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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Is it Trendy to be Confusing, or Confusing to be Trendy?


I was at a relatively "chi-chi" restaurant a few day ago when I had to go to the bathroom. I walked over to the bathroom area, looked at the two doors before me, and paused. I wasn't 100% sure which one was for men and which one was for women. There were symbols on the doors, but it took me a second to realize that the symbols were ornate versions of "M" and "W" (I went into the "M", thank you very much).

This restaurant wasn't so bad, but it did remind me of a place I know that distinguishes the mens and ladies room with semi-human but rather odd looking figures. The only real clues as to which is male and which is female is that the female one seems to have a wider lower half, as if wearing a skirt. Still, not very clear. It's an awkward feeling standing outside of a public restroom waiting for someone to come out just so you can confirm which is the men's room. Thank goodness most jurisdictions are soft on loitering laws...

The worst case was a few years ago in a very upscale restaurant/club in New York. I walk down to the bathroom and could not for the life of me decipher the bathroom door signs. I tried waiting for someone to come out of a door, or for someone more "in the know" to go in to one of the doors, but to no avail. And time was running short, 'cause I had to go, if you know what I mean. For some reason, one of the doors just felt more masculine. Not sure how a door can feel "masculine" but this one did. I couldn't for the life of me relate to you why I chose that one, but I held my breath, turned the handle, and walked in.

The bathroom was empty; no men or women in it. This could be a good thing, because if I was in the wrong one then no one knew. But I still had no confirmation. Then I look around and see no urinals. An ordinary person might believe that they were in the ladies room. However, there was something else...

One section of the wall was one of those "waterfall display" things where the entire wall was a sheet of water flowing down from floor to ceiling. Hmmm, I thought, that may very well be a trendy urinal. So, sure enough, I did my business in the waterfall urinal.

The funky signs, weird symbols, and crazy urinals may all be very trendy, but they are also very confusing. To this day I still don't know if I used the restroom properly or accidentally defiled a piece of art. Though as I left the bathroom a woman came out of the other door, so I am pretty sure I was in the right room. Or we were both totally confused. Trendy and clever is great, but I think you need to careful with it. Is a restaurant less trendy if it makes it clear which restroom is for men and which is for women? I don't think so.

There is a place for trendy and clever and there is a place for clear and concise. Make sure you know which is which:

If you are in marketing or advertising, are you making the benefits of your product clear (or getting too caught up in cleverness)?

If you are in sales, are you being clear about what you want the prospect to do next and making it easy to buy?

If you are in leadership, are you clear with your people about what you expect from them?

Clever has its place. But make sure you are not getting in the way of your own success by confusing people. Otherwise someone may end up peeing in your art...

1 comment:

Jeff Porten said...

You know, I've used the "where's the urinal" trick for years, but to date I have never pissed in a fountain. One more for the lifetime to-do list.