Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Shops: how do they work?

I don't get how shops work.

For instance, I got some takeaway for lunch yesterday.  But I only actually managed to get it because a friend was with me and showed me where to order, and reassured me that they did actually do takeaway because I wasn't convinced. It didn't look like they did, and it didn't say anywhere that they did, but apparently they did and my (NT) friend just knew this somehow.  Probably through the same telepathy they use to work out who's friendly and who's an axe murderer, and whether to veer left or right when there's a person coming towards them in a supermarket aisle.

[Grand Grocery Co.], Lincoln, Neb.  (LOC)
And this place has a display of potatoes in the doorway.  What the hell is that about?  How do I get in? Is that even a door? Is the door somewhere else? EXPLAIN YOURSELF, SHOP

I used to think this was just because particular shops were badly designed or had inadequate signage.  But I'm starting to realise that every single shop in the land can't have been laid out wrongly, so maybe it's me after all.

If it's a really obvious layout - your standard supermarket aisles-and-checkouts, or a corner shop with stuff on shelves and a counter at one end with the smokes behind it - I'm fine.  But if things aren't totally self-explanatory, I get really badly ballsed up really easily.

For instance, I went to a shindig at an arts centre in town on the weekend.  The whole purpose of the event was that you could go wandering through this ginormous three-storey sandstone warehouse affair and check out all the arts groups and assorted culture vultures who had studios there.  But the minute I got through the front doors, I couldn't work out where to go.  The path that seemed obvious to me led straight out the back door into the loading dock.  Apparently all the interesting stuff was up the stairs, but to me the stairs looked like they just went to the staff loos.  I climbed them (after my detour to the loading bay) expecting someone wearing complicated spectacles and a black roll-neck to appear and shout at me at any moment.  I felt like I was intruding. 

The more I think about it, the more I realise this is A Thing with me.  There's a fruit and veg shop in Bundaberg that's apparently quite good, but I never went there because I thought it was some sort of wholesale industrial turn-out where you'd go to buy onions or potatoes in forty kilo sacks.  Nothing about it said "open to the public".  Not to me anyway.  I've gone to the wrong counter or through the wrong door enough times to have developed a bit of a complex about it.

How does a person manage to be in their fourth decade on this planet and not know how shops work?

It's like the whole "can't read body language" thing doesn't just apply to people, but to stuff as well.  I can't 'read' a building or a shop any more than I can 'read' a person.

But more to the point, what to do about it?  It's lovely to have someone to tag along with, so I can take my cues from them, but I can't always have Friend with me.

Clear signage would be a massive help.  For instance, at the arts shindig a sign pointing up the stairs saying "this way to the stuff you're here to see" would have saved me a trip to the loading bay.  Signs saying "pay here" or "order at other counter" might not fit with the chic, stylish look a lot of places are going for these days, but they'd make those places much, much easier to navigate.

4 comments:

  1. Had trouble with the veer-right-or-left problem until early teens, when a helpful mother-type lady clued me in a little. We were on a collision course at a railroad station, she saw me vibrating between going right or left, and she sang out (you know the motherly singing command voice?) "keep to the right!" I took that on as a rule, and it has served me well. Not everyone is operating on this rule, but it seems to work way more than half the time.

    It's not a hard-and-fast rule (what is?). The main thing, I'm sure, is to set a course and stick to it. It's the vacillating that really creates a hazard to navigation.

    I suppose in Britain 'keep to the left' might be the better default?

    As for shops and things, I think the design pros that work for larger corporations are quite good at solving the problems you mention, the problem is smaller/independent places set-up by folks not schooled in this area. I think the usual NT way of coping is to find someone at the place and chat-them-up until you know all the local ins-and-outs. Helps to keep in mind that those responsible are NOT actually trying to make things hard for 'outsiders,' they are just clueless.

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    1. Good point - the big corporate places no doubt have a whole department whose job it is to make sure you get from front door to checkout efficiently (and that you pick up lots of extra stuff you don't need on your way through!) But the little guys just have their own common sense to rely on. And if there's one thing I know about common sense... it's not that common! :)

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  2. I could barely finish reading that post as that first paragraph had my ROFLMAO uncontrollably! I still have yet to master the left right dance avoidance Ack! Nice blog btw.

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