Andy: Hi, and welcome to Power of Ten – a podcast about design operating at many levels, zooming out from thoughtful detail through to organisational transformation and on to changes in society and the world.
My name is Andy Polaine – I’m a designer, educator and writer and currently Group Director of Client Evolution at Fjord.
Back in the 1950s, plastics were still a new wonder material. But the problem with wonder materials is that people consider them valuable. How, then, do you sell more? Lloyd Stouffer, the Editor of Modern Packaging magazine had the answer. He argued to a group of industry insiders that “The future of plastics is in the trash can.”
Later, in 1963, he congratulated the Society of the Plastics Industry for “filling the trash cans, the rubbish dumps and the incinerators with literally billions of plastic bottles, plastic jugs, plastic tubes, blisters and skin packs, plastic bags and films and sheet packages.”
“The happy day has arrived,” he said, “when nobody any longer considers the plastics package too good to throw away.”
The end of the customer lifecyle, whether digital service or physical materials, is generally not designed. Or if it is, it’s designed to be ignored, discarded and for cusomers to be encouraged to buy again.
My guest today has delved deep into the subject of endings and has a very different way to thinking about it.
Joe Macleod has decades of product development experience across digital, physical and service sectors. Previously Head of Design at the award-winning studio Ustwo. He then spent 3 years on the Closure Experiences project researching, writing and publishing the book “Ends: Why we overlook endings for humans, products, services and digital. And why we shouldn’t.”
He is now founder of andEnd. A business helping companies end their customer relationships. Joe, welcome to Power of Ten.
Joe, welcome to Power of Ten.
Joe: Thank you.
Andy: What triggered your thinking about ends? My introduction framed it as a sustainability issue, but it’s also about service experiences and digital, and a whole much broader set of things, isn’t it?
Joe: Yes. Actually, it was a very different area. It was about an experience, so years ago, I had the voice recognition avatar service on my phone called Wildfire on Orange in the UK. This is 2004 or 2005. It was built up to be this amazing future avatar secretary on your phone, which would handle calls when people left voice messages. I signed up eagerly, thinking how wonderful it would be. It was so awful. Me asking it to pick up my messages, to tell me who rang, I’d say, “Wildfire, who’s rung, or Wildfire, play me my messages?” It couldn’t understand a thing. I don’t think that’s from my strong Estuary accent, it’s a lot more to do with, I don’t think they tested it in the world of a road for example. It would just say, “Sorry, I don’t understand you” repeatedly. I hated it so much.
The difference between the emotional onboarding, the beginning of the consumer lifecycle for me was, wow, amazing future avatar, help me out, all sorts of things. The reality of, sorry, I don’t understand you. It just wasn’t balancing up. Equally, the end of that, I wanted to throttle it and watch its horrible avatar eyes die. I didn’t know, I didn’t have the vocabulary or the understanding of what was going on to think about what I really meant by all of that. I wanted the satisfactory of the boarding experience that was similar to the onboarding experience in its emotion. It’s very much an emotional balancing act I was needing. I didn’t know what to do about it. I did understand, there was something very absent there. That there was something missing for the consumer. Also, maybe close to the sustainability thing, I was teaching at the time, around 2004, some mines in London.
I sat a cliché project around waste and rubbish in the world. We all went off, did some designs, came back. Everyone had designed more stuff. I just thought we didn’t know what to do about the end of the consumer lifecycle. I did a small project then, so I basically had this itch in the background, this idea itch around endings and the consumer experience, closure experiences I called them initially. I went off, did my career, I had that going on in the background almost as a hobby. Then in the last few years, I’ve come back to it. About four years ago, I started to dig into it properly, and really dug into the social ramifications of it and psychological aspects of it and what I found was fascinating in terms of this bias that has been create over centuries, really, deep in our religion, our social structures in northern Europe and the way the industrial revolution started from a relationship with death and how much of that came together into the industrial revolution and then was just really energized in the consumer boom in the U.S. Now, we’re in this state where we have no vocabulary for endings in the consumer lifecycle.
That’s basically what the book is about, is that long history, social structure, and psychology around why we can’t deal with climate change, missing financial services, revenge porn in digital and all of these other aspects which we think are almost, whether we think it be sustainability, whether it be moral obligation, or some sort of digital design. Actually, they got deeper roots which are a lot more about social relationships, sociology.
Andy: Tell me about that a little bit. Before we were recording, we did say we wouldn’t talk about death massively in here, but it is quite important that when you talk about this and when you give your talk about this, you actually go into this in quite a lot of detail, what would you say the thread or summary is through there when you talk about the societal aspect of how we talk about endings?
