Wine experts are charlatans (but does it matter?)


Every July a panel of seventy wine connoisseurs gathers in sun-drenched Sacramento to judge and award prizes at the California State Fair in a blind-tasting competition.

It is a prestigious event with a history stretching back to 1850. For winemakers a gold, silver or bronze medal offers the opportunity to gain status, publicity and – perhaps most importantly – sales.

But the owner of one small vineyard in California, armed with some knowledge of statistics, had real doubts about whether anyone really can consistently judge wine. And so Robert Hodgson decided to conduct a test (or lay a trap, depending on how you look at these things).

With the agreement of the head judge, Hodgson entered 100 bottles of wine into the competition, and secretly ran each of the wines past the judging panel not once but three separate times. He did this for four consecutive years. And then he published the results.

Just as Hodgson predicted many of the judges awarded wildly different scores to exactly the same wine. Even judges that were consistent with their scores in one year were usually terrible the next.

The problem was not unique to the judges at the California State Fair. Hodgson looked at how wines performed at blind-tasting competitions across America, and found a gold award winner in one was no more likely than any other wine to win in another.

The whole thing was seemingly random, with the only real winners being the competition organisers who charge a hefty fee for each entry.

Hodgson’s findings have been widely publicised, but little has changed. When a wine wins an award, however dubious the judging process might be, you can bet it will be proudly displayed on the bottle.

And that is because an award logo is one of the visual cues we look for to help validate whether we are making the right purchase decision.

Faced with a wall of wine bottles we might still be left with a decision to make even after narrowing our choice by region, grape and price.

If the brand is unknown the shiny medal on the neck of the bottle might be the thing that swings it. And so the show goes on.

Read the original article here.


Wine experts are charlatans (but does it matter?)

Against all odds printed books thrive

The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher

When Amazon introduced the Kindle e-reader in 2007 it looked like the writing was on the wall for printed books.

Just as the iPod had decimated CD sales when launched by Apple six years earlier, it looked certain that the Kindle would do the same to physical book sales.

All the signs were there. How could bulky paper books possibly compete with a lightweight device that could store a whole bookcase?

And the Kindle was a huge success. Sales of e-books grew from near zero to around a third of all book sales in just a few years. Book publishers were convinced this trend would continue. Bookshops, already under pressure from the sale of physical books online, started to close in greater numbers, including many much loved independent stores.

But now something strange is happening. E-book sales have flatlined. Physical book sales are growing again. It turns out the printed book, with a history stretching back many hundreds of years, is a resilient old thing.

Some people have drawn parallels with the resurgence of vinyl records, which are growing in sales too. But this is from a very low base, and still accounts for only 3% of the UK music market. It is also not happening at the expense of music streaming, which continues to explode in popularity.

And there is another difference. Once music is playing it is in the air. A book, however, is something that you hold in your hands. Paper is tactile. It has weight.

Books are often beautifully made, from the choice of paper stock and binding to the typography and graphics. A book can be something you admire as an object before you have read a single word.

And when you do start to read there are no distractions. No internet browser or Facebook app.

Like most children my two young sons would probably spend all day every day playing on an iPad if only they were allowed, and yet surprisingly they have never once asked to swap a bedtime story in print for one on a screen.

For all these reasons and more it felt good to give and receive a bunch of books this Christmas.

Read the original article here.


Against all odds printed books thrive

Pablo Picasso and the Locksmiths’ Paradox


One warm summer’s day, or so the story goes, Pablo Picasso was sitting quietly in a park when a woman recognised the famous artist, approached him, and insisted he sketch her likeness.

With a smile Picasso is said to have reached for his sketchpad and created her portrait with a single stroke of his pencil.

Taking the paper in her hands the woman expressed astonishment at how he had captured her very essence perfectly. And then she enquired as to the price.

“Five thousand francs,” Picasso replied.

