David Bouley is arguably one of the greatest American chefs. He is also a god when it comes to designing a user experience. Dining at his eponymous restaurant in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan is not only a sensation for the pallet, it’s a lesson in consciously designing an experience to surprise and delight customers.
Here’s what I learned:
Target the Takeaway. Everything begins with what you want the customer to see, feel and take away. You can’t get where you’re going unless you have a very clear picture of where you want to end up. In Bouley’s case, he wants you to walk away feeling amazing. He will fill your mouth with tastes and sensations you haven’t had before. He’ll surround you with warmth, comfort and a sense of understated luxury that leaves you with the feeling that you are welcomed and belong in his restaurant. He’ll focus on you and your guests by providing a platform to share and converse. And he’ll send you into the night happy, satisfied and with provisions for breakfast. Bouley has built a loyal customer base by starting with the business objective in mind.
Focus on Senses and Cadences. Most experiences have a beginning, a middle and an end. By carefully studying these, Bouley guides what you see, hear, smell, feel and taste. Nothing is left to chance. The entry way smells of warm apples. The room is warm and lit sensuously with a roaring winter fire. The chairs are extremely comfortable and the linens are crisp but not overly starched. The menu reflects seasonal tastes and locally available fresh seasonal ingredients. The people who greet you are formal but friendly. Every element is orchestrated to give you a feeling of belonging and to heighten your enjoyment in the moment.
You are taken on a very subtle guided tour that engages your ability to process multiple inputs simultaneously. The food comes out at a pace that feels natural. You never wait too little or too long for any course. The staff watches closely to see when you pause, when you’re done and when you need more water, bread or wine.
He leverages and improvises on consumer expectations. You expect a waiter; you get a team of them. You expect bread; you get a bread cart and a doting baker. You expect a drink, an appetizer, an entree and a dessert; you get that plus an array of unexpected tastes and mini-courses and conversation and explanations from the maître d’.
God is in the Details. Consumers are influenced by initial impressions, comfortable design and intuitive navigation. The only way to deliver these experiences is to develop a laser-like focus on the details. Bouley thinks about ambient light, the feel of the napkins, the weight of the fish forks, the shape of the water and wine glasses and the mother-of-pearl box that the bill is presented in. The staff mentions some of these things and asks occasionally about them.
You need to focus on where people look, what they expect to do and how we’ve trained them to scroll, to click or to download. Where you place the CTAs, how big they are, the color, the labels all make a disproportionate difference in perception and response. You need to get feedback as you design experiences; some from pixel tracking or metrics software, other from talking to your customers and testing your work with eye-tracking and guided task testing.