Designing for the Extremes

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Having worked in Customer Support for some time now, I’ve become quite obsessed with customer experience.

I’m the nerd that notices bugs in software I use on a daily basis. I also make a mental note of both confusing and delightful user interfaces. I get frustrated when buttons I expect to do one thing do something different entirely.

I pay attention to these things because they matter…a lot. As we’ve talked about before, there are far too many options available for customers to choose from. If your product experience sucks, it’s really easy to find a replacement. Boom – you’ve lost a user forever.

On the flip side, I also think there are a ton of quick wins that instantly upgrade the experience and win over customers with little time investment. The language you use in copy, the way in which you highlight key actions within your product, the accessibility of your contact options – they all play a huge role in delighting the people that pay your bills.

On a recent episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast, I was re-introduced to a thought exercise from Brian Chesky of Airbnb – designing for the extremes.

Designing for the Extremes

The exercise of designing for the extremes is pretty simple. You start with describing what your customers would rate as a 1-star experience. Then, you describe a 2-star and so on and so forth until you get to 10 or 11 stars – an over the top, unbelievable experience.

For Airbnb, Brian described it as something like this (abbreviated):

  • 1-star: You show up, and no one answers the door. You’re never using Airbnb again.
  • 5-star: You show up. The host lets you in. The place is pretty average. You’re happy, but the experience isn’t remarkable.
  • 10-star: You show up. The host lets you in and hands you a gift basket filled with local treats. They’ve made dinner reservations for you at the best spot in town. Also, since they know you like surfing, they’ve scheduled lessons for you, and you have a surfboard waiting in the garage.
  • 11-star: You fly on a private airplane. The host meets you with a limo at the airport and introduces you to Elon Musk. The three of you go into space.

Brian drives home the point of the exercise:

There’s some sweet spot between they showed up and they opened the door and I went to space…You have to almost design the extreme to come backwards.

Brian Chesky, Airbnb

The point is not that you should shoot for an 11-star experience. It’s that somewhere along the way, there’s a sweet spot. By thinking about what an 11-star experience looks like, you can work backwards and find the feasible pieces that blow customers out of the water without needing to go to space.

A Practical Application

Much of this customer experience thinking bleeds over into my role at CrossFit Undeniable, tinkering with what new and existing members experience. Here’s a way I think through this exercise of designing the extremes in the context of a physical business.


You come to try out a workout. Our schedule says there’s a workout at 4:30PM. No one is there, and the door is locked. You leave and never come back.


You hop into a free workout. The coach comes over to meet you. They start the workout, but you feel slightly confused on what you should be dong. After all, you’re new – you haven’t heard of these exercises before! The workout isn’t scaled to your fitness level so you end up nauseous halfway through. No one follows up with you after class, and you leave.


You join a free workout. The coach meets you before class and gives you a tour of the gym. At the start of class, they introduce you to the other members, and everyone introduces themselves. You feel welcome!

The coach scales the workout to meet your fitness level and spends some time making sure you understand the exercises prior to the workout starting. During the workout, you get two or three cues to improve your form (even addressing you by name!).

After the workout, the coach follows up to see how you enjoyed it and invites you to drop-in a few more times.

—You get the idea. Skipping ahead! 🙌


You visit our website and click a button to try a class. We ask you a question or two about your background. When you show up to the gym, the coach already knows you’re coming, and they know your goals and past workout history. They show you around the gym, and what do ya know – your favorite song is playing!

Since we know a bit about your interests and goals, you’re introduced to 2-3 specific members that share your interests, and you immediately hit it off. It’s like talking to old friends!

During the workout, everything goes smoothly. It’s almost like you get a one-on-one training experience. The coach is attentive and makes sure you know exactly what you should be doing. Everyone is cheering you on by name. You feel incredibly supported.

After the workout, you get handed a water and a FitAid, on the house of course. The coach meets with you one-on-one to discuss your goals and what you’re ideally looking for in a CrossFit gym. You feel so heard and understood. They set out a specific plan moving forward to address your goals. Oh, and they offer to go shopping with you later this week to help you make better food choices in the grocery store.

Later that evening, some of the new friends you met earlier invite you over for dinner, and it’s fantastic. You feel like this is a perfect fit. Everyone is supportive and friendly; you feel heard; you have a plan moving forward to accomplish your goals. It just works.


You show up at the gym and Rich Froning and Mat Fraser lead you through a workout. You’re invited to sit front row at the CrossFit Games, flying out in a private jet and staying at a luxury hotel. While you’re there, you’ll have individual appointments with the top trainers to set up a customized plan that fits exactly what you’re looking for. Oh, and there’s a box of Rebook gear – it’s for you.

Somewhere between the door being locked and the 10-star experience is something that will delight members and build a great community. The key is identifying those things and doubling down to do them well.

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