Designing for Emotions: Happiness Lives In Anticipation, Recollection and Memories

Design
05 October 2015

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The other day I was catching up at some of my favorite places on the web (other than abusing the buy with 1-click button on Amazon and overdosing on Kawehi and random Swedish hiphop videos on Vimeo) and happened upon two unrelated articles on FastCo regarding happiness. You can find them here and here. They talk about how to design for happiness and the science of why experiences consistently make us happier than things. More wine tastings in Napa, less Apple watches.

After getting my face melted for half an hour I realized the articles are vastly different but when you scratch the surface they say the same thing. It made me think (I know, somewhere hell just froze over) about how the intangibles of designing for happiness really changes our lives. The problem is that while we are busy nailing down the perfect experience and the technology to support it we are missing huge opportunities in that squishy grey area of emotion and happiness around design and experience. Anticipation. Recollection. Feeling special. But what I love most about these articles is that what is usually dismissed as “squishy”, “emotional” and “Pernilla shut up already” is actually brain science. And I am all about the science.

"We make our decisions in terms of our memories"

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel winning psychologist

The very basic notion is that our happiness is less about what thing we have or the exact customer experience but the recollection of said experience, the anticipation of it, how we remember it. If you pull a muscle in your back, your back will seem to hurt but in reality your back doesn’t hurt. The pain is in your brain. It’s the same thing with an experience that produces happiness. That experience is not what happens when you walk through a seamlessly designed checkout process (more on that and HumanUnlimited later) or buy that perfect pair of shoes. It’s the anticipation of receiving it. The memory you have of it. The emotion it brings up when you recall it. And tell others about it.

As Randall Stone and Dan Clay points out “Happiness is as much about how we look forward to and look back on an event as it is about the event itself.” When we focus on designing for the before and afters of an experience we ensure a higher emotive response. Stone and Clay (love that writing combo) sums the real world steps we can take as:

  1. Tease –Think Movie Previews and Trailers
  2. Tempt – Highlight the promise of an experience. Ex: Universal’s website has a digital Harry Potter experience before the actual attraction was open
  3. Make it Special – A limited and special experience. Rephrasing something mundane into something fun (A business trip being a promise of a lovely nights sleep at a certain hotel chain.)
  4. Surprise – Give the customer something great they don’t expect.
  5. Crescendo – Endings are important and dominate recollection. Make the last impression with your brand memorable.
  6. Displace – Venting is overrated. Don’t make customers rehash a bad experience, listen and replace it with something good. Like the Southwest captain that bought pizza to passengers stuck on the tarmac.

These tenants sound like the arc of a hot relationship that got weird. But it’s not surprising really. When we connect with customers and design for happiness before, during and after an experience, why wouldn’t our actions follow that of a romantic relationship?

This is backed up by Dr. Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University. He conducted studies finding that even an experience that negatively impacted your happiness gets more positive when you have had a chance to process it and talk about it. The bad becomes a fun story to retell. Like that one time a man thought I was a transvestite at a gay club in Minneapolis. Wait what?

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Now, no one is saying not to focus on customer experience, only that there are huge chunks of customer experience that lives in places between pixels and wires and beautiful CSS fueled interaction. In the best of circumstances they all come together. Which brings me to my experience with Human Unlimited. How designing for happiness led me to buy a shirt and made me a customer for life. But this story isn’t about that shirt at all.

I recently ordered this (Yea, that’s not me):

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The checkout was so nice I actually took a screenshot of it.

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See that little Customer Tip at the top with the code for the discount? Nice. Making me feel special - like I am already cared for. The tone of all the copy on the site is similarly carefully crafted – they have a really amazing blog that has nothing to do with t-shirts. I mean: “You need to fail”? Clearly these are my people.

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Since I work where I work, I am allowed to wear this kind of shirt to the office. I couldn’t wait (remember – anticipation is one key attribute of designing for happiness.) And come on, how perfect is it to wear with a blazer: putting on a fun business layer while being fully encouraged to show your personality underneath. ANYWAY. This is how it arrived. In a perfectly branded cloth bag:

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With a handwritten note on perfect stationary. Again, making me feel special. Surprise and delight.

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The shirt was too small (clearly because of my ripped arms) and I had to return it.

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I uploaded a picture and got immediate responses. I commended their UI and they remembered that I had ordered the wrong size and referenced it. I got an email address to take care of it right away. The package didn’t even contain any of those impersonal return labels because that would have ruined the feeling of the whole presentation.

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When I later on ordered another t-shirt for a friend of mine I emailed and asked if they could include a hand written note with the gift. Within 10 minutes I had a response and it was shipped out. Then I got this email advertising their new service that includes hand written notes for gifts free of charge. I sent them a pic of my happy friend in her shirt and I got this email back:

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HI’s social media presence is full of people experiencing what I did, sharing photos and commenting on how it made them feel special. It’s about how they feel, not about the shirts. Sure the shirt is amazing, but that’s not what I will think about when I wear it. I think about the fact that I was made to feel cared for. The anticipation and the surprises. And because of that I am a loyal customer for life. You don’t make loyal customers for life because of a t-shirt. You do it when you design for happiness and realize the thing will not make the happiness, the memory of that experience will.

And that, my friends, is science.

"By shifting the investments that societies make and the policies they pursue, they can steer large populations to the kinds of experiential pursuits that promote greater happiness."
- Gilovich & Kumar, Experimental Social Psychology.

Greater happiness. Let’s design for that.

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