Joe: Hundreds of years ago, we had a far closer relationship with death, it was very much part of life. It was, you lived, you died, then you got to heaven. It was a transitional moment. It was also something, an opportunity to reflect on your life in a philosophical way, it was an opportunity for others to be with you and discuss things with you at that point, people would be in the bedroom dying for sometimes weeks, people would come into the death chamber, or the bedroom with a dying person in it. They’d talk to them about their lives, what they’d believed in, their relationship with god, and lots of other aspects. There were other things which were going on, like the Aras Moriandy, which was the book of dying which was 12 chapters of prayers that you needed to go through to get to heaven. These were very social events at the end of life, which would be administered by maybe a priest but also loved ones, family members, local people. It was quite a social event. Kids were invited, it was very normal practice. Then we pushed the experiencing and the witnessing of death away from ourselves over centuries. More recently, since the industrial revolution, we’ve distanced ourselves from our families, we’ve moved to cities, so we haven’t got such close communities at home anymore.
The experience of death and witnessing discussion around it has moved on and we’ve distanced ourselves from it. There was a phrase in a book I read which was becoming of pornography of death, which was, we’ve changed death from being a normal part of life, to something which is not discussed, not acknowledged, not got near. I think that’s a good term of it. The ramifications of this is, there are other aspects which are how in some religions, you can renounce your sin as you go through life, to then get better access into heaven. Then there are other religions, which you only get one choice at the end of life, to grapple with, whether you get into heaven or not. These things used to be talked about a lot. We’ve removed this discussion about an end, an ultimate end of death, whether it be yours or someone else’s. We’ve mimicked this as the industrial revolution has energized and then got a grip very much over not just the UK, but northern Europe and then it grows and grows.
It changes and it also adopts a de-secularized view of the protestant relationship with endings. It goes to the U.S. and gets energized even more. We have on our hands a religious relationship with consumerism, which hasn’t got any relationship with death. It’s out of control in terms of its ending. Now, that seems very big sociological type of thing, but there’s a lot of evidence, and I put it all together in the book of how we aren’t going to grapple with a lot of the problems, the ills of consumerism by dealing with them in the very short-term, materialistic nature that we do currently. In fact, it was interesting going back to your intro about plastics. One of the first introductions of plastic was through a concern about the environmental aspect of killing loads of elephants to make billiard balls. So, billiard balls used to be made from ivory.
Over the growth of billiards, it’s a sport. These aristocracy or the upper classes became a lot more concerned with where the source of that was and killing loads of elephants for it. Somebody started to look into what alternatives there was. One of them was this sort of resin, early version of plastic. It’s interesting to think how that ecological concern has now turned into another ecological concern. It actually had a really ecological source on some levels.
Andy: That’s funny, isn’t it? Didn’t they used to be made out of cellulose [Edit: actually they were made out of celluloid or cellulose nitrate–the same as film used to be made of. And they did indeed explode—AP] as well at some point and they used to explode?
Joe: No, I didn’t hear that but that’s very interesting as well.
Andy: I think so because on impact. It’s just interesting hearing you speak about this. We’ll come back to it and move into the services, experiences and stuff too. The distancing from death. There’s also a distancing from birth, if you have a child in a hospital and one of the things that happens is, it gets taken away and put in another room. Then if you have a, you know, obviously the classic thing that often happens is someone dies in hospital, that the relatives are pushed out of the operating theatre or they’re pushed out of the room. Not always, obviously, it depends on the kind of death, but certainly if it’s a traumatic death, because to separate the emotions from the people who are actually then working on the patient, who eventually dies.
It strikes me that when you described our relationship to death and the social aspect of it earlier, we were also much closer to the entire cycle, so preindustrial, you’re very close to the source of your food, you’re probably growing most of it yourself. They’re very close to the source of most of the products you use because you were probably in the same village or town of the craftspeople who made them. So, you know, it’s also very close to the waste as well. Either that was a cycle of which your waste was classically, the waste from Paris was fertilizing the Fjords around Paris to grow the food to then feed the Parisians, for example. Now, that becomes more and more abstract.
Obviously, the industrial revolution abstracts that relationship to the production and disposal of products and digital does it even more. I was having a conversation just yesterday, actually, with my colleagues, talking about that there is like a – I must say, Gretta Thunberg on one end, and this aging population on the other end because one of the two areas, obviously kids get marketed to all the time, but it’s almost in terms of sustainability and climate change, the kids are outside of it, or have previously been outside of the sphere of influence. What’s going on is, that can push back. Old people are also very much left out. Consumerism is terribly focused on youth, or at least those 20s and 30-year-olds, and then it slightly shifts, but if you were to draw a bell curve, it’s very much focused around this is what the brand is going to want. This is what clients are all banging on about. We need to get to millennials and so forth. It’s that middle, these other sways of the population, you know, the young and old end are forgotten about. This almost feels like this represents part of the problem.
Joe: I think it depends on how you look at consumerism. If you’re looking at influence, certainly, that’s very much youth orientated, and you can see that in trends, fashion trends for decades and decades, but if you look at consumption and you look at say, carbon impact on a level of consumption, then actually that demographic doesn’t impact it very much. My brother, as this quick anecdote, he works on the transition movement. Part of that, he’s working at a university to try to lower their carbon impact of students. Actually, students really don’t impact carbon very much, although, they are that demographic that you talk about, many of them are millennials or younger. Some of the biggest impacts are at the older age.
