When it comes to the best user experience (UX) practices, there are various places we can learn from. In my opinion, some of the best examples of great UX can be seen in the way an authentic sushi chef serves their customers.
Sushi is not just another type of meal. The whole process, from preparing the sushi to serving and eating it, gives you the ultimate experience. Though most Japanese or Sushi restaurants in the U.S. are not considered “authentic,” there are a few places in the metropolitan areas that offer a real sushi experience.
Types of Sushi Restaurants
There are two distinct types of Sushi restaurants.
The first one is where you get your sushi plates on a moving rail. The rail is semi-automated, so you pick up the ones you like. With this style restaurant, you rarely talk to the chef as they may be too busy making sushi.
The second type is what we call a “sushi bar.” The head chef tries to deliver the best experience to the customers by personalizing the experience. Even if you do not know what to order, the chef will find out what would suit your preferences through conversation.
It is completely normal that sushi bars don’t have menus because every meal is catered to each customer. It is the chef’s job to figure out each customer’s preferences and deliver the most optimized UX. And the best part is everyone can get a completely different experience for the same price.
We, designers, have a lot to learn from sushi chefs and the experience they deliver to their customers.
6 UX pointers we can take away from sushi chefs
Let’s find out how sushi chefs deliver the best UX to customers.
1. Ultimate Simplicity
As simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication, we can provide a more sophisticated experience that meets the user’s purpose by reducing unnecessary elements when we design.
The simpler the design, the more difficult it is, and the higher the required skill level will be. Like in the field of design, the simpler the cooking experience, the more difficult it becomes, and the higher the required skill level becomes.
I think the greatest thing about sushi is its simplicity. In order to maximize all the ingredients, the sushi chef prepares the dishes by eliminating as many excessive ingredients as he can in order to get the most out of the fresh fish.
When designing, you will be able to provide a more refined experience that is more user-friendly by minimizing unnecessary elements.
2. Story Development
I heard that Google recently started banning staff from using presentation slides filled with text. Instead, it is encouraged present through storytelling because it is easier to understand and remember stories rather than numbers and facts.
Disney has also advocated their design teams to “make an idea a story” and “tell each story one by one.”
In UX design, including a story into the process can create a deeper experience.
Sushi has its stories as well. Behind every element at the sushi restaurant, there is a hidden historical background, which is one of the reasons why sushi attracts many fans. From the hardware aspects of the store layout to the kitchen knives used for filleting fish, hot water cups, craftsman’s clothes, etc., a story is hidden in each of the materials, such as the sushi ingredients, wasabi, and cooking method.
It makes eating sushi such an enjoyable dining experience. The whole flow of eating sushi itself becomes one story.
3. Attention to Detail
Attention to detail is common in design. Steve Jobs was insanely particular on every single detail of Apple products. This level of attention to detail is common among sushi chefs.
I don’t think there’s any meal as detailed as sushi in the world. Sushi chefs are particular about the details so that they can provide the best experience. It starts with the selection of materials at the time of procurement. The chef makes every effort to increase customer satisfaction, such as judging which part should be handled and how, adjusting the temperature, getting the right amount of shari (sushi rice), thinking of the order of when each item should be provided, and the timing.
“The devil is in the detail” is considered normal in the field of professional such experience. UX designers also should have the mindset to pursue details.
What separates a good UX designer from a great one is the ability to judge which parts of the design to keep and which should be adjusted for local users. This is why understanding the needs of the customer and making the most of the given limits is important. This is the first step in design thinking, a process called “empathy”.
One reason why sushi has gained citizenship in the global market is that it’s flexible. In sushi culture, localization is always welcomed to adjust to local user tastes and adopt local materials. Therefore, we see that authentic sushi is accepted by customers because of its long history and localized sushi is accepted because sushi culture is flexible.
For example, at Kusakabe, one of San Francisco’s best sushi restaurants I’ve visited, the rice is a little pinkish. According to Ita-san (the head chef), considering the tastes of American customers and local ingredients, he found that using wine vinegar instead of regular sushi vinegar would make their sushi more delicious to the customers.
One of the real pleasures of enjoying sushi at the counter is the presentation by the craftsman in front of you. It is as entertaining as watching a magic show. And the color and shape of the sushi offered are as if they offer a piece of art. Such a chef is not only an excellent craftsman, he is also a professional entertainer.
The presentation method is slightly different for each chef, each one has a different way to get the customer’s heart. Some craftsmen attract customers with quiet zen movements, while others surprise customers with dynamic movements and the use of flames.
The god of presentation, Steve Jobs, had a huge affection for the presentation ability of a sushi chef.
In the world of design, as much as what is delivered is important, how it is delivered is a factor that determines whether or not it will catch the user’s heart.
6. Hidden Surprises
One more thing a UX Designer can learn from such a chef is the concept of hidden elements. Everything from a subtle touch of wasabi hidden in-between the fish and rice to the edible chrysanthemum scattered in soy sauce to a souvenir sushi box that is passed casually on the way back make customers extra happy.
This is the spirit of hospitality. We all can apply the spirit of hospitality when designing your user experience.
Next time you go to a sushi restaurant, pay attention to every single element and see what you find.
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