how-to

How to design an experience that shapes emotions by directing the story of people’s lives

When you design an experience on the web or mobile, do you think your job is to organize visual elements in space and across different pages to convey cool features in a way people understand, use and find what they are looking for?

In my opinion, this is not enough. It sure works, and you can deliver a good experience, but to turn what’s good in something extraordinary you will rely on serendipity if you go this way.

Some would think I’m leaving usability aside. I would say usability is a must have, but it does not deliver “WOW”.

We all, in a minor or major level, got used and learned to live in a world of errors and mistakes. Inevitably we got tolerant, and sometimes we can even be surprised by the fact that something works well. Unfortunately, if the key benefit of what you are offering is “It works well”, it won’t last long. In fact, it will probably be perceived as a key benefit if you have nothing else to offer and neither does competition.

“WOW” comes from the heart. If you want to evoke it, you have to talk to people’s feelings.
Here is my “How-to” to design experiences that talk to the heart:

1. Internalize that each interaction round - a refresh of a new page or interface element for example - in your experience is a big chance people have to leave. People leave to another site, to another device, to the book on the table or to eat something. You have to be paranoid about not letting people get out of flow.

2. Understand Immersion and Flow. It is not a property of the system, nor a property of the subject being discussed. It is a state of mind. Flow is when time stops and you are one with the experience you are having. It is your goal to maintain the user in permanent flow. More on that here.

3. In order to produce flow you have to bring excitement, exceed expectations and deliver clear benefits in every single interaction round of the experience. Excitement is a peak and loses power in time. In order to maintain it high, it must be constantly pushed.

4. Be a movie director. Shape the way people feel in each round, in each minute. The interaction of a user with your system is like conveying a story through the big screen of the cinema. The good movies make the audience feel as if they were in the main character shoes instead of just showing that someone in the story feels like that.

5. Surprise with accurate timing. Just like a stand-up comedian tells stories in a way each word has a specific tone and an accurate timing in order to produce humor. Just like Seinfeld has the ability of surprising in almost every phrase he says, you must as well surprise the user in every interaction round.

You can think like that when designing a website, a keynote presentation, packaging or a corporate identity. You can also think like that in architecture, interior design or when putting up an event. It’s a design approach, not a solution to a specific problem.

If you take a close look at the experience of opening up an Apple package, every action you take to find what’s in the box surprises you. Either because the most insignificant pieces - like a cable - are made awesome or because it has something nice and somehow epic written showing up exactly after you take each piece out of the box.

Following these steps you will be directing the life experience of someone that connects to your service, product or brand. In that moment, you will be making people’s life better as well, for a life of engagement brings happiness to anyone.

03 10.2008 • •
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