Even retired baby boomer aged group, big houses that they’re heating, regular holidays. Potentially running two cars, but yes, they don’t have an influence in terms of trends of consumption, but they certainly have an influence in terms of consumption, if you’re talking about carbon. With going back to the thing you were talking about, I though that was interesting, how hospitals engage in stuff, there’s an intervention need in a hospital, which, again, I think is interesting, where we forget the emotions of consumers, so what I talked about in terms of endings and reflections and being in the experience of the offboarding thing and what we can gain out of that. When you are in hospital having a child, there’s a natural urgent urge for the hospital to intervene in that and to be in control of that.
I think that reflects a lot around how we consumer in the wider sense. With death, as well, there’s a sense of making the person comfortable, doing those things. In hospice care, also, there’s a lot of work around getting the person so they are comfortable to talk in a fluid way with a family at the end, instead of actually getting the person comfortable, so that they’re out of it and not experiencing death.
Andy: That’s the… we’ve been talking about the very serious end of life, which is death, but you also talk about everyday experiences. You talk about services a lot and the cycles. You book and the whole thesis is music to my ears because for a long time, classically in customer journeys or around customer design, you talk about the awareness, the sign up, or joining the service and then using it and then expanding your use of it. Then there’s the leave bit. Whenever I do workshops with clients and with people learning this stuff, the leave column is normally the one that nobody thinks about, but in fact, you know, marketing people always fill up the first one of how people find out about this stuff. I always used to see it as relationships, the way you break up with someone makes a big difference. When you’ve got something like a utility, where the dating pool is like maybe three or four utilities, it’s incredible how difficult sometimes companies make it to lever them. You talk about them quite a lot in your talk, can you talk about it a little bit here?
Joe: Yes, I think a good example of that is, there are plenty of industries that have approached this idea of someone leaving with brutal retention. A gym industry, for example, there’s 30 to 50 percent turnover in the gym industry in terms of people arriving, usually, it’s just after Christmas, and then leaving probably somewhere in June or the Summer. Yes, a lot of people do it. The gym industry just used to try softening that bulge in their customer base by giving everyone quite strict retention contracts, so you weren’t really allowed to leave, they would fine you quite heavily for that. You chat to anyone who goes to gyms and they’ll have a story about how they couldn’t leave a gym and it cost them loads of money to leave etc.
That industry has had that going on for a decade at least. More recently, though, the gym industry has collapsed in that middle market, where they used to have strict contracts. There’s the high-end which is spa treatments, personal coaches, that’s still in place, but the mid-market has collapsed and there are loads of new gyms opening up, which are come and go as you please, they’re a lot simpler, they’re humbler and it’s the freedom that people want to leave things. We’ve got this obsession with retention, which is incredibly damaging to brands. If you’re a brand and you’re thinking, “Great, I’ve got this customer, they’ve been with us for a year, and they really better not leave. I’m going to sell them hard on any product that I’ve got in my portfolio.” If you’re still doing that, you really should have been doing that last decade. This decade, if you’re doing that and you’re also turning on customer relationships with a server and some sort of remote server farm somewhere, so there’s no impact of people coming, you should build in, there’s no impact of people leaving either.
Make sure that brand experience at the off-boarding is so good that they’ll come back to you at another date. Because so many companies are obsessed with selling hard at the end of the consumer lifecycle and then getting them back. When, actually, what I think we’ve got to start doing is, looking at, I call them single an multiple engagement models, where a lot of industries are single engagement model, where they assume a consumer is going to become a customer in a single permanent engagement forever. What we’ve got to move to is, setting up your whole business, so you acknowledge that people will come and go, you set it up so that it’s doing that, then you plan in for a decade of pushing your brand to being the best in the marketplace and not pushing that customer to prop up your anxieties about someone leaving.
Andy: Telcos are the most famous for them, or telcos and cable companies are some of the most famous examples of that.
Joe: Yes, there are some brutal – it doesn’t take long to go online and find some really brutal and crazy ideas to how you would retain someone and why it’s really important. In fact, I did check to some of the big telcos, they used to be in one of those teams, they just get such a lot of pressure from senior management to make the numbers at the end of the month add up. It’s so short-term and the damage you do to customer relationships when you’re hard selling them, you’ll also hear lots of those anecdotes of people who’ve had their grandparents sold a massive Sky package by someone. Sky is not the only one and it’s a good example, there have been anecdotes about that.
Andy: You talked about one where there was an hour-long interview in order to leave.
Joe: Yes, that’s right, that used to go on and you weren’t allowed to leave until you endured a one-hour sales interview. That company actually has pulled it, somebody from that company actually came up to me at a conference a few months ago and said, “We got rid of that a couple of months ago.” I was like, a couple of months ago? Really, you still though that was a good idea until a couple of months ago that you could keep someone up for an hour by a professional salesperson. Incredible.
Andy: There’s also this thing you said, there’s really only a couple of reasons why you’d leave, which is I don’t want that thing anymore. I no longer want this relationship with you, or I’ve got some external circumstances, like I’m moving or whatever, that means you don’t have to.