“Why, that’s absurd!” the woman exclaimed. “It took you only seconds to create my portrait.”

“On the contrary,” Picasso replied. “It took my entire life.”

I was reminded of this story after reading about a conversation between the writer Dan Ariely and a locksmith.

The locksmith told Ariely that things had been much simpler at the start of his career.

Back then when people hired him he was inexperienced and took a long time. Sometimes he even broke their lock in the process. But his customers were always grateful for his strenuous efforts, and did not mind paying him for his hard work.

The locksmith found to his surprise that as he gained experience, and discovered how to open almost any lock quickly and without damage, his customers started to resent paying his fees.

How, they asked incredulously, could something that took so little time and apparent effort cost so much?

The locksmiths’ paradox is a problem for many companies. If a customer considers only the length of time a task takes, and not the time invested in learning the skills that make it possible, or the benefit of the end result, they may object to paying very much for the work.

The way for companies to avoid falling into this trap is to communicate their true value to the customer, above and beyond their basic competence.

Successful locksmiths do not sell their ability to quickly open doors, that should be a given, instead they sell their responsiveness and trustworthiness, and their ability to save you from the uncertainty of being locked out on a cold winter’s night.

Read the original article here.


Pablo Picasso and the Locksmiths’ Paradox

I can see why you might feel that way


Many of us will give or receive an Apple product this Christmas, and that might involve a trip to the Apple Store. From the store design to the customer service, there is no shopping experience quite like it. When people write books or give presentations about retail they almost always use Apple as an example of how to do it well.

Nothing in the Apple Store happens by accident. From the smiling person greeting you at the door to the folks behind the Genius Bar in blue t-shirts, everything is meticulously planned down to the finest detail. And that includes the language Apple employees use.

A few years ago a copy of the Apple Store training manual was leaked to the technology news website Gizmodo and it makes for revealing reading. The manual outlines the psychological techniques Apple staff are taught to use when dealing with customers.

If you describe a problem you are experiencing with your iPhone to an Apple employee the issue will often be repeated back to you using different, more positive phrasing.

Certain words are banned entirely. For example, a computer does not “crash”, it just “does not respond.” A laptop never runs “hot”, at most it is “warm.”

Emphasised throughout is an instruction to use empathy whenever possible – for employees to put themselves in customers’ shoes.

If a customer says a MacBook is too expensive, a suggested reply employees might use is, “I can see how you’d feel this way. I felt the price was a little high, but I found it’s a real value because of all the built-in software capabilities.” Complain about almost anything and the staff will most likely reply with a variation of, “I can see why you might feel that way,” before reframing the conversation.

Reading these approved responses I realise I’ve seen them somewhere else – in a chapter from a parenting manual on how to defuse toddler tantrums.

In many ways this is classic sales training. Displaying empathy is one of the first tactics all salespeople are taught. The only difference with Apple is they go so far with it.

But it works. Apple has the highest sales per square foot of any major retailer in the world.

Read the original article here.


I can see why you might feel that way

Survival of the fittest makes us miss the obvious


During the Second World War the US military needed to reduce the number of planes they were losing to enemy fire. One method they tried was to study the returning aircraft, note where they had taken the most bullets, and add heavy armour to those sections. So far, so seemingly rational.

But then a brilliant statistician named Abraham Wald made a startling observation. The planes being inspected for damage were, by definition, the ones that had made it back. Whatever damage they had sustained was clearly survivable.

Wald realised that missing from the analysis were the planes that were not present for inspection because they had been shot down. He saw that the key to protecting the aircraft was to look not at where the bullet holes were on the surviving planes, but where they were not.

The phenomenon Wald overcame is known as survivorship bias, and it occurs when we draw conclusions based only on what is visible, while inadvertently overlooking what is missing.

Survivorship bias can help explain why people of a certain vintage sometimes claim music, movies, books and even advertisements were better in their day. This is often because only the best stuff survives in our memory. The dross is usually filtered out.

