A shared Masala Chai :)

Friday Evening

Kabir walked into the meeting room with two cups of tea, some biscuits and chocolate. Yogesh and I were waiting for him as he greeted us with a smile.

“Would you gentlemen like to share a tea with me?”

We hesitated for a second as we just had a hot chocolate drink from the cafeteria.

“This is a very good Masala Chai from the shop around the corner at our office lobby. It is not machine made, the shopkeeper himself makes it on a stove.”

Yogesh ran out to get an empty cup so that we can share and enjoy the tea during the upcoming discussion.

And boy, it tasted great!

As soon as the discussion finished, we ran downstairs to the small shop as its closing time was 5:00PM.

“We are here for the Masala Chai” I announced entering the shop that sells chocolates, snacks, lottery and tobacco products. It doesn’t look like a shop that offers tea, made on order.

The shopkeeper started boiling the milk and Yogesh and I began chatting with him.

“We didn’t know that you are selling tea as well. One of our friends recommended you.”

“Oh, is it? There is a sign right outside the shop that says Tea!”

“Where? We didn’t see it even once — we walk past your shop at least three times a day for the past two weeks!”

“It is right outside — on the front glass.”

I looked near the door and immediately spotted what we UX designers say as “discoverability issue.” There was a white sheet pasted on to the glass with neatly stenciled, all caps alphabets in black color — “Lottery, Chocolates, Noodles…”

Ah, yes! There is a “Tea” sandwiched between “Cigarettes” and a “$2.99” on the signage.

“You see, people won’t notice the ‘Tea’ as it doesn’t stand out on the signage. We are in the design profession and we can help you with the signage” said Yogesh.

I sprang to action.

“Do you have an empty sheet of paper? Any red or green felt pens, Sharpies?”

I was handed a poster with a blank side, a ball point pen and a red colored Sharpie. I began by tracing out a steaming hot tea cup on a saucer. That will be our ‘anchor image’ on the left. ‘Hot Chai Tea’ in all caps served as the masthead. The ‘call to action’ was a bold ‘$2.99.’

The five elements of a poster layout. Yes, we can leave elements behind based on the intent.

Satisfied with my low fidelity design, I handed over the poster to the shopkeeper. He thanked us and we started sipping the piping hot, delicious tea on that Friday evening.

Return of Investment by Design?

We were away from the office on Monday. On Tuesday afternoon I visited the office before my departure to India. On passing the shop, I was thrilled to see the signage on the front glass, on top of the existing one. If you take a look at the shop, you will definitely know about the merchandise on display. Tea was the one and only non-obvious offering and the signage highlighted it. The shopkeeper welcomed me with a smile.

A hand-drawn poster can bring some change!

“Today was a busy day. I sold more than 70 cups of tea!”

“Wow! I was curious to know whether the signage helped you or not. Glad it worked!”

“Hold on, I want to show you a picture.”

Amith, the shopkeeper, took his mobile and started searching for something. My friends were outside the shop urging me to come fast. Amith showed me a photo of an elderly gentleman.

“This is my father who is from India. 27 years ago, he started as a shopkeeper. Whatever you see around me was made possible only because of him.”

I didn’t know how to respond to Amith. I blurted out an ‘all the best’ and joined my friends outside. Once in the car, I started thinking — I should have asked more about his father, from which part of India they are, how Amith convinced the building owners to allow him to sell tea, how many cups of tea he sold in a day previous to the tweak… and heck, I didn’t even ask his full name!

Pay It Forward

On second thoughts, I felt that the chain of action started with the friend who chanced upon a great product. He, while enjoying it, spread the word by praising and sharing it with his circle of influence. Now enters the friend who liked the product and knew exactly what should be done to market it among the target audience. The results confirmed that the direction was right and even a small tweak, like our crude signage, can have a positive effect on people’s lives around us.

In conclusion, I would like to quote Christopher McCandless on this holiday season.

Happiness is only real, when shared.