Joe: Yes, there are two reasons people leave, the product is not appropriate or external circumstances. You can only do a thing out of one of those and that’s about the product, not about them leaving.
Andy: It’s always struck me, the churn strategists, you know, the side is, we need to really have a churn strategy. I always find that a weird thing because what you’re really saying is, we need to find a way to stop our customers leaving us, which is, well you provide a better service then. Well, church is a really good feedback mechanism, it’s a really great flow of information about what’s not working, rather than locking people in and they hate you forever you. That actually there’s an opportunity there to go, yes, well, thanks for the feedback, sorry to see you go. If you ever want to come back, here’s some amazing thing for you. That’s what’s always struck me about the weirdness about endings not being designed, which is that there’s such an opportunity to make people – actually, if they’re leaving because they don’t like you anymore, to make the experience so great of leaving, that there’s a little bit of leaver’s regret that comes in, so that maybe when you do swap to another brand or a company, you inevitably get fed up with them. You go back. That’s why I think of it about relationships, it’s almost like you look through your black book and go, yes, at telco, we had some good times, maybe I’ll try them again.
Joe: I think there’s so much wrapped up in it and it’s why, for example, how many sales interviews, discussions or meetings have you gone to every month, you go into the sales meeting and you talk about how we’re going to grow here or do this. So many people have those type of monthly meetings in their diary. How often do people get together and talk about how are offboarding experiences? That’s incredibly rare. This is a cultural thing, really, while I never apply it, well, I do apply it brutally to different industries, but it’s across all of them. You actually have to lift yourself above it to see it in a far clearer way. In fact, going back to your ten by ten thing, it’s lifting yourself above into another realm, so you’re getting a far bigger macro view of everything, that’s the way to deal with endings and to look at them more philosophically.
Andy: You have, you touched on it a bit, but you’ve got a bit of framework for this, as well. You talk about the different cycles and the curve of things; can you talk about that a little bit?
Joe: Yes, for sure. So, a lot of people think the end is quite one-dimensional, but actually you load up how the end is going to happen at so many other points right across the consumer lifecycle. One thing that people often overlook is the type of transaction that you’ll have in your product/service, digital product. For example, there are broadly five different transaction types. There’s payment after delivery, payment before delivery, scheduled payment, synchronous payment, and continuous observation. Those are like five different payment things. Let me take you through them and the characteristics that they have. Also, the companies that often use them. So, you can imagine, payment after delivery is quite common in restaurants and so, after you’ve experienced the meal, you pay the bill, but at that point, you have ever such a lot of leverage as the customer. The consumer is empowered. They have a great opportunity to give really clear feedback. The best of restaurants also welcome that feedback in and will be very good at discussing it and resolving it. Also, the experience of that transaction is very visible. Often, cash, or even to the point where cash is left on a table, and that transaction is very good, healthy, for the consumer. In stark contrast, payment before delivery, the sort of payment you have on flights or trains, or at a concert. As a consumer, you don’t have much leverage at all at that point, you’ve given up the money before you’ve experienced the service.
Inevitably, if you, for example, have a late train, or anything like that, you’ve got to do a lot of work to either get that money back, or even get listened to. It’s very characteristic for that type of transaction to have forms to fill in and lots of frustration for the consumer. Then, thirdly, we’ve got scheduled payment. That comes out of a gym industry or utility companies. We get regular payments that we’ve setup in our bank accounts with direct debits. They’re often very forgotten about, they drift out of my account and they drift into the utility company’s account very smoothly every month, I’ve totally forgotten about it. I think this is a very good example of how many people have gone into their bank account, looked at their bank statement and said, “I don’t remember paying for that. I’m still paying for this.” There’s some sort of scheduled payment dripping out of the thing. The end…
Andy: That’s our subscription economy, right?
Joe: Exactly. The relationship with that is, that that isn’t ending. Every point where you make that example of transaction, you had leverage, there was an opportunity for discussion, but this starts to get removed when you have these very hidden things. Then you’ve got synchronous payment, which comes out of the product industry, where we used to go into a shop, hand over some money, get access to a can of beans or something, that was a very honest, open transaction. It was good for the consumer, it was good for the provider, and we’ve digitized that into getting immediate access to films and music and stuff. As an additional point here, the mimicking of that into the product world is not going to last very long because so much of that is based on licensing.
The real relationship isn’t with the product and it’s setup as a fake synchronous transaction. Lastly, we’ve got continuous observation, which is what we do with so many of the digital products and services we have. We have, as a consumer, looked through some T&Cs, terms and conditions, and we’ve flicked across them and thought, god, that’s really boring. Then you’ve clicked red button that says, “I agree” and then you’ve basically made the transaction, which is your data being observed. The really worrying thing about this is that there’s no visibility of the transaction beyond that moment, you can’t…
Andy: Where the actual transaction is going.
Joe: Where all these other types of transaction have happened, they’ve concluded, there’s some kind of resolution. The continuous observation one is continuous. There’s no ability to go into your bank account and see it dribbling out. It’s so deep in so many of these relationships, that you’ve got to dig in, almost login first, then dig into settings, then work out what settings are going on. To some degree, GDPR has exposed a lot of that, we get popups on every website now, but…
Andy: For the people who don’t live in Europe, that’s the general data protection regulation, which means that anything that’s gathering data on you. For us, it’s like every single website you go to pops up with a cookie thing. Saying, do you agree to all of these different things?