The same applies when people assert that products were designed to a much higher standard in the past, that they were built to last back then. This can seem to be true because classic designs endure. But it is misleading, as the vast majority of products do not survive. Machines that break down are thrown away. Only the best are left behind.

Great buildings can also create the misleading impression they are representative of their age. We protect them and restore them, like the beautiful Grade II Listed building, the Storey, where Hotfoot Design is based. It is easy to forget about all the lesser buildings that have been torn down and replaced.

But my favourite example of survivorship bias is probably a business owner who once explained to me that there was no point in updating his website as he did not get many visitors. We eventually did persuade him to invest in a new site with some compelling content, and unsurprisingly those missing customers magically appeared.

Read the original article here.


Survival of the fittest makes us miss the obvious

Constraints and creativity


Most bands record their first album with a tight budget for studio time and often no budget at all for extras such as session musicians and guest producers. The instruments they record with are the ones they already own, or ones they beg, steal or borrow. And yet some of the greatest albums ever made were recorded this way. There is an edge to them. You cannot stop listening.

Constraints can be good for creativity. Faced with limitations people improvise, hack and work through problems. If there are fewer choices we are forced to use what we have. And through this process magic can happen.

Contrast that with the choices available to a band that has already had some success. Now there is queue of collaborators, gifted equipment, and endless time to record and to tweak. Would it sound better with another take? More overdubs? Maybe some strings? And so it goes.

The lean sound becomes bloated. The release date gets pushed back. Creative paralysis kicks in. When the album finally comes out there is so much more to it than the first one, and yet something is missing. The infamous second album syndrome has struck again.

This problem is not unique to bands. Many of us wrestle with something similar every day. Technology has unlocked an incredible abundance of opportunity. Sit down in front of your computer or unlock your phone and there is an almost infinite choice about what to do next. It can be overwhelming.

And that is why introducing artificial constraints can be so powerful. Some of the most successful products do less than their competitors, but do more for us as a result.

Twitter limits our messages to 140 characters, and so we are forced to be more concise. Instagram allows us to add only one photo at a time, and so we curate a better feed. Fixed gear bikes allow us to enjoy the simplicity of cycling, without obsessing over gear ratios.

I notice something similar when I watch my two young sons playing. Given too many toys at once and they never seem to settle into a game. Hand them a few pieces of Lego and they can create a whole universe.

Read the original article here.


Constraints and creativity

Nuance, not novelty, delivers the best user experience


Before I joined Hotfoot Design as a partner I travelled to London every week for business.

As my meetings were often arranged at short notice I had to book a hotel at the last minute.

This meant I got to stay at some really plush places all over central London at a discount, as even premium and boutique hotels would rather their rooms be occupied at a much reduced rate than not at all.

And those rooms would often be fantastic, with great views, and lots of space. But one thing that drove me to distraction was the technology, as it was often so unnecessarily complex.

Setting the air-con meant deciphering a series of abstract symbols to escape an arctic breeze. Using the shower required careful analysis of multiple settings to avoid being scalded. And forget about watching TV – the minimalist remote controls gave no clue about how to change the channels.

In one room even switching the lights on became an absurd challenge, as it required dealing with a central touch screen “command centre” with layers of menus to select what I wanted to do.

I longed for a simple button to push, dial to turn, or switch to flick. I was usually staying for just a night or two. I had no desire to study an instruction manual to accomplish what ought to be a simple task.

I am no technophobe. In fact I love technology, but only when the execution is good and the context is appropriate.

These hotels had fallen into the trap of thinking they had to differentiate themselves from their budget competitors with technological novelties. Perhaps they feared a humble light switch would not be impressive enough for their discerning guests.

The most satisfying objects we interact with every day are usually not innovations but iterations of tried and tested products.

It is nuance, not novelty, that most often creates a good user experience.

See the original article here.


Nuance, not novelty, delivers the best user experience