Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
Ben Nadel at the New York ColdFusion User Group (May. 2008) with: Clark Valberg and Michael Dinowitz
Ben Nadel at the New York ColdFusion User Group (May. 2008) with: Clark Valberg@clarkvalberg ) and Michael Dinowitz@mdinowitz )

The User Experience (UX) Of Tipping As Personal Expression

By Ben Nadel on

Last summer, I was in the Empire Cake Bakery in Chelsea (across from the Google building), when I noticed something that gave me pause - their Tip jar wasn't just your ordinary tip jar; rather, it was a chance to say something about myself. Unlike a typical tip jar, this jar was divided in two with each side of the tip jar representing a vote for the "Best 4th of July festivity":


 
 
 

 
The UX of tipping - a poll for the best 4th of July festivity.  
 
 
 

From a user experience (UX) standpoint, this tip jar is kind of mind-blowing! It completely changes the conversation. It's no longer about me giving money to the service worker - it's about me expressing my views. In a way, this jumps the shark - there's no question about will I or won't I tip - the only question on the table is, how will this tip be a representation of my personal expression.

In the user experience and interaction world, we often talk about "Gamification". And, in some ways, this bifurcated tip jar is a gamifcation of tipping. But, so much of the gamification in design falls flat because it's cold and mechanical. Part of why this tip jar is so effective is because it's not about what I've done - it's about who I am; it's about what I believe; it's about how I see the world.

It's gamification; but, much more than that, it's personalization - it's expression - it's "me!"

The craziest thing about all of this is, in the time since I've been to the bakery, I've occasionally thought about my next visit. And, not [just] because of the mouth-watering baked goods - I think about what vote I'll get to cast. They've successfully transformed tipping from an obligatory, often guilt-driven task into something that I actually look forward to. And that is what a great user experience is all about.

As a side note, the Empire Bakery makes insanely good Brooklyn Blackout twinkies and Chocolate Coconut snowballs. If you're ever in Chelsea (in New York City), I can't recommend it enough.




Reader Comments

That sounds like a super cool tip jar! I like that idea! Speaking of bakeries, we have an awesome one called "Amelie's", which serves mostly French treats including tarts, tortes, macaroons, and eclairs. I like all desserts, but I do have a special place in my heart for French desserts and foods, because when I was in school, I learned to cook French foods, and there is something special about a lot of the French desserts.

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So... how do you find out the results of each day's tip polls? Seems like a logical sort of way to continue the experience... :)

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@Anna,

You can never go wrong with eclairs :D

@Ron,

Ha ha, good question - I don't think I ever even considered the results :) That would be fun though, to see something posted from the previous week (or what have you) with what won.

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This seems an increasingly common technique in coffee shops in London that I frequent. Recently I've seen:
- which sex is the most generous? Men / Women
- should the man still make the first move, in this day and age? Yes / No
- Pink / Green (confusingly, 'pink' written on green paper, and vice versa)

and another one had two options for holiday destination funded by tips (I forget the options)

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Number 1, why has tipping spread to shop assistants? Firms should pay a decent wage and end this begging. Is coffee not expensive enough yet?

Number 2 - why should I care what a bakery customer base thinks about an issue? Is it generalizable to the Village, the borough, the five boroughs, or NY State? Of course not. This technique is manipulative, and designed to sell customers on paying money to express their views on nebulous topics.

Number 3. Does every purchase have to be an opportunity for 'personal expression'? Can't we just get our darn coffee in peace without it being some kind of personal/political statement about who we are or aspire to be?

Sorry to be the grump in the room, but I am more than tired of the constant hard-sell in just about every facet of daily life, whether the advert sticker over the news headlines in my paper, or the charity solicitation at the supermarket checkout, or the homeless man delaying traffic at the lights, or the waiter trying to upsell my order, or the products flashed during movies I already paid to see, or the intrusive corporate inquiries about my fitness routines, and so on. I don't think buying to-go food and drink calls for any kind of tip, and want society to head towards paying fair wages, not towards having staff scrounging off customers and calling it engagement, or personal expression.

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@Ian,

No need to apologize for being grumpy about it. Tipping, or so I am told, is out of control here (the US) when compared to many other countries abroad. And, I agree - people should just be paid better wages. The fact that employees can pay "tip earning" employees less is disgusting - I have no idea how those regulations came about.

But, more than anything, I'm just impressed that the UX of this particular interaction was able to turn an often negative experience (as you have very well articulated) into something that I actually felt was a positive experience. Is it manipulative? Sure, I'll grant that. But, so much of user experience work revolves around crafting a positive experience, which is where I was trying to consider it.

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@Duncan,

Oh cool, that's a good one, although, albeit nonsensical ;) But even so, I find just looking at that makes me want to participate. It's such a strong UX.

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