Memory Points

Witold Rybczynski’s most recent book Last Harvest is an overview of traditional neighborhood development (TND) in Pennsylvania. For me, Rybczynski’s architectural writings often contain oblique insights into interaction design but in this case I think there are some parallels to service design worth exploring.

One of the themes running through the book concerns the messy process of co-creation. Rybczynski follows the developers as they work with the township to negotiate a plan for New Daleville and then wrangle the builders as they interpret the plan.

Another idea that jumped out at me from late in the book is the concept of “memory points.”

The basement is furnished as a game room, with a trio of framed Indiana Jones movie posters and a large sectional couch facing a television cabinet. Beside the sitting area is a baize-covered pool table with racked-up balls. Like the long, built-in, granite-topped bar [in the kitchen], it is what model-home decorators call a memory point, a dramatic feature that is intended to catch visitor’ attention and differentiate this from other model homes they may see while house hunting.

As a special class of touchpoint, the concept of memory points seems particularly applicable to experience design, where the goal is to delineate a memorable event. It’s easy to think of extravagent memory points: things like the animatronic band at Showbiz Pizza or the fantastically odd underground passage to the United terminal at O’hare airport. But memory points can be more subtle. Less dramatic examples might be the offhand quips from the flight attendants on Frontier airlines or the chilled bottles of water on the shuttle to Enterprise Rent-a-car in the summer. Even the clichéd mints on your pillow once qualified.

One of my favorite unintentional examples is from the Muni subway here in San Francisco. Most of the stations along Market Street look exactly the same, but there’s an old clarinet player who’s always at the Montgomery Street station in the mornings playing for tips. It brightens my day when I hear his music as I’m riding up the escalator.

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