Sacrificing Emotional Experience for Efficiency

{ 🧠 } – London’s Black Taxi Cab, Electric Vehicles and LEGO

Photo by Manuel Sardo.

Have you ever noticed that once we make certain things more efficient, we, sometimes, lose the emotional connection with the brand, service or object? For example, we now have more efficient planes, but the flying experience is less pleasant. Frankly speaking, it is mostly awful if you don’t fly business class. Why? Because all you do is sit crammed in between two other people, who have fallen asleep and wonder how you can get out to the toilet.

Also, have you ever noticed that if you would like to book a vacation to a different country, it takes more time than it used with a travel agent? All the time you spend on finding the perfect flight that matches your schedule. Trying to pass through stupid online forms on that website, find the ideal hotel and so on. Sometimes you even need a visa and have to move through another bureaucratic system that takes ages.

We live in a digital world, and we have a tendency to make things scalable and efficient. This way of thinking had a significant influence on the business world too. Why? Mainly because it helps to earn more money — fast and in a “scalable” way. We are not into quality so much anymore, but rather: “Will it scale? No? Ok, let’s move on.” The Internet tricked us into that type of mentality at the cost of losing the emotional experience and stability.

We work so hard to perfect the functionality of a product or service at the cost of an emotional experience.

But this issue is a bit broader than flying or booking a vacation experience. We sometimes sacrifice the sense of security only for the sake of “efficiency” or an illusion of speed.

A classic British black cab. Photo by JJ Ying.

London’s Black Taxi Cab

One of the common fears for a parent is sending their kid to school or classes in a taxi with a stranger. For the sake of example, let’s assume that the parent uses an Uber. Multiple things go through a parent’s mind. But the most critical question is “Can it be trusted?” Sending a kid with a total stranger somewhere seems irrational and crazy.

It applies not only to sending your kids with a taxi but raises a broader question of “subconscious feeling of security and trust”. Recently I stumbled upon a podcast episode with Rory Sutherland (Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather), in which he said “I am more likely to send my both daughters to school with a Black Taxi Cab rather than with an Uber.”

Ever asked yourself why? It’s because of the entry barrier and effort you have to put in to become a Black Taxi Cab driver. To become one you have to pass through what is called the Knowledge Test, which takes approximately four years (2–4 on average). That’s a significant entry barrier for most people and not efficient from a “modern thinking” perspective, where everything has scale. For a driver to pass the Knowledge Test, he must learn 320 routes through 25,000 streets off by heart to get their license. So they must be able to navigate the city without a GPS and be able to make decisions and suggestions on the spot.

All of this comes down to how invested is the person in his job. The same way you don’t allow a surgeon to perform his job only because he/she just finished the university. Or as others call it, to have “skin in the game”.

And here is an interesting thought for you. The person who drives a black taxi cab is less likely to rob the passenger on their way back from the airport than any other taxi driver. Because why would you risk your four hard-working years for an extra 100 pounds? Also taking into account that it takes multiple attempts to pass the test.

To me, this entry barrier also gives a level of assurance that the person driving the car knows better than the GPS which way is shorter and faster or which places to recommend because their job is to know that. Meanwhile, an Uber driver is a less better version of that, because the entry barrier or the effort you put in is less (there are of course great Uber drivers that are sometimes equal or even better in knowledge as a Black Taxi Cab one).

Meanwhile, we remove the entry barrier and allow “efficiency” and “scale” to take place we lose a very important emotional aspect “quality and trust”. And this is an important point to keep in mind when you are trying to make your product more efficient from any perspective. Efficiency, usually in the modern way of thinking, means cutting on something, whether it is quality, trust, security or other essential elements which create that emotional experience.

EV’s and the Price You Pay for a Better Future

There are a couple of things that make a car iconic. It is either the sound, the design or both. Taking into account that almost all modern vehicles start looking the same, with similar cliches and flaws, the sound of the engine and exhaust is what’s left. But due to climate changes, all manufacturers need to switch to electric vehicles and start pushing them to the market.

Driving an electric vehicle is fun. It is fast and offers a lot of benefits, but you lose one critical aspect which used to pump in the adrenaline through your veins — the engine sound. Sound is one of the essential elements of being a human being because it allows you to receive feedback on what’s happening around you. That’s why we love certain songs more than others and can listen to them for hours and even years later. Or the voice of your beloved ones, etc. Same applies to cars, people go crazy after certain car sounds. Sound creates an emotional bond with us.

The price you pay for a more efficient and “better” future is that all EV sound the same. Not only you lose the character of your car but also increase the chances of an accident. A study done by the University of California Riverside shows that people have to be 74% closer to an EV to hear it coming over a combustion engine. Another study shows that a pedestrian is 40% more likely to be hit by an EV than a combustion engine car — the irony of a better future.

Should we suddenly drop the idea of building EV for a less polluted air? No. But to me, for now, the future of EV looks like they have no character. Of course, not many people pay attention or require that. But we lose the so-called “nostalgia” and emotional bond we have with the car.

.Photo by Ryan Wallace.

How LEGO Almost Ruined Itself

In 1990, LEGO’s sales were declining, and the management team was scared by a research which was showing that Digital Natives (men and women born after 1980) were looking for instant gratification and were easily distractable. Almost every research they did showed them that future generations would lose interest in LEGO and would not have time or ideas to build something complex.

Almost convinced by this, LEGO was considering to make its toys dumber. The idea was to make the LEGO kits simpler and the iconic brick bigger. This way reducing the effort people put in when building something. But, thankfully, after the senior executives visited the homes of their “young users” they realised how wrong they were.

In one house, they talked with an 11-year-old kid about his hobbies and leisure. And they asked the kid what he was most proud of to which he showed them a pair of worn and torn down pair of Adidas sneakers. And at that point the team realised:

“Children attain social currency among their peers by playing and achieving high level of mastery at their chose skill, whatever that skill happens to be. If the skill is worthwile, they will stick with it until they get it right, never mind how long it takes. For kids, it is all about paying their dues and having something tangible to show in the end — in this case a pair of worn Adidas sneakers” — Martin Lindstrom, Small Data

Also, once, a 10 year old proudly showed how he completed his model of Taj Mahal which contained over 5900 bricks. This brings me to the idea that some trends, or what everybody else is doing, is not always the right thing. It comes down to understanding real human nature and your users, and then acting on that. People don’t mind the effort if it is worthwhile.

Can you imagine if the company ever went with the strategy of making their products simpler? You would lose any emotional experience with the product. In their case, the experience is created by the complexity of constructions, the big amount of details, long hours of grind, trial and error until you can get that final result.

Overall, remember that efficiency doesn’t always mean better. Products and services are all about the subconscious emotions or feelings the customer has for your brand. An emotional bond with a product is formed through different aspects. Whether it is through a sense of security, speed, comfort or other aspects.

Before removing the middle man, making your products simpler or adding any other useless features because everybody else is doing it, ask yourself, will it bring any value to my customers? I mean, real value, not illusions. Not on paper through the form of Big Data, but in real life, real homes, with people you see face to face.

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Eugen Eşanu / Founder @

Designer and casual writer. Currently building