What Ice Cream Taught Me About Design
The Shinjuku area of Tokyo is dense with department stores, hotels, theaters, and bars. If you were to walk past the Tokyo MochiCream storefront with just a glance, you might not immediately guess what it was selling. With its sleek design, precise lighting, and glass cases, the impression is closer to that of an upscale jewelry store than what it actually is: a chain ice cream shop.
Not being a connoisseur of fine ice cream or jewelry (I love ice cream, but not expensive, fancy ice cream), I never would have ducked into the store on a recent vacation if it weren't for my wife, Rachel. Once she pulled me inside, however, I started paying attention.
Employees in crisp white uniforms served customers from trays beneath glass. The ice cream was arranged in geometrical rows of six, organized by color. When a customer made his purchase, an employee wrapped the frozen items in a black box that contained a separate compartment for each piece. There was a ceremony to the process and an attention to detail that I'd never experienced in what could technically be called a fast-food outlet.
There's nothing inherently elevated about the product itself. In fact, mochi ice cream couldn't be much simpler: it's a ball of ice cream wrapped in mashed rice. That's it. But like all smart retailers, MochiCream elevated its product by giving careful consideration to the context. Every element of the experience--from employee uniforms to gift wrapping--was designed to achieve a specific experience. And it worked.
At Warby Parker, we take a similarly holistic approach to design. I believe that the concept of "design" encompasses every aspect of customers's exposure to a brand, from the moment they hear about us to the first time they visit our store to the process of ordering and anticipating the arrival of their glasses. That's why we've created an easy-to-use website and a beautiful Home Try-On box. It's why we've avoided hosting ordinary events in favor of quirky, memorable happenings--like a guerrilla presentation at the New York Public Library during Fashion Week, or a holiday bazaar inside a SoHo garage that we filled with canvas yurts. It's also why we poured so much time and attention into our first bricks-and-mortar store in New York, infusing every detail with references to classic libraries--from brass lamps to custom ladders.
Warby Parker designs experiences, not products. Because we started as an e-commerce venture before expanding to bricks-and-mortar, the lessons I learned from Tokyo's Mochi Cream were especially applicable. The ultimate takeaway: Every moment contains an opportunity to create feelings of satisfaction and excitement in a customer. It's up to retailers to make it happen.