is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. You can reach him through one of the services below.+
Over the weekend my family took a short trip by plane. The experience of flying — which I never enjoy — was so bad, it made me despair again for this incompetent industry that we all seem to be stuck with but have little recourse from. The ineptitudes of nearly every airline’s customer experience just boggle the mind and make me marvel at the fact that they can even exist as businesses.
Proposal for an Amazing New Business
How outlandish would it be, it made me wonder, if you tried to get a business started today that adhered to the same logic that dictates the airline industry? You wouldn’t get very far, but I thought it would be entertaining to describe such a hypothetical business just to hear how ridiculous it would sound.
Here are the positives: this is an amazing new service that connects people in truly meaningful ways, at a level that no other product or service can match. The target market is, well, everybody; it’s good for consumers and it’s good for businesses; it’s good for individuals and it’s good for groups; it’s good for young and it’s good for old; it’s good for people of lower incomes and it’s good for people of higher incomes. There’s really nothing quite like this.
Of course, there are a few catches. First, while the technology is of the highest quality, there’s no guarantee that you will always be connected. Of course, the business will endeavor to make successful connections, but about ten or twenty percent of the time it will either fail, or the service will take much longer than promised.
Also, if you use this service to send any attachments, there’s a small but decent chance that they won’t be successfully transmitted, or that the attachments will end up going to someone else. Also, in most cases it will cost you US$25 per attachment.
Security will be a big part of this service. In order to guarantee its integrity, you’ll need to provide more than just a user name and password, as those are too trivially spoofed. Rather, some kind of government-issued identification will be required — not just to sign up, but each time you use the service. And, unfortunately, be forewarned that authenticating each use is going to be a little laborious and may occassionally slow down the service’s performance noticeably.
There’s a big opportunity to think of this service as a kind of platform, meaning other businesses can build on top of it and deliver their products and goods through it. While a consumer is engaged with the service, he or she will be able to get immediate access to only those vendors who have been approved to operate within the service. As a result, prices are likely to be twenty or thirty percent higher than they would be otherwise. Unfortunately, in spite of the increased prices, in most cases the quality of the vendors’ products will be lower.
Additionally, while you use the service, there will be certain times when you will be asked not to use other technology products. The reason is that other technology products might interfere with its operation. No empirical proof really exists that that’s the case, but still the restrictions will stand.
As for pricing, each connection will cost a few hundred dollars, and as much as a thousand dollars or more, too. The exact pricing will actually be quite variable depending not just on the availability and demand of the connection you’re trying to make but also on when you make your purchase. What it costs today may be less than what it costs tomorrow, or, under certain conditions (that will not be disclosed), what it costs today may be more than what it costs tomorrow. Also, in most cases the cost will be non-refundable and non-transferrable. Sorry.
Clearly I’ve used some selective embellishment here to make for a more entertaining pitch, but I think the gist is still right: if the airline business did not exist today and someone proposed building it in the way that we know it to be, no one would stand for it.+