Joe: Yes, absolutely. In terms of endings, because all of this is about endings and setting yourself up for endings, it’s that the consumer has no visibility of the transaction existing anymore. Yet, it is going on all the time in the backend of the cookies or the browser or their phone. I think that is a worrying development because it has reduced consumer empowerment on so many levels.
Andy: You also talk about different engagement models. You give a couple of examples; they are kind of physical and digital ones. You talk about the printer cartilage and taking that Apple laptop back. What’s interesting about those? I’m going to get you to tell me about them in a second, is that endings have to be designed from the start, right. It’s almost like you want to work backwards. In fact, that’s probably part of your thesis, is a cure for many of the society’s ills, would be to start with the endings and work backwards to the beginning, rather than just start with the beginning and then kind of ignore or forget about the ending. The Apple one I thought was quite interesting because Apple are so well-known for this amazing onboarding experience, but you argued that they basically dropped the ball several times at the offboarding experience.
Joe: Yes, I think this is a bigger systemic problem with thinking about endings and the consumer lifecycle is that what we’ve done, and it’s very much wrapped up in environmentalism and the way we approach sustainability. One of the reasons I wrote the book is to take us out of this obsession with material consequences and sustainability. When people talk about plastic in the sea, we have a consumer model that is very well-crafted at onboarding, that we have so many very sophisticated methods, tools to initiate an emotional consumer experience that reacts in all sorts of facets of ways we can move that consumer through all sorts of components of their experience at onboarding and then through usage. Offboarding, we turn into this very brutalistic, simplistic idea of what we should be doing with offboarding. Partly, this is a challenge to the circular economy.
It’s our solution seems to be at the offboarding, and consumer lifecycle is recycling, and we immediately start talking about plastics in the sea, material consequences. We don’t talk about the consumer experience of offboarding. The consumer is so often lost between not wanting to use a product anymore and what recycling thing they’re meant to put it in. To come back to the Apple thing as an example, we as many families have an old Apple computer, and it could be any laptop really, but this happened to be an Apple one. It characterises all of the aspects of it. Now, Apple talk about your ability to take a product back to them and get some money. They talk about how many robots they’ve got which dismantles their phones. They talk about other aspects of their good material usage, recycling programs, etc. They don’t take the consumer from usage to offboarding in a guided, nurturing sense, as they do onboarding. On loads of onboarding experiences, especially with digital, you had some sort of instructional handholding to get the person up and running. Now, we could do that at offboarding. Apple, for example, have knowledge about your battery, its capabilities, what operating system you’re on, your usage patterns. They also know, they filed a patent about six months/a year ago about the cracks in your screen and about how they know about them before you can see them with a naked eye.
They have this theatre of opportunities to assemble together, which at the beginning of consumer lifecycle happens through an onboarding sequence. You’ll get your banking details, your previous content, your Apple membership all come seamlessly through, and loads of security stuff as well, by the way, seamlessly set you up so that you’re up and running within a few minutes. Offboarding, we don’t have anything like that, it’s basically you end up good usage and then all of a sudden, Apple will step it right at the end. We had a ten-year-old laptop that my wife had used for years and then we handed it down to our kids. The battery starts to blow. I think we should probably take that back or put it somewhere so it’s not dangerous. It looked really dangerous, our kid playing on it. We take it back to Apple. We walk into the Apple store with my son and we take it up to one of the people there and we say, we’re bringing this back. We think you should probably look after this, seeing as it looks so dangerous.
The guy says, “Yes, sure, I’ll get you a form to fill in.” Just whenever anyone says, “I’ll get you a form to fill in”, you know full well that no one has every thought about this issue, like in a proper way. They’ve just thought about it in a legal consequence way. If everyone is talking about legalities at the end, then they haven’t thought about it. Legalities are the default that we should be thinking about. Partly, the problem is that we have so many opportunities to design offboarding experiences. Offboarding experiences take the use from usage to the end. They’re not the aftermath where I’ve given over my phone, my laptop, my whatever, and we’re talking about recycling. This is about the consumer experience and the reason we need to do this, and I’m very passionate about this, is we need clearer guidance for consumers to either recycle, or to do something or better partnership with the consumer and the provider.
We need to keep all of these issues inside the consumer experience. At the moment, everything after usage just falls to the floor and then society picks it up. Society deal with the offboarding experience of almost everything. You’ll have society will pick up the issues around end of life cars, or they’ll have legalities around end of life cars. Not that many companies help you offboard your car, from your car is not going so well and take it to the grave. You can hire cars, and I often talk about them and the seven-year warranty, which is a fantastic example of thinking about long-term consequences of purchasing something. Now, if somebody came out, for example, if Apple came out and said, most phones will last between two and four years. At that time, you’re going to get an app that will help you offboard your phone and extend its lifespan for different reasons. These are the sorts of things we need to think about. It’s the usage pattern, between usage and the end is where we need to really do so much work. It’s not about what materials we’ve got, because it’s a totally different concept and a totally different discussion. I’ve never gone out and said, I’m going out to buy some plastics. That’s not how the consumer onboarding experience goes, but we tend to talk about plastics so much at the offboarding.
