Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
New Ideas
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments Posted 09.09.09 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Alexandra Lange

Grounded



“Happy Feet,”
the reliably funny Alexandra Jacobs’s feature on Zappos in the latest New Yorker was not at all what I was expecting. I can’t tell if the story is what she was expecting either. I thought it would be about online shopping: how shoes, as a category, have triumphed over our fear of not being able to try things on. I knew there would be a Sex and the City reference (James Urbaniak plays the creepiest shoe salesman). I thought there might be some trend-spotting (the ascendant oxford, for example, makes an appearance in the profile of Kelly Wearstler in the same issue). Instead, it is a business story, one which reveals the company’s truly weird corporate culture originating with 35-year-old CEO Tony Hsieh. Real-live-person customer service is a plus, but perhaps not when cheerfulness is a ten-point mandate, soon to be repackaged as the path to Happiness.

It also failed to address my burning question: Why is Zappos so ugly? I was recently criticized for using that word in an architecture review (see second-to-last comment), but I know no other to describe the site. Take a look at the current home page, festooned with boxes, lists, buttons and unattractive photos, everything hot-linked. So many words. So much scrolling. It is hard to see the shoes for the text. I have never ordered anything from Zappos and the eye-assault of the website has a lot to do with it. (Also the fact that they rarely have the best price.) When I shop I like a clean zone around the object of my potential affection and Zappos made the shoes look less rather than more attractive to me, squeezing them over to the side until a recent revamp (page above is from 2008). My husband thinks I may be insulting the Greeks if I add that the word Zappos itself has a flimsy feel better suited to a hot dog stand on a boardwalk. The New Yorker says it is a made-up word derived from the Spanish for shoes, zapato, but I always thought it was from zap, for fast.

Zappos’s rivals all feature much cleaner web design (and indeed, new-model Zappos seems to be imitating them) but each suffers from other interface problems. Only Zappos groups all the different colors of the same shoe in one place. On shoes.com and piperlime.com you might never know, if you don’t keep clicking through the grids of shoes, that that wedge comes in patent as well as snakeskin. I wish they all had more refined pricing widgets, breaking it down in smaller increments and would not trumpet the percentage off louder than the actual price. At shoes.com the whole top of your screen gets filled with a line-up of the most popular shoes, something I am never interested in.

Jacobs rightly points out how inexplicable the name Piper Lime is, but it works for me. Piper is a currently trendy little-girl name, symbol of the reproductive aspirations of thirtysomething women who might be shopping for shoes. Lime is perky, zesty and gives the company a rationale for a nice slice logo and citrus shoe packaging. Piperlime.com was my favorite of the sites because it mimicked the clean design of the Gap site and stores before everything had to be Flash and fashionable. Their photography is still the best. But it too has become cluttered with other products, other suggestions. Is this one of WNYC’s uncommon economic indicators? Just as stores try to pack in more merchandise and place more sale signs out front, the shoe websites are trying to add accessories and offers, manifestations of desperation. Don’t they know by now that more looks cheap and we buy shoes to look better off?

|
Share This Story

Comments

Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
Read Complete Comments Policy >>


Name             

Email address 




Please type the text shown in the graphic.


|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandra Lange is an architecture and design critic, and author of Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in The Architect's Newspaper, Architectural Record, Dwell, Metropolis, Print, New York Magazine and The New York Times.
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Alexandra Lange

Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012

Design Research
Chronicle Books, 2010

More books by contributors >>

RELATED POSTS


You’ll Never Guess the Amazing Ways Online Design Writing and Criticism Has Changed
A call to support better desgn journalism.

Premature Demolition
The Folk Art Museum, David Adjaye's market hall, and the first addition to the Morgan Library. If three makes a trend, then premature demolition qualifies.

Why Tatlin Can Never Go Home Again
Raoul Hausmann’s photomontage Tatlin at Home is much pinned on Pinterest, but what has become of the original?

The Compulsively Visual World of Pinterest
I have always liked Pinterest’s exclusively visual focus and unlimited boards structure. A week ago I joined.

Year of the Women
A year-end wrap-up of my favorite stories. The common theme? Women and the making of design.