Well, forget about Kichizoji, would you?

Thanks to the nasty cold I came down with this winter, I finally got some time to lie down in my couch and watch some Japanese TV shows. I picked a show just because the title caught my attention; Is Kichizoji the only street you want to live in?(吉祥寺だけが住みたい街ですか?) The story is very simple. The main characters, Shigeta sisters run a local real estate agency in Kichizoji. The neighborhood is known as one of the most liveable streets in Tokyo. Customers visit Shigeta sisters hoping to find a place to live in the Kichizoji area. They fill in a simple form with some basic information and search criteria such as number of rooms, monthly budget, distance to subway and so on. The sisters appear somewhat rude at the first sight and even scary to some customers. After a short conversation about the reasons why customers want to move to Kichijoji, the sisters take customers to a strange journey saying their favourite quote; “Well, forget about Kichizoji, would you?” Then customers are taken to a completely unexpected neighborhood far from where they wanted to move to.

“It is true that Kichizoji is a nice place, but there are many other good neighborhoods in Tokyo. It’s important to find the street that fits you.” — Shigeta sisters

Well, I just wanted to enjoy a TV show and chill, but I found myself thinking of my job and getting excited about talking to my colleagues about what I had learned. It is occupational hazard, and it happens quite often. Speaking of my job, I am a designer. More precisely, I am a service designer practicing User-Centered Design and Lean UX. And I coach other designers and product teams from startups and enterprises. What I found very interesting was that Shigeta sisters could be very good user experience designers. Let’s take a look.

Persona

First of all, the persona. Thi is Miki Osamu. Walking on a street mumbling “I am stuck. I am not motivated…” he gets to the Shigeta real estate. He walks into the office not knowing what he’s signing up for. Here’s a little information about him. He wants to be a professional writer. He likes reading novels and wants to write his own. He still has to make a living in other ways, so he works part time and tries writing mostly at night. The problem is that he can’t focus on writing because of the “unignorable” noise from his next door almost every night. So he decides to move. He would like to find a new place in Kichizoji because one of his favorite book called “Firework” by Matayoshi takes place in Kichijoji street. Here his requirements: (a) Within 10 minute walking distance from the station, (b) monthly rental payment 80,000 yen (appx. 800 USD), (c) Quiet environment so that he can focus on writing.

Proto Persona

Designers

Next, designers. After they learn what the customer’s facts, behaviours and needs are, Shigeta sisters take Miki not to Kichijoji but to Kagurazaka a completely unexpected place. Mik complains of course, but Shigeta sisters don’t seem to care. They drag the customer to a corner to another and show him around the neighborhood. “Kagurazaka is known as the Street of literature because there are many publishers in the area. And there are many places where some famous authors have lived or visited.” Justifying their kidnap, the sisters say. “Try to smell the scent of literature.” Visiting some local delicatessen, walking on a cobbled street, stopping by at a local bookstore, Miki finds himself getting interested in this neighborhood, too. Their last stop at a temple, after wishing a luck, Miki finally opens up his mind share some of his personal stories with the sisters.

Ordinary agents would give Miki a list of vacant properties that meet requirements and take him to some of the apartments. Shigeta sisters are not ordinary agents. What Shigeta sisters do differently is that they try to get engaged in customers’ lives much deeper. They are interested not only in learning what customers need immediately, but also in finding what makes customers came to that needs. They talk to customers, help them feel comfortable enough to tell their stories, listen and observe carefully.

Miki starts telling his stories at the last stop at a temple.

So finally Miki speaks up. It turns out that he has already written a novel and it made a big hit. However, he had to borrow a name from someone famous to publish the book. Since then he only gets jobs as a ghost writer. He got frustrated more and more. Now he’s stuck and can’t write a piece any more. Noise from next door is just an excuse.

Updated persona

Focus on outcomes rather than outputs

Working in software/service making industry, I see lots of team focus on delivering outputs. For those team, success is measured by the number of features developed within given time and budget. Those outputs often comes in different names such as requirements and stops the team from asking themselves about the real goals of the project: What are the outcomes do they seek by delivering the outputs? A good product team finds ways to create the most outcomes with the least outputs. A designer’s responsibility in a good product team, in my opinion, is not to make solution that simply meets the requirements, but to find the real problem that users need to solve in their lives and to offer the simplest solution to use happily. The output that Miki expected from a realestate agent was probably a quiet apartment in Kichijoji area. The outcomes that Shigeta sisters focused on was a fresh new beginning that encourages Miki for the next step forward to his dream.

Explicit and Implicit goals

Project team in companies I worked with often say that they have done enough research and they know well about their customers. Especially teams in big enterprises tend to believe that they are ready to make good products. UX research teams collect customers’ comments or complaints by surveys once a quarter. Then apply customer requests into the new products or improvement of current products. I would agree that “Listening to users voices and responding” is a good behaviour. However, those voices might be just nothing but another set of requirements coming from someone’s immediate needs. Solutions from those type of requirements will resolve only what it appears to be a problem on the surface. Good designers and product teams should be able to bring out what’s hidden underneath. Shigeta sisters could have found an apartment away from distractions and declared that they’ve solved the problem. But they didn’t stop there. They understood that the noise was not the real problem. It was lack of courage. So they suggested Miki very different solutions from what he initially expected. They brought him to a little journey for inspiration and encouragement.

“Just do it at once!” What Miki needs is not a new apartment, but comfort and encouragement

Listen and observe well

Good designers/researchers listen very well rather than speaking. Of course, it is very important to ask good questions, but good questions lead people to speak their stories. The best technique for an interviewer I believe is to help others tell you their stories. I think Shigeta sisters have their own way of helping customers bring out their stories. They are really good at listening and empathizing. They observe carefully, make no quick judgements, wait patiently, respond well, and show empathy.

“Well, forget about Kichijoji, would you?”

Shigeta sisters give this prompt when they start exploring problem spaces to find implicit goals of customers and seek outcomes. If you are a UX designer, how about reminding yourself of “the Shigeta prompt” when you start working on a project?

Special thanks to Erika Ito who co-wrote and translated this article.

You can find this article in other languages: Korean (Original), Japanese.

You can find details of the show: http://www.tv-tokyo.co.jp/kichijoji/