Andy: You talk about being consciously connected. You’ve got a whole set of different kinds of endings you talk about, but you also talk about this, being emotional, engaging, timely, and actionable, can you talk about that a little bit?
Joe: Yes, sure. A good consumer ending needs to be consciously connected to the rest of the experience. This is what I mean is that if we had the different language at the offboarding experience, which we tend to a lot, because it’s society speaking to you at offboarding. We need to make that the same language inside the consumer lifecycle. Is the responsibility of the provider to offer that same language at the end of the consumer experience? It should be consciously connected to the rest of the experience though emotional triggers that are actionable by the user in a timely manner. Yes, consciously connected, that’s beginning to end, so it’s the same narrator, it’s the same narrative, it’s the same language that’s coming in and out, like good film.
Andy: Your Apple example is an example of that not happening? Where you’ve got the unboxing experience and then you’ve got a crappy form.
Joe: Exactly. I didn’t have to sign up with a form for my .mac account ten years ago. I shouldn’t have to sign up with a form when I’m offboarding. Consciously connected to the rest of the experience through emotional triggers. At onboarding, everything is about emotion. I’d go out and I will have choice about what colour I want, that’s an emotional decision. I want to be more background, so I’m going to get a black one, or I’m going to be loads more foreground, so I’m going to get a neon bright acidic one. These are emotional decisions are characteristics. We need to offer those at the end, so people have emotional reflection, emotional opening up about thinking what they got out of that.
If you think about the opportunities for reflection at the offboarding experience of most of the products in your house, you’re basically going to come up against none. Most of the products we experience have no emotional engagement at the offboarding experience. We don’t build it in. We also don’t build it in culturally. If you go into Shinto Buddhism, then there’s a lot around things having a life and respecting that life. You will think about that at the end of the product’s lifecycle. Then you’ll thank it and you’ll reflect on the benefits you got out of it. We don’t tend to do that, and it hasn’t really been embedded into consumerism in a very…
Andy: Unless you’re Maricondo.
Joe: Yes, I mean Maricondo is bringing a lot of Shinto religion into that. If you’ve watched the Netflix thing, you’d get a bit of that, but really, read the book, there’s so much more richness in the book and meaning. It’s a shame that the TV shows are a little bit of a guilt exhibition of people who’ve got grubby houses. Yes, it doesn’t really go into the meaning of it. Consciously connect to the rest of the experience through emotional triggers that are actionable by the consumer, so when I say actionable, I mean that the consumer has to take action with it in a positive way, instead of this passive, what recycling bin should I put it in? They haven’t had guidance, there’s not a construction around that as part of the consumer lifecycle. It’s outside of the consumer lifecycle, it’s part of society asking you to do it. What we need to do is make sure the consumer is in partnership with the provider and there’s an opportunity for there to be action and that’s a moment for the consumer to also reflect on the emotional angles of it, but when you do it actionable, it also gives them a level of responsibility that they tend to not have at the moment in a lot of the ways that we deal with it in a social sense, in a societal sense.
Andy: On the responsibility front, you talked about and actually, it was me in the audience at UX Australia who seemed to be the only one who knew about the consumer electronics waste symbol, which is like a wheelie bin with a cross through it.
Joe: Yes, it’s mind blowing.
Andy: It’s on anything, anything with circuitry and a battery and you’ll see it everywhere. And it’s basically, “don’t throw this away”. There’s no, this is where this goes. There’s no information about what to do with it. It’s just telling you, don’t do that.
Joe: Yes, people can’t action don’t. There’s no way you can get into a point where you say, like, I’m going out to don’t do something. That doesn’t even work as a sentence. No one goes out and doesn’t do anything. You can’t really go around don’t doing any sort of positive action with things. This is what I mean by actionable, it needs to be positively actionable, not a negatively actionable in that sense, that’s how you get to a cul-de-sac in terms of don’t. I think there are enormous problems with we’ve gotten to a point where products are so complex, where we can only talk about plastic bags. We’ve gotten to plastic bags and straws in terms of complexities of grabbling with consumerism. We’ve taken decade to get to that point, if that’s the pace that we’re going at to deal with this, we are screwed.
We’ve got to get to mobile phones, TVs, printers, all sorts of other consumer electronics that are at the moment because of no instruction and the don’t thing, when you get your new phone and you’ve got your old phone, you transfer all of your data over, you think, great, I’ve got my new phone all setup, what should I do with my old phone? Then for a few seconds, you think about it, then you open up the drawer of your desk, and you put it in there with the other five generations of mobiles phones you don’t know what to do with.
