Every six weeks or so, it seems this photo (or variants of it) takes over LinkedIn feeds and other places on the internet. The comment threads it generates generally sound something like, “right on!” or “whoop! whoop!” because experience has taught all of us that designers are dumb. They don’t listen. They plow ahead and force us into unnecessary constraints based on theory or their own personal whims.
I design supply chains for a living. So, my reaction to this picture is quite different.
For starters, I see the visual fallacy immediately. The designed path is stone. It would take millions of footsteps before that path shows any sign of wear. Grass? Spring isn’t over before soccer fields become mud flats. So the picture doesn’t actually tell you how many thousands of people use the design – the stone path – versus the handful who’d rather trample a lovely swath of greenery.
In fact, if I was trying to start a pro-designer meme with this picture, I’d swap out “user experience” for “corner cutters”. Because no matter how well designed a thing is – a distribution center, a WMS, a standard operating procedure – someone is going to cut corners.
Almost every operations audit I do has a moment when a VP or director looks at someone who just answered one of my questions and says, “But that isn’t how it’s supposed to be done.” Granted, those moments can reveal a design flaw quietly overcome down on the warehouse floor. However, more often than not, folks are cutting corners because they put their own personal productivity ahead of the efficiency of the system overall.
For example, many warehouses have a day shift doing inbound operations and a night shift handling outbound. As fork drivers spend the day putting product away, they may override the putaway direction given by the WMS. They see the direction and think, “That’ll slow me down. I can get 20 pallets put away in an hour if I do it my way.” What happens at night is not a factor in their thinking. So, that night, when the WMS generates replenishment tasks, those tasks take longer to complete because the day shift put the product away in locations that don’t serve replenishment.
Not only does replenishment productivity suffer, but as the task queue grows, pick slots start running empty. Now, the night shift is chasing down stock and picker productivity falls. It’s a nasty chain of consequences created by a corner cutter with the best of intentions.
How does your company manage the trade-off between proper design and personal preferences when trying to maximize productivity?