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Witness The Crazy Miracle Of 2-Day Shipping

We’re desensitized to the splendor of nearly-instant shipping, but a new tool from FedEx visualizes its immense complexity.

Witness The Crazy Miracle Of 2-Day Shipping
[Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images]

“Everything is amazing, and nobody is happy,” ranted Louis CK in a now immortalized Conan segment about the wonders of technology. Nowhere is this more clear than Amazon Prime two-day shipping. Now we expect those $4.50 macadamia nuts to show up at our door, shipped from anywhere in the world, rain or shine, in 48 hours. For, basically, free.

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That may be a small problem if you are Amazon, but it’s a very large problem if you are FedEx–because you essentially sell shipping. Your service, however valuable and necessary, has been cheapened in the public eye. Which is likely why FedEx has released a quirky new project called FedEx Soundtrack.

See the interactive visualization here. [Image: FedEx]
You put in your tracking number, and the new site doesn’t just update you on your order with its location in transit. It really tracks the thing. You see the incredible journey: The thousands of miles your package has flown across multiple flights, and the hundreds of miles it might travel in a semi and then delivery truck, to get to you in a matter of days. These paths set fire across the country in the visualization, as if your package is a mysterious comet. The system also composes a custom musical score for the journey; a trip charting Chicago to San Francisco will mix the Windy City’s famous blues with Silicon Valley’s fitting caricature of EDM. It’s basically pixel candy that makes your delivery all the sweeter.

But . . . it’s pretty silly, isn’t it? Is this tool going to save FedEx, should Amazon continue to recruit talent from UPS and build its own network of same-day, local deliveries? No. However, it is a fascinating antidote to the interface design of today, in which everything from hailing a car to scoring a legal weed prescription is so darn streamlined that we forget all of the logistics at work under the hood. And it prompts the question: Is there some value in adding more complex information to a UI, in order to convey the complexity of the product–or even just entertain users?

See the interactive visualization here. [Image: FedEx]
So maybe the next step for FedEx shouldn’t just be to share this visualizer around, hoping it goes reasonably viral. It should be to lift its best ideas, and build them into its existing user-facing shipping portals. Because maybe that way, customers would appreciate FedEx more for what it is: Billions of dollars in manpower and machinery, moving at incredible speeds with incredible reliability. And all because, on a whim, you thought a handful of nuts from Hawaii would really spice up your next batch of Chex Mix.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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