Andy: I think one of the most instructing things you can do is to go to the local dump. I had to take some photographs for a sustainability project years ago actually, more than like 13 years ago. I went up and in Germany it’s pretty well-organized and all that kind of recycling and stuff, but there are these huge containers. They are those big… sometimes you see them driving along the road, it’s a big container with an open top and there’s scrap metal in there and so forth and wood in another one. Then there are containers full of washing machines. Then there’s another container full of fridges. The very worst one is the one that’s full of computer stuff because it’s what that symbol is telling you to do, that’s where you’re going to throw it. Printers, loads and loads and loads of printers. Lots of really cheap keyboards and stuff and an astonishing amount of flat screens and flat screen TVs. I see these kinds of flat screen TVs, smashed, lying flat in these things, thinking, wow, probably three years ago when it was HD, I bought my flat screen, now they’ve bought their ultra HD one, so that one is just lying smashed in a skip with a thousand other ones. It’s incredible.
Joe: This such a problem. We’ve offboarded into society. It becomes this generic, massive, mess. Instead of for every company that produces, we should be enforcing them to create offboarding experience that get back to a point where they can reclaim that product into their manufacturing system. Not to offboard it into society, to generic holes in a massive container to then put your flat screen, your LCD scree into and then it goes shipping onto things. There are so many problems with this.
Andy: There are. Apple took your laptop back and gave you a crappy photocopied form to sign. What emotional things did they miss there? How could they have done that differently?
Joe: Firstly, they didn’t even know that this existed, and they didn’t know that it was coming to an end. They could have had that knowledge. There’s been that IP address on the internet, and it’s been attached to an Apple account.
Joe: Yes, an iCloud account, firstly, from my wife and then from my son. Then they could have observed usage. Certainly, they’ve got knowledge of battery state. You start to see the battery underperforming and going down and down and down. Other behaviours around it in terms of its usage. You could have definitely worked out an understanding and come to an understanding that this product is really not very healthy anymore and we should probably get in touch with them to bring it in and to do that, they could have just told us that and out of fear we might have done it. But they could have also welcomed us in as very loyal Apple consumers, to energize that relationship, to potentially give us a voucher, to potentially get a new computer, to encourage my son to become a loyal Apple user. Obviously, we’re using Apple as this overall company, but there are these opportunities which are being overlooked in a consumer experience sense, which we just apply legalities, product safety components, and give no instruction. If we built experiences specifically between usage and the end, we could solve so many of these ills.
Andy: It’s interesting, what you just described, going right back to the beginning was basically the opportunity to create a social and respectful and timely funeral for your product, right.
Joe: That’s right. With the timeliness, we are happy to let things linger in our homes. One of the biggest real estate markets in the U.S. is off-site storage. We are just running out of all the places to put all the junk we’ve bought. We have no vocabulary to resolve that other than buying more stuff, whether that stuff be an opportunity to store more stuff, then so be it, but we have to have a new route to do this because at the moment, this isn’t going anywhere. Definitely, this has a lot to do with reflection, death, coming together, and having emotional discussions about that, yes.
Andy: I think one of the things you said when you were talking about that laptop, for example, was that it’s been like a loyal thing. If you imagine a craftsman throwing away their… I don’t know, a carpenter throwing away a chisel that they’ve worked with for ten years, you know, it would be quite an emotional thing. Cars are one of the most obvious ones, when you sell a car. There’s never been a situation when I haven’t seen someone crying or being it myself, when a car has been sold, or even worse, when it goes off to the dump, but people saying goodbye to their cars because it’s so full of experiences. Such vehicles, literally, of our experiences, the holidays, the arguments, and all of that sort of stuff. This family cocoon.
Joe: It’s an enormous amount of emotional pent up in so many consumer experiences. Some of them have very meaningful things, like you’re talking about, which is very rich and almost a totally easy goal for anyone who wants to get into that creating endings for car experiences. All of our products could potentially have much better endings than what we currently do with them.
Andy: Even quite abstract things, I mean, you talked about the mortgage on your house, the home loan on your house that you’ve been paying this thing off for… you talk about it a little, you’ve been paying this thing off for like 20 years. At the end, you get a letter.
Joe: Exactly. You mentioned, like that should be the biggest financial outlay that you’re going to have in your life is a mortgage and you’re going to chip away at that over decades. To the point where somebody is going to send you a cold letter to say, this is completed now. What they should be doing is having this massive celebration. I mean, they’ve made like 80-grand out of you over that period of time, so there should be a stack of emotional and financial opportunities to really elevate that. Not to mention, can you imagine the brand equity of I’ve been with HSBS, I’ve been paying this mortgage and I’m just about to finish it, I’m really looking forward to that special HSBS party that everyone talks. That would be incredible.
Andy: The thank-you party.
Joe: Yes, and instead what we’ve got to is, we’ve made that a lot more shorter-term. Financial services got more and more short-term; they’ve given up with the emotional attachment long-term. We’ve got short-term in almost everything. I mean, a cliché is the better rates you get as a new customer than you do as a loyal old customer. You also get, mortgages now are like a two-year lock-in or a one-year lock-in, so there’s actually on interest in doing long-term really paying down. What we’ve ended up creating is a load of not debt payers, especially in credit cards, obviously, with credit cards, you don’t get celebratory well-done, or even any benefit for paying down the credit debt. What you do get is more points on your card for putting more down on it, so we don’t create debt payers, we’re creating debt indulgers almost.
