Empathy, Authenticity, and the Transferrence of Local Knowledge

Over the past few years I have carried a little saying with that I pull out of my pocket from time to time in certain situations. The saying goes something like this:

“When I was in retail…” or “When I managed a book store, as a buyer I always…”

In general retrospect, and especially after having launched the Food for Thought employee break room project, I now realize that my words didn’t have the “umph” I once hoped they had. Imagining myself saying now makes me think of myself of the scenario when an older adult or elderly person says “Well, back when I was a kid…” as a preface to explain how things were done…well…when he/she was a kid.

My days as the general manager and buyer for a remainder book store seem like ancient operational relics that have little or no relevance for establishing empathy with our users (customers) in my current position as a designer of retail automation products. Back in the mid 1990′s we used Royal cash registers, did physical inventories on yellow legal pads, and ordered our front-line titles through a DOS-based system. I can’t remember if we used the “impression” machine for credit cards, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

The entire landscape of retail has transformed so dramatically in the nearly 20 years since then. To attempt to establish and “I’ve been there and done that” rapport with our current customers doesn’t hold nearly the weight it used to, at least in my mind. But now that Food for Thought is live, I have a much more grounded and relevant personal context from which to reach out and understand the challenges of retail and vending operators.


About burtaycock

Father of 2 great boys, interaction designer, doodler, student of life.
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