Seduced by Appearances

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Which would you trust more? A flashy web site written by a 14-year-old, or a book written by someone with a PhD, checked by someone else with a PhD, and published by a publisher whose logo says they were founded in 1793? How about this: a high-tech library, full of brand-new computers, everything squeaky clean, but with hardly any actual books — or a dusty old library stuffed to the ceilings with books, ancient and modern?

Tough call? Here’s another. You book a driving lesson with a local driving school, and when the time comes for the first lesson, a brand-new Ford Fiesta pulls up outside your house, covered with logos and L-plates, but with an instructor who looks about a year older than you. Confident? Or would you prefer a middle-aged instructor, possibly wearing a chunky jumper and glasses? How about a driving instructor with prison tattoos and a pony tail?

We often judge people and objects by appearances. Antiques are supposed to look, you know, old. New gadgets are supposed to be shiny and intriguing. Most of us probably feel safer if the driver of the car isn’t wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, and checking his look in the rear view mirror every two minutes.

In the good old days, when you opened your first bank account, often the place you turned to first was the bank your parents had been using for 20 years or so. There might have been a long-term relationship between your family and the local branch. (My wife’s bank manager in France knows loads about her and her family.) But in the internet age, we’re always being encouraged to look for the best deal. We choose banks at several removes from our local circumstances. We look at bank web sites and choose the bank because we like the logo, the site design, the look-and-feel of the thing.

First Direct are all about black and white, right? Barclays are cool blue; Natwest have their own, distinctive, font; Egg go for a distinctive green, and their logo on their credit card is at a jaunty angle – it looks cool.

I could go on.

In The Guardian yesterday, Naomi Alderman writes about how she was seduced by the web site of the Icelandic bank IceSave, which made other banks look “clunky and old-fashioned.”

The site has fast response times and is laid out intuitively, with a helpful and extensive list of FAQs and an easy to find Contact Us button which leads to an actual telephone number, rather than funnelling me to an online feedback system. Yes, IceSave’s website is a model of customer-friendly design; it’s a pity they don’t have any money left

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One thought on “Seduced by Appearances

  1. The Josh

    This is really good Dr. M; something we can all relate to. But then I think: did I only enjoy it because of the cool, spirally, colourful, ribbon-y things in your background?
    Never mind, I’m just going to turn off my shiny, glossy iPod touch, make a cash withdrawal from that bank with the really cool cards, you know, with that really cool blue colour, Barclays I think, and invest it all in that really cool Icelandic bank called, um, oh I can’t remember the name, but the one with the really seductive website…

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