it should have been placed within the dotted lines.

This is design. Seemingly small design decisions impact people’s lives. In this case, a decision about dotted lines lead to consumer frustration, an erosion of brand loyalty (not that I had much in the first place), and blame being cast on the wrong person. My wife should not feel blame for having cut out a coupon correctly. The designer should feel the blame for being careless.

Though this example is small and insignificant, the underlying lesson extends to more important contexts. Every detail of a design has the power to affect and influence other people tremendously. It is a large responsibility, and one not to be taken lightly.

Please, design with care.