Category Archives: everyday trivia

shopping carts and independence

My neighborhood grocery provides two types of trolleys – one with a holder for shopping list (or whatever your reading material is), another with a baby seat. While I haven’t seen anyone making use of these considerate installations so far, the idea is easily understandable.

waitrose shopping cart, london

waitrose shopping carts, london


These handcarts by no means are provided as a standard in the society, so the question is how many of us are willing to and able to modify our future behaviors once they learn about the availability of these tools? To make use of these carts, it would involve writing the shopping list on something that can be clipped on the board, or bringing the baby without the buggy. Depending on your existing habit, this all may require planning in advance in order to turn these into your benefit – if you want so.

Leaping from this stream of thought (even though these shopping carts are not even a brilliant example), not many places in the world provide supporting tools in the first place for those who want to shop or take public transport with disability or carrying a baby without other people’s help. Even if there were tools, for one part, it is about how easy it is for people to discover the use. Once they discover them, it is a matter of how adaptable people are in planning their behavior accordingly to make the appropriate use of them.


I tried to put my folding bike into the shopping cart. I wasn’t told off by any of the staff, so not having a bike lock doesn’t discourage me from dropping by at the grocery on the way home anymore.

credibility, at a glance?

how long do you give to form your perception and opinion upon encountering something you are not familiar with? how easy do you think you are influenced by the first impression when you make a decision to try a new service? what cues do you rely on to make your preliminary judgment on the assumed quality of the product or service?

asian buffet sign, stockholm

this gentleman was standing on the street of stockholm holding a sign for an asian restaurant. it reminds me of the joke among my finnish colleagues about having me standing behind the ‘oriental wok’ section of our office canteen in helsinki to make it look more credible.

waxing/tanning/nails sign in London

when does it become important for the service provider to enforce the positive association in promoting their offering? the waxing/tanning/nail salon sign is obviously held by a guy who look like he would never want such a service in oxford street, london. but the sign is held high up to make it visible in the distance even when the street is bustling with people, which may screen him from being seen.

poster of a local government election candidate in tokyo holding a baby

sometimes the association may not have any logical alignment with a specific feature of the service being promoted. above is a poster for the local government election campaign in tokyo earlier this year. this candidate’s slogan holding a baby is “policy driven by residents”.

tokyo anime fair 2008

as a side thought:
any relationship between keroro and the ladies in tokyo anime fair 2008? i always wondered about the effect of having beautiful people around the product. it certainly seemed to attract more human photographers for keroro in this occasion.

visual examples

as we all know – some messages are delivered much more efficiently by the accompanying visual examples, though they may not be an exhaustive set.

a restaurant/bar in rio putting up a sign saying that they have the right to reject those with inappropriate or ‘minimal’ clothes.

rio scenarium bikini

at the domestic airport in osaka, this post gives a pre-warning that certain types of shoes will be subjected to security inspection before passengers are entering the security check area.

osaka domestic airport

embedded tool

i came across several people who grew one or two nails very long for a specific purpose – and mostly they were men. its a good contrast to those who grow long fingernails, or extend their fingernails in a way that they are banned for utilitarian purposes.

he was a tailor living in dharavi/mumbai/india and he uses his long finger nail to make the crease on clothes.

indian tailor

david who works at a mobile phone repair shop in accra/ghana had a long finger nail to handle small mobile phone parts and circuits.

ghanaian mobile phone repair man

a student studying computer science in accra, he likes to have long finger nails because he likes the way he looks. there should be more than one so that he can use them to keep his finger nails clean on both hands.

ghanaian student

i usually keep my nails long enough to protect my fingertips. i had two broken nails this week packing boxes, and its unbelievably bothersome. nails are a usefully embedded tool enhancing the performance of the most dexterous part of my body except: using touch screen devices. i had the strange feeling of rejection – almost temporary resentment – when i couldn’t type on iphone as it didnt acknowledge my touch as a touch.

airport mess, humanity, digital divide

circling around

i was one of the unlucky who was heading to heathrow airport on wednesday, feb 20th, 2008. the natural disaster was the fog. my flight from helsinki landed as my flight to back home to tokyo was taking off somewhere in the nearby runway.

to make the day more memorable, my gigantic suitcase came out with no wheels. the ticket sales booth had such a long queue that the customer service desk didn’t want any more people to go there. but instead, i was given a phone number to call the next day and a polite and vague request to find a hotel room on my own in london, with a tip that all airport hotels were already fully booked.

the work

to make my time more useful i took the trouble to report the damage on my luggage, while searching for a vacant hotel room on my laptop. by the time i reached the agent past the thorough open-bag-search security screening, i had already called about 15 hotels in london which were all full that night.

