At the outset, I should acknowledge that I’m not really a fashion person. My basic aspiration, when it comes to putting on clothes is to be warm/not naked, and in cases of more formal/professional events, to achieve appropriate. Happily, I have created a professional life – as one of the nation’s thought-leaders on recess – which makes very few demands on me in this area. The only problem, really, is that roughly 2-3 times each month, I am asked to attend an event where some level of effort is required AND, not infrequently at said events, people take my picture and post on social media. As a result, there are lots of pictures of me at various events, all wearing the same thing.
So I decided to try Rent the Runway. I think it’s fair to say that pretty much everyone who knows me found this to be almost unbelievable. But I went for it, and to make it more fun, I decided to approach it like a design experiment. I chose to make my first test in conjunction with a trip to Washington, DC for an event where I was speaking, but that was pretty low stakes. I jumped in the way I would on any prototype, taking notes, capturing the various steps through artifacts and pictures, and gathering information through interviews and other research.
I stay with my parents when I travel to DC, so I mentioned my experiment to my mother. Much to my surprise, my mother had very strong feelings about Rent the Runway, based almost exclusively on her reading of this article in the Daily Beast (and raising all sort of questions, including ‘my mother reads the Daily Beast?’). I reminded myself that the whole thing was a prototype, made note of my mother’s feelings, and continued on.
Once in DC, I made my way to the brick and mortar store in Georgetown, where I elected to take my dress back to my parents’ home to try it on as opposed to using the on-site dressing rooms. I suppose it would have been easier to return, had I not been happy with my selection, but I was I definitely happier and more comfortable trying the dress on in the natural lighting of my childhood bedroom. Go figure.
Pleased with the fit – and the dress – I asked my mom to take a picture of me for the prototyping process. “Why, exactly, do you want me to take your picture?” my mother inquired. I explained the idea of capturing the process as a part of prototyping the design, and my mom’s enthusiasm was an almost immediate confirmation of just how human a capacity design really is. Just like play and storytelling, I thought, we are born to design.
The dress received compliments, I ended up buying my first pair of Spanx (worthy of a whole different prototype, and the RTR folks should definitely get in the supportive undergarment upselling business), but I’d say the biggest win of my Rent the Runway experiment, was bringing my parents into the process.
My mother had read – in the aforementioned Daily Beast article - that the return was with UPS and not the regular post, a fact that I had somehow missed. There were more photos taken post-event – mostly of me looking unspeakably relieved to be back in jeans. And then my Dad wanted in on the prototype. He announced that he would walk the mail-able garment bag up to the UPS store as his walk for the day. More photos were taken. My mother ended up going with Dad to the UPS store and documented Dad dropping it off. Less than 10 hours later I received an email from the RTR folks that they had received my dress. Well, actually, their dress.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about organizational experience design lately, mostly as it relates to work culture. I am convinced that organizational experiences are more likely to be effective/healthy/successful when they emphasize human capacities. Along this same line of thinking, I believe that my experience of Rent the Runway was a pleasant one precisely because I treated it as a design experiment. The whole experience was a prototype, so whatever happened was going to be OK. And my parents played along – they became a part of the story, they became a part of the designed experience itself.
Undoubtedly, one could become completely obnoxious in bringing design into all aspects of family life, but my experience with Rent the Runway and my parents did make me wonder about how much angst could be spared if families brought a light-touch design sensibility to holiday dinners, weddings, vacations or even morning rituals around getting out of the house. As much as anything, I came away from my Rent the Runway experience appreciative of the chance it gave me to play with my parents.
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