Where RL and virtual design collide into a cataclysm of failure.

I often talk about that place in the Venn diagram (what? I like Venn diagrams) where RL and VW (in my case, SL) design skills overlap. I think it’s interesting to note the ways that design is design is design, and that when humans are utilizing a product or space that their needs basically remain the same no matter where that design is ultimately located.

Of course this works both ways- when a design is good, it tends to be good pretty much everywhere. When a design fails spectacularly…yeah, it fails everywhere too.

So let’s talk about a couple of things.

1. You don’t fuck up a charity project.

Now, I have more experience with charity projects than the vast majority of people. Big ones. Small ones. International ones. I’m gonna repeat this:

You don’t fuck up a charity project. When you want people to donate to charity, your goal is to first and foremost make it *easy* for them to do so. Every obstacle you put in their way loses money for your chosen cause. Every time someone hits a barrier to giving you their hard earned cash, a certain percentage of them will decide that the hassle for them to give YOU money is too much, and walk away. The more barriers, the more money lost. It MUST be an easy experience.

2. When planning a large event like a convention, trade show or something similar, you need to keep several things in mind:

a) You must keep traffic flowing. Bottlenecks are bad, mkay?

b) You must create a traffic pattern in which people can walk in *one* path, *one* direction, and go from start to finish and see *everything* at the show. See point 1 above. People want to see everything at a show. If you get them lost, make it difficult for them to track their progress, or determine what they’ve seen and what they haven’t, *you will lose money and attendees*. They will not stick around long enough to buy anything, because they will be too busy being pissed off at your shitty layout. This is *not* the time to get crazy with the cheez whiz. Simplicity is key.

c) you must allow your vendors to sufficiently differentiate their spaces from one to another so that customers can easily create their own mental landmarks (i.e.: the giant booth with the castle on top, the booth with the lollipops in front, the booth with the dragons to either side- you get the idea). Forcing a great degree of continuity and sameness is contrary to your goal. People are visual- they will remember a visual cue much better and more quickly than a store name. They will also be more likely to tell their friends using that method as well, but if they forget a name? They will not bother to tell anyone.

Now, there’s a lot of other things involved in this kind of design, but those things up there? They’re not negotiable. They apply to every large scale event everywhere. It applies in the real world, and in any and all virtual worlds.

And then…

We have this year’s Hair Fair. Which is *precisely the opposite* of all the things I said just now. It is a colossal, epic cataclysm of design failure. The vendors have every right and reason to be *furious*, and I have no doubt at all that the unbelievable level of failure on the part of the physical layout is costing the vendors and the charity for whom they’re raising money, a LOT of cash.

Hair Fair raises money for charity. In this case it’s Wigs for Kids, which helps out kids who are dealing with cancer. However, see point one, above. There are problems that are unique to SL (lag, sculpties and rez time) that are problematic here also (the lag is unavoidable- the sheer volume of sculpties is plain old garden variety stupid), but the main issues are related to basic and fundamental design principles which exist *everywhere*.

Previous Hair Fairs were not like this. You *could* walk all the way around all of it (all four sims worth) in one path. This one is markedly different, and not for the better. The vendors are stuck into tents, creating a confusing warren of disconnected buildings and seemingly unpredictable entrances and exits. In reality, the layout is symmetrical, along a central axis. But since the tents are not open to the front, once inside, you lose your sense of direction easily, particularly when faced with the enormous amount of lag one expects at an event like this.

Hair Fair 2010

Hair Fair 2010

The tents themselves are ugly. They look like a cross between the set of M*A*S*H* and the backstage area of a cut rate fashion show. There’s no connection between them and the outside, which is a shame, since they would feel far less claustrophobic were they open to the front. There’s a strong sense of disorientation, and it’s nearly impossible to determine what you’ve seen and what you haven’t from a distance, because the visual cues of differentiation from booth to booth are almost nonexistent.

There's no room for differentiation

between one booth and another.

The only way to successfully navigate this mess is to teleport from location to location- except the notecard of the SLurls contains a listing of *unlinked* ones. (again, adding yet another step- see point one. Oh also, the Slurl for Analog Dog is incorrect- this is the correct one: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Hair%20Fair/228/86/25 )

However, not even THIS will help you, because on three of the four sims, point to point teleportation has been disabled- forcing you to a landing point or to follow a beacon, adding to the confusion. Only the most determined (and I really mean the MOST) determined hair shoppers will bother with this for four sims worth(roughly 200 vendors) worth of stuff. The percentage of people who will see everything or even bother to try is vanishingly small.

Four sims worth of this kind of insanity? Oh hell no.

Now, before everyone jumps my shit for “picking on a charity”, I want to say a couple of things- the reason why Im so annoyed by this is *because* it’s for charity.  The  CHARITY and the vendors deserve better than this.  Also, I am part of the vanishingly small percentage of people who saw *every single vendor*.  I spent over $30,000L.  So I paid my nickel for my stance on this.  I know that if I did not have a *vested* and deep interest in getting this stuff (I do, for modeling purposes) I would have gotten my ass out of there after the first half sim- not because of the lag (which is expected) because of the layout.

I am sure the people who run Hair Fair are lovely and good people. But I am begging them to find a professional designer to lay out their fair next year.  Hell, I’ll even do it for free. But this? This is a fiasco. No. Do not want.

All I want is an admission…

I don’t usually talk about Second Life stuff here, as this is primarily a blog about design (which world it occurs in is rather irrelevant.) However, since today was the day of Philip Linden’s return to SL and his big meeting with the residents (along with BK Linden who has a convenient twitter account) I find myself needing a place to say something in slightly more than 140 characters.

Honest, guys, this won’t happen often. Bear with me.

After reading the recaps (I was asleep when all of this went down), and seeing the responses on varying blogs and the twitterverse in general, I want to point something out.

What seems clear to me, speaking as someone with my varied and often dubious qualifications for doing so, is that at this point in time, the SL userbase is divided into subgroups (and here’s the punchline, don’t miss it) whose needs and goals do not overlap very much.

I’ll make my point in one sentence:

There is no longer a viable way to create a magic bullet, catch all solution.

This is, unfortunately, inconvenient. It is not, however, inherently BAD.

I have long said that the real issue, the one which *all others* stem from is customer service. The problem is that now, in SL the needs of users are wildly divergent. I think that at this point, this needs to be acknowledged and accepted. All I want at this point is an admission that this is so.

At this point it seems to me there are several clear cut user groups whose needs must be identified and met(and I may well be missing some). Some of these groups overlap, but not enough to provide a catch-all.

1. Sim owners/concierge service.
2. Business owners and content creators.
3. RL business concerns with presence within SL.
4. Educators, and their students.
5. New Residents.
6. Genpop.
7. (and this really is added at the end because it’s real, but it’s a strange duck) people who are running SL on limited computer resources.

When you identify these groups, you not only see they have different (mildly overlapping but not that much) customer service needs and questions, but different VIEWER needs.

Which brings me to this:
I think that LL, cannot by definition, create a catch-all viewer or customer service experience. I truly think they need a different approach, because the way it’s been done up until now *will no longer work*, guys. Honestly.

I am not saying that the other things brought up in today’s meeting are of no or little importance. But I don’t see anyone so far who has made this point in this way as of yet, and I wanted it out there.

I now return this blog to its usual rantings about design.