the nice lady

i couldnt help but sharing my frustration with the lady at the counter that there’s no vacancy in any of the hotels and that BA wouldn’t/cannot do anything about it. she paused for a perceivably long moment. when she started to speak, her face brightened: “you can stay with me tonight. i finish my work at around 10pm, if you can wait for me.”

i was lost for words for a longer while. i never expected anyone working in that bloody bleak airport in a particularly spectacular chaos could possibly be so kind. she gave me her mobile phone number to show how serious she was. touched by her kindness and my embarrassment of not believing in the good of humanity for a while, i thanked her and left the place, doing more eager search for the vacant hotel room late on wednesday night with my 23kg of broken luggage.

this is my second experience of missing a connection here. if you dont have a laptop with wifi access and a mobile phone and do not have home in the nearby area, beware: the internet terminals in the departure area block all access to hotel/airline booking websites. the one and only hotel reservation center at the airport charges you not only the booking fee but offer rooms at the seemingly over-the-rack rate. mobile internet connectivity was a bliss for me to eventually find a room at 300 quids/night, but i felt the strange guilt leaving the airport full of people still queuing for their turn to find some hope to get out of there, as if i lived a very brief scene of digital divide.

had i had any tool for finding out – would i have saved another person or two with me from the temporary misery that night? would we have started to collaborate in that space and context to find a sharable solution instead of standing passively in that queue? it is appalling how our actual life contexts are still so absent from the potentially useful tools that we all are using for playing around. but that night, the real question for me was: would i ever have the guts to accept her kindness, and what will it take for a city girl to trust a total stranger?

Empathetic Service Mindset

I rarely have a chance to travel with Korean Air except when I visit my family in Korea. However – whenever I travel with them, I can’t help smiling at their one unique service:
Stickers for the passenger sleeping or away from the seat during the inflight service.

If you had experienced waking up in the middle of the flight hungry, or even worse – woken up by a persistent flight attendant who wants to fulfill his/her duty by distributing the goods to you, you will appreciate this little attention to detail. There were two different kinds of stickers I have seen in Korean Air flights.

This simple sticker was used during the domestic flight from Busan to Seoul, of which the flight time is just 45 minutes. It was put on by the flight attendant during the complimentary drink service.

guy sleeping

real grey

This set of stickers were in the seat on the 2-hour flight from Seoul to Tokyo, so that the passenger can choose appropriate ones to put on the seat before going to sleep or any type of ‘rest’ mode. A suitable variation of the same service intent when there were more types of services offered.

grey sticker

The definition of a good service may be inherently subjective. We probably all have our own opinions on it, as we surely know the feeling of being served properly. Restaurants are probably a good place to discover the meaning of a good service mindset that suits you. Personally, I started to distinguish services in general in two criteria:

1. Ones that are motivated by the server wanting to be recognized
e.g., In a very posh Indian hotel restaurant, the waiters came to our table every other minute to ask ‘Is everything alright?’, interrupting our conversation every time.
e.g., In a busy restaurant in Tokyo, the waiter cleared the plates away from the table immediately when I was eyeing on my last bit of the remaining sauce.

2. Ones that are motivated by the server’s empathy to the served
e.g., In a restaurant in California, the waitress brought a new fork as soon as she noticed me dropping mine on the floor.
e.g., In a restaurant in Seoul, the waitresses roams around the restaurant and refills the kimchi plate constantly till your meal is almost over, which allows adjusting the amount of kimchi served to each customer, without the customers always having to ask for more portions.
e.g., On a rainy day in Osaka, a cafe owner offered me an umbrella as I was paying the bill. She must have noticed that I didn’t bring one despite the weather, and discreetly offered it to me at the right time.

I draw a parallel between the real world services and the interaction design solutions in computer software or mobile phone service. Both take a great deal of understanding of the individual clienteles’ preferences and recognizing the intentions of the situations that are not explicitly communicated. And it is becoming more and more complex to do this as many design solutions are done to serve a large group of individuals with extremely diverse cultural backgrounds. Given the complexity I find my two simple criteria for distinguishing the restaurant services helpful in deciding features in service design that should be done invisibly or automatically, from the ones that you should prompt for the user’s decision based on contextual observations. Something that our old friendly office clip understood well – but executed rather poorly.

Most my references come from my restaurant experiences, but increasingly from inflight services. So far, my worst bit of inflight service experiences was the BA flight attendant refusing to help me with loading my luggage because she was not insured to the injury incurred by helping me”. Services are a tight interaction between the server and the served. Sometimes external constraints like BA’s policy on its employees prevent the server from providing a good service. It was nice of her to explain the reason for not helping me at least – as I could use some sympathy towards her rather than feeling angry. A nice gentleman helped me with the luggage anyway.