Anti-Design

It began with the end to a lovely evening meal with my wife to celebrate her birthday. It was getting late when we sauntered out into the brisk March evening, so I brought up the Uber app on my iPhone and the cab promptly arrived.

The ride was not far, 10 minutes in the cab versus 4o minutes walking at close to midnight. The driver missed a turn, but I thought nothing of it. He then almost missed the very next turn despite me and the GPS telling him he was nearby.

This however is not the story of some disgruntled customer with a grudge against someone trying to earn a decent living. It was what he said next.

Give me a 5 star rating

For those not familiar with Uber, after each ride the customer and the driver mark the other out of 5. This ensures a level of quality control. However the odds are stacked firmly against the driver in the long run. For instance if a driver’s average customer satisfaction score falls below a certain threshold he can be suspended for two weeks — thereby depriving him on an income. If the average score continues to fall, the penalty becomes that much greater.

So by prompting me to give him 5 stars, even if the experience was sub-optimal, would help boost his customer satisfaction score. The driver knows this and any leverage to encourage a customer from giving a good rating is deployed.

This interaction to my mind feels wrong. It seems like a perfectly calibrated environment that encourages bad rather then good behaviour. Does this not sit in direct contrast with what ‘Good Design’ is all about? Is this an example of Anti-Design?

What is good design anyway? The UK’s Design Council, published a report on what makes good design when it comes to public spaces or buildings:

Design is the way we decide how we want things to be.

Dieter Rams, beloved of designers and architects, applied 10 principles to what he felt constituted good design. One of those principles is honesty.

It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept

Anti-Design is lacking in honesty.