It’s unexpected. But it’s also unexpectable

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IMG_0356I can claim no no credit for the headline of this post – it’s a direct quote from an article on the Guardian about the remarkable resurgence in the sales of vinyl.

It’s an interesting article, though a long read. It illustrates well how and why Big Design fails so often.

No-one expected vinyl to make a comeback. Consumers are fickle. Just when the music business thought it had begun to ‘get’ digital, it discovers that increasing numbers of music lovers are rejecting it.

They want analogue. Or, at least, a growing number of them do.

They want physical objects. Big ones, with sleeve notes and posters and lyrics and all the paraphernalia that digital music was supposed to dispense with.

And guess what? It’s not just boring middle-aged old farts like me who feel like this.

(Unlike many people my age, I never stopped buying, or got rid of my vinyl. But many who did then bought their record collection again in digital formats; on CD, or MP3 or AAC or whatever. Now they’re buying them, again on deluxe 180g vinyl editions that cost 5-10 times what they paid for the original.)

My 16 year-old daughter is experiencing an epiphanic relationship with vinyl. For Christmas, she was given 3 or 4 records – actual records – to add to her small, but growing collection.

She loves the experience. She loves the thing itself – the smell of a record freshly released from its cellophane is as evocative as cracking open a new book (that’s for another post).

Draw the disc from its sleeve, rotate it carefully pivoted between two palms. Glance at the track listings.

Place tenderly on the turntable.

Lift the arm gently – gently – onto the record. Hear the first gentle pop, crackle, and hiss

Then sit back. Luxuriate in the warmth, the richness, the depth, that listening to a record confers.

This is not the same experience as sticking your iPod on a dock, putting it on shuffle and letting the results wash over you. #Whatevs

You have to interact with a record. When side 1 finishes, you have to actually get up and turn it over.

And while it’s playing, you are poring over the sleeve notes, reading the lyrics, admiring the artwork … you may even be sticking the poster on your bedroom wall.

Remember what that felt like?

That’s a properly immersive experience. That’s a thing you’ll never forget.

What was the first song you ever downloaded?

OK, enough about records

The point to which I am slowly coming is this:

Digital will never entirely replace human experience.

We are in the business-to-business business.

There is no – absolutely no – digital experience that will replace or improve interaction with another human being.

A hadshake is better than an email. A face-to-face conversation is preferable to a phone call. A meeting is less painful physically than it is virtually.

And there is no chance that we can award a grant, for example, based on an algorithm.

So, where can digital help?

Well, it can lubricate the process, if you like.

We can make businesses better-prepared digitally. We can equip them with the knowledge they’ll need for the challenges they’ll face.

We can make the experience and knowledge our people have available to all businesses in Scotland.

We can take a business on a digital journey so that they are ready and equipped for the actual human interactions they will need to grow and succeed.

If they want to go on a trade mission, we can give them a checklist to make sure they’re prepared.

If they are innovating, we can do more to help them understand what that actually means.

We’re doing it ourselves, right now. Trying it out. Seeing if it works.

If it does, great. How can we do it better?

If it doesn’t, what went wrong? What should we improve? What should we just ditch entirely?

Application as service

We think we can make the application process a part of the service we provide, in and of itself.

It’s early days. But could guiding a company through the steps necessary to apply for a – for example – Make it to market grant – be almost as valuable, for the company as well as for us?

I'm a service designer in Scottish Enterprise's unsurprisingly-named service design team. I've been a content designer, editor, UX designer and giant haystacks developer on the web for (gulp) over 25 years.

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