Spotting Flair during Today’s Wanderings

By Jim Poage

March 9, 2016


A high of around 70 degrees was predicted today for the Boston area, where I live and work. My spouse and I decided to go Portsmouth, NH, for the day. While walking around, I decided to look for instances of flair. In the book, FLAIR, that I wrote with my daughter, Jennifer Poage, we quote from an article in Vanity Fair magazine in March 2014, about the early days of the California Institute of the Arts. A design student is quoted that he learned: “Design was all around you, and it was either good design or bad design. But it was everywhere, and in everything: manhole covers, lamps, furniture, cars, ads in the paper – everything had elements of design in it.” This quote regularly inspires me to regularly look for flair, which I might call engaging design that at least evokes a smile if not a “wow.”

I smiled at the words on the back of a couple t-shirts in Portsmouth. Now there are so many t-shirts with statements these days that I would not usually react to t-shirt sayings as exhibiting flair. For t-shirts related to businesses, the wording needs to be clever and sincere to the business for me to consider it flair. In Book & Bar, a casual combination bookstore, café, and bar, there were t-shirts with “EAT, DRINK, READ, REPEAT” on the back. Now this phase has been around for a while, but it united the three things at Book & Bar with the appeal of spending time there. T-shirts worn by baristas in Breaking New Grounds Coffee and Tea stated “Put that in Your Pot and Steep It.” Different yet sincere.

On to Sheafe Street Books, where a book category label on one shelf that said, “Mushrooms.” I asked the proprietor whether he was a mushroom fan. “No,” he said, “I just thought it would be an unusual label to have.” “They do sell,” he added. I did smile when I saw this unique book category. On the next cross street, The Clip Joint Barbers sign struck me as clever, especially since the “i” in Clip and Joint was a striped barber pole with a round top as the dot on the “i.”

The final instance of flair that caught my eye today was in the window of the Footnotes shoe store (flair in the name itself). Displayed was a lace-up winter boot with a horseshoe shaped folding cleat on the bottom. For traction on snow and ice, the horseshoe shaped cleat would fold into a horseshoe shaped grove with the cleats outward to provide traction. When the cleat was not needed, it folded in the opposite direction with the cleats facing into another horseshoe shaped grove, so that no cleats would scrape the surface. Clever and unusual.


These were small instances of flair that caused me to smile today. They made the establishments seem fun as well as human and inviting. What instances of flair, however big or small, caught your eye today?

Asking What and Why Questions to Understand

by Jim Poage

March 9, 2016



Last night Susan Mercer, Experience Director at Mad*Pow, gave a talk at the Boston CHI (Computer-Human Interface) meeting on “Diving Deep: Uncovering Hidden Insights Through User Interviews.” She emphasized building trust, being accepting, and being non-judgmental when interviewing people about such topics as whether they take their medicine regularly, why they buy particular products, and whether they follow through on their desires to save money.


Mercer gave an example of using soft questions to get people to be comfortable in explaining their desires and behavior. In one project she was gathering data on why people have difficulty taking medication regularly. She recommended not asking, “Why didn’t you take your medication?” This puts them on defensive. Instead, Mercer asked increasingly deeper probing questions from different angles: “When was last time you missed taking a pill?” “What kept you from taking it?” “Where are you when you take your pills?” “What time of day do you take them?” “What are you thinking when you take them?” With This series of questions, interviewees would open up and provide insights as to why they would miss taking their medicine.

In our book, FLAIR: How to Design Your Daily Work, Products, and Services to Energize Customers, Colleagues, and Audiences, that I wrote with my daughter, Jennifer Poage, we also emphasize asking probing “what” questions to get the essence of your offering. Once you understand the essence, we show in the book how to add effective flair to energize customers and audiences.


In FLAIR, we describe how Fresh Tilled Soil, a firm located in Watertown, Mass., that designs user experiences (UX) and interfaces for websites and mobile applications, asks probing questions to understand how to design a user experience for their clients. In one project, Fresh Tilled Soil worked closely with FitOrbit, which uses the Internet to connect people, who want to gain better health¸ with trainers, nutritionists, and other health-related professionals. In interviews with perspective customers of FitOrbit, Fresh Tilled Soil asked: What are you looking for? – Be fit and lose weight; Why is what you’re saying important? – Want to be healthy; Why do you not go to the gym? – People at the gym are already fit and trainers can seem like drill sergeants; What will make you feel good about yourself? – Being healthy and having companionship now that the kids have grown and left. The probing “What” and “Why” questions yielded an unexpected insight that the prospective customers were looking to find not just people who could help them with fitness and training but who would also be supporters and companions during their improvement experience. FitOrbit changed their business model to not only connect customers with fitness trainers and nutritionists, but with ones who would stay with the customer as they worked to gaining fitness.


More tips and examples for understanding a customer experience are covered in FLAIR.