The Flat-Pack User Experience

Reading time ~ 3 minutes

Some things in life cause more stress for me than others.

Building flat-pack furniture is for some reason way up there on my stress-o-meter.
Back in November (when I first drafted this article) I bought myself a new laundry basket, it’s quite a nice wooden box with a flip lid. When I collected it, I discovered it was a flat-pack.

I’ve been confronting a lot of longstanding issues recently (one of many reasons for being so quiet on the writing) – this was the second time in a week I’d had to build furniture.

“What’s this got to do with software?” You may ask.
Everything – not around writing it but around your customer and user experience.

Experience 1: The Charity Shop Bed
I bought a bed from a charity shop, it wasn’t cheap but it was nice. I was expecting it to turn up partially assembled (as a second-hand piece of furniture)
To my mixed surprise and dismay it arrived still completely wrapped but with one box opened.


I had to face my fears – get on and build.
I reached about 90% done and discovered an important (but not obvious) piece missing – a central leg.

AAAAAGH – All those stresses and fears were confirmed

Yes, I should probably have checked all the parts were there before starting but I was in “JFDI” mode after building up the momentum to even start!

I called the shop and politely complained.

After 2 days of chasing around, the shop were unable to find the missing piece so they gave me their display model instead.

There’s a couple of mixed experiences here…

First, I hate unfinished jobs. Sitting in my room with a part-made bed with the frustration of the missing parts and the belief I’d bought a cheap secondhand bed didn’t sit well with me. Whilst looking online for replacement parts from the manufacturer I actually found the same bed brand new for £50 less.

I buy furniture from charity shops expecting it to be cheaper and not new. I also expect it to be as seen in the shop (and not have to build it myself). Otherwise I’d have shopped around online. – Beware

Second, I hate complaining, I hate asking for things. This issue put me way out of my comfort zone. The manager of the shop was exceptionally helpful, professional and apologetic. She clearly went way out of her way to spend 2 days with staff trying to track down the parts in their storage warehouse before arranging a replacement. The time lost was frustrating but as I didn’t yet have a mattress I wasn’t too annoyed.

What really made the difference though was her manner, tone on the phone,  complete reassurance and commitment to a successful outcome – the sort of behavior I expect when dealing with a business supplier, not a charity/thrift shop.

Experience 2:  The Laundry Basket
By Contrast, my cheap laundry basket was a joy. I wish I’d taken a picture before it was assembled.  Every part was clearly labelled, bags of components and fixings were grouped independently, packed in easy to open bags. There was even a bag labelled ‘spare parts’

It got better. The instructions were incredibly clear and precise. A paper ruler was provided to aid differentiation of screw sizes (although with the independent bags, this wasn’t a problem). Where there were 2 almost identical parts, an additional note in the instructions indicated exactly how to differentiate the two.

OK so I was alone and it was a dark evening but the exceptional user experience of that small laundry basket really helped finish off what had been a successful day in such a positive way that it even inspired me to start writing again.

Lesson – those small things that give your customer/user a positive experience after you’ve taken their money and when they’re expecting far worse really do stand out.

2 thoughts on “The Flat-Pack User Experience

  1. Interesting, thanks Richard! It’s really valuable seeing this experience clarified back into the underlying concepts. Beyond the focus of delight at the end of the process, perhaps we could also create a little more anxiety at the start ;-D

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