Andy: Which is what happens at the end of your home loan, which is now that you’ve paid it off, do you know what? You can release equity and you can take on more credit.
Joe: Yes, so the opportunities are gigantic. One thing I think we were talking about death earlier, and I’ve been looking into, I’d prefer to keep on products and services, but I think Facebook memorialised pages are a halfway house between death and the product/service offering. Now, for years Facebook, Google, and in fact, seven years it took Facebook from when they’re starting and offering memorialized pages to realise people die. Now, they’re really good at humans dying, so they create memorialised pages, which I think are a really poignant way to capture someone’s life. If you were on Facebook for years, then it’s a great place. There are loads of issues around the longevity of that. The best memorial statues, methods of memorializing people have been ones that are very much more timeless.
So, you can imagine, that ten years in the future, 50 years in the future, a hundred years in the future, but when you apply that to social networks and look at Facebook memorial pages, that isn’t really the case. At the moment, Facebook are kicking in with like 2.4 billion people monthly active users, right? The permitted age of a Facebook account is 13 and they’re pretty much maxing out with just getting everyone online across the world. There’s a point where every company starts to fail and sort of soften off their things. Can you imagine going 70 or 50 years into the future, where all of those people, which are currently on Facebook, are then dying, so we get to a point where worldwide life expectancy is 71, so you think about that 70-year period in the future, where 2.4 billion are now memorialised on memorialised pages and Facebook isn’t growing as much as it used to be. It’s not as cool as it used to be.
You think to the point where, there’s going to be more inactive users on Facebook than there are active users. Where it will become a memorialised website. Then it will have to be servicing passive pages that are only static that people are only visiting. I think this, when I talk about ends is, if you are so ignorant that your business products, service relationship has no end, then you are lost. Even with 2.4 billion memorialised pages, there’s a big problem. When you look into the details of memorialised pages, there isn’t an end to it. There’s not point where 50 years from now, Facebook, you know, you’re only allowed your memorial page for ten years, or if there’s no one visiting it for two years, it will be archived or deleted.
Andy: How do you keep the social media graveyard intact and looked after?
Joe: They haven’t gotten and end to a memorialised page. They’ll be 2.4 billion memorialised pages in 2100, which is probably the same time we will be flooded anyway from climate change because of lack of endings in product relationships.
Andy: On that happy note, we’re coming up to the end, we’re coming up to time. I think part of that, it sounds really depressing. That’s part of the reason why I think companies don’t or organisations or just culturally we push it away, but really, your thesis is the opposite, which is, if you think about it from the start, then it actually becomes part of the whole process. It’s not as dark and certainly not as meaningless because you add meaning to it at the end. Maybe endings is your answer to this question, but Power of Ten is based on – it’s a homage to this Ray and Charles Eames film, it’s called Powers of Ten, where they zoom out from one meter to ten meters to a hundred meters and so forth. Then back in, to show the relative size of things in the universe. It also struck me as a very good metaphor for design, working at a bunch of different levels, that kind of detail level to that kind of ecosystem level and stuff.
Andy: My final question to guests is always, what one small thing do you think is overlooked that either needs to be designed or is well designed that would make a huge difference to the world?
Joe: Yes, I am going to say ends to that. I think that it’s interesting to the power of ten thing is really interesting because people are focusing on their particular disciplines. Product industry is looking at material waste and they talk about plastics in the sea. Your problems with social networks, there are stacks of that which is around lack of endings. A lot of this is about coming out of your discipline, your product thing. To see the same problem of lack of endings is happening in digital, service, and product relationships. Don’t for one-minute think consumerism is locked into your product world of plastics. It’s the problems happen across these categories.
Andy: Joe, thanks very much for being my guest on Power of Ten.
Joe: It’s great to share it with you and thanks a lot for having us on.
Andy: Where can people find you? You’re on Twitter as: Joe Macleod?
Joe: No, actually, Mr. Macleod on Twitter.
Andy: Mr. Macleod, that’s right.
Joe: Go to my website: andend.co and the book is on Amazon: Ends by Joe Macleod, that should find it. It’s an audiobook. It’s a paperback book, and it’s an eBook. You can get that on also Smash Words and Apple Books and stuff.
Andy: An audio book that you’ve read yourself, actually?
Joe: Yes, my smooth dosed estuary accent. Yes. It’s me.
Andy: If anyone gets the chance to hear Joe or watch Joe speak, you’re very entertaining. It’s definitely one of the best things at UX Australia, I’ve heard that many, many times.
Joe: Thanks very much. That’s great to hear. Thanks, Andy.
Andy: You can find the transcript of Power of Ten on: Thisishcd.com, where you’ll also find the other podcasts on the network. My name is Andy Polaine. You’ll find me online as: Apolaine on Twitter and most other places. Also, Polaine.com. Thanks for listening. See you next time.