two broken windows with six broken panes in each
PHOTO: Matt Artz

“Someday soon, every place and thing in the real world — every street, lamppost, building, and room — will have its full-size digital twin in the mirrorworld,” Kevin Kelly writes for Wired magazine. It may be so. However, we also need a mirrorworld that goes the other way: one that represents the digital world in the physical world.

Imagine if you walked into your office in the morning and you saw four broken windows. Would you just ignore them and go and have your coffee? No. They’d have an impact on you. If you didn’t directly do something about them, you’d at least be likely to mention them to a colleague. And if when you reached your office there was a siren blaring and lights flashing, would you just close your door, put your headphones on, and lock it all out, so that you could concentrate on your work? Or would you wonder: What’s wrong? How can I fix it?

Well, something like this is already happening in the European offices of the Toyota digital team. They have a flying saucer-like orb called Simon that gently glows green when all is well with the various websites they help manage. However, when the page-loading speed begins to slow down on a particular website, Simon begins to change color. As the performance deteriorates, Simon gets redder. A red Simon is not to be ignored. It calls for immediate action. And it gets immediate action.

Toyota are seeking to develop a culture of digital quality matching the quality they have in their factories. “Every month, quality dashboards are circulated in the organization, and every Friday, my entire team has a digital quality meeting,” Karen Peeters, who oversees all digital activities at Toyota European HQ in Brussels, explained. “We recently started an internal awareness campaign entitled ‘Digital quality is everyone’s responsibility,'” Peeters told me as we attend an evening event for Toyota managers. Her phone rang. It was a senior manager at the HQ. Simon was getting red. Calls were made. Action was taken. The problem was fixed. And Simon can have another good night’s sleep.

Imagine if when a content creator opened their computer, a small bowl of virtual fruit appeared. If all the content this creator was responsible for was up-to-date, then the everything would look fresh and the bowl would quickly disappear. However, the staler the content, the uglier and more rotten the fruit would look. And if things were really rotten, then a horrible squelching, rotting noise would be heard, and the bowl would stay longer and longer on the screen. Now, also imagine that the manager who commissioned this content saw an even bigger bowl made up of the bowls of all those reporting to him or her. Would that manager continue demanding the publication of new content as the website sank into utter rottenness?

We don’t get digital. We don’t feel digital. We only experience digital in a very limited, sensorially-deprived way. Every day, I see digital teams accept shoddy customer experiences. These experiences would never, ever be allowed in a physical store or office. We need help to experience what our customers are experiencing. We need to share in some way the pain, frustration and annoyance our customers feel as they give up on our useless search engines, as they are confused by badly-named navigation, incredibly irritating carousels, and jargon-filled content. We also need to share their joy and satisfaction when everything is humming along perfectly. To do this, we need to physicalize the digital, give the experience a concrete shape and form. Every digital team needs a Simon.