The Ramen Girl (2008)

Things every Designer should learn from The Ramen Girl

On Design, Product Experiences and Craftsmanship

Ramen Girl (2008) is one of Brittany Murphy’s last films and though its considered by some as a chick flick it is also one of the largely most underrated and profound films of the first decade of the 20th century.

Besides having lots of scenes and japanese proverbs on food it actually has a lot to say on Product Design, Design, User Experience in general and Craftsmanship.

Maezumi teaches Abby that a bowl of Ramen is its own separate experience.

A product (digital or analog, a website or a store) is a self contained universe

A bowl of ramen is a self-contained universe with life from the sea, the mountains, and the earth. All existing in perfect harmony. Harmony is essential. What holds it all together is the broth. The broth gives life to the ramen.

When you make a website or a an app, remember that you are crafting a self-contained experience.

This is pretty basic but to make quick explanation on self-contained experiences, if you have a product that runs accross multiple platforms (website and a mobile app) then if I’m on the mobile app, I shouldn’t be forced or sent to my browser just to access some part of your content. Conversely, if Im on a website lets say on my mobile phone I shouldn’t be forced to download an app or open another application just to view its content.

A product is the product of harmony between all its parts (Vertical Experiences)

When crafting product experiences, specially digital products like apps and websites, software is only the tip of the iceberg. It isn’t just the horizontal experience within the software of the product but the vertical experiences that reaches to the hardware, from digital to analog.

The best way to explain this is to quote Lee Cheaw Wei in his talk during UXSG The Common Senses.(the phrase below is paraphrased)

“When your designing a Toaster, you can’t just think about the toaster but the counter that toaster is sitting on as well”

Just as a bowl of ramen consists of life from the mountains, sea and earth your product consists of both digital and analog, hardware and software. You have to take into account things such as where your user is accessing your site? Are they accessing your site while on the commute? While they are working? Are they on Android or iOS? What is the physical width of the device they are using? Are they holding that device with one hand or two hands? Even the smallest things such as whether or not your user is female with long finger nails or not (which if you design for touch screens you’ll understand why it needs to be taken into account).


Designing from a quieter place (empathy)

Sometimes too much technical training can get in the way. You cook with your head. Your head is full of noise. You must learn to cook from the quieter place deep inside of you.

As much as I am an advocate of designing with data, data doesn’t always mean technical numerical data. One of the basic things you learn in UX and User-centric design methods is using empathy and though it is a very basic concept it’s one of the things that are actually hard to grasp especially for people used to the corporate/ad-agencymarketing life.

Sometimes you have to let go of all those things they taught you in marketing 101, target markets, brand equity, all out the window because it is never really about these buzz words but about their application and sometimes getting too technical about these words distracts you from what matters the most, the User.

Go out and ask your users about their experiences. What do they find frustrating, what are their problems, what are their struggles. Do their eyebrows crunch up? Do their eyes twitch? Take out as much of a noise and design from a quieter place. Take that data and formulate your design decisions based on that.

So called Introversion is not an excuse either. A lot of people think you’re either born with empathy or your not but thats not really the case you don’t need to be “touchy feely” to design with empathy. As Maezumi’s mother teaches Abby:

When Abby is told that she has to cook with “Love” she replies that she doesn’t know what “Love” is having been heartbroken so many times. Maezumi’s mother tells her to begin by putting her tears into the broth

Design by putting your own experiences into the product. If you can’t feel what others feel, then ask yourself what do YOU feel and start from there. Empathy is excercised and one cannot understand how others feel if one doesn’t have a full understanding of their own feelings.


Products become a part of a customer

The food that you serve your customer becomes a part of them. It contains your spirit. That’s why your ramen must be an expression of pure love. A gift from your heart.”

The triumph of Apple’s product design (and in that effect Jobs and Jony Ive’s) is how they have crafted products that are inseparable and have become an extention of their users daily lives and it isn’t a new phenomenon that started with apple either.

We live in a world where technology and digital technology for that matter has become a part of our every waking moment. How many of us use our phones as alarm clocks in the morning? How many of us go to work and see a computer as our primary work tool (even in the most clerical of jobs)? Technology has essentially become a part of our bodies in this sense. When we design products we have to take into account that this product becomes a part of that person, that that person cannot wake up and function without your product. Email and Search(and by extension Google) has become so successful at this that it has become almost impossible to imagine education without the help of Google.