Tell me a story: Delightful design in an airport

by | Sunday, April 02, 2023

“Design doesn’t need to be delightful for it to work, but that’s like saying food doesn’t need to be tasty to keep us alive” — Frank Chimero

I am always looking for examples of good and bad design in the world around me. Good design is rare, functional and at the same time fills our world with delight and fun. Sadly design that delights is rare, so we must celebrate and treasure it when we find it.

I found an example of delightful design the other day in, of all places, the airport at Eugene, Oregon. I was flying back to Phoenix from a trip there and while walking to my gate I noticed this.

A sign to get a story to go! How intriguing.

On looking closer I learned that this was a machine, set up by the Eugene Public Library, that printed out a story for you, on demand. A great idea to support reading, particularly in an airport, or during a flight, paces where people often have time on their hands to read.

But it was not just the idea but rather its implementation, and attention to detail, that truly impressed me.

The machine is set against a brightly colored wall, painted with a simple cartoon figures akin to illustrations in a children’s book. At the top is an un-missable sign that reads “Take a free story to go.” And at the center of it all is the machine, the actual story dispenser. And getting a story was simple. A nice clean, pretty self-explanatory interface that allowed you to choose a either a local or a global story for children or adults. And the notes also inform you that the stories are printed on recycled paper, speaking to a care for “green” design.

But more than anything it is the thoughtful and whimsical design of the machine that truly sets things apart.

There is a subtle anthropomorphism in the design of the machine, looking, as it does, like a somewhat goofy clown with a silly smile. And of course, once you make the choices, the machine spits out a long strip of paper with the story printed on it. The best part, the printed story emerges from the clown’s mouth — looking quite cutely as if the clown were sticking it’s tongue out at us. How cool is that.

Details in the photos above and below.

Of course I had to print out a couple of stories to read. More important I saw many people stop by and print stories and when sitting near my boarding gate waiting for my flight, I saw a dad reading out one of the stories to his child.

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