How can a design be experienced?
Is the chaotic traffic designed to make us feel exhausted by the time we reach office? Or is the traffic designed to be chaotic so that we notice billboards on our way to office? The stress of either not swearing at the person who scratched your car, or the relief of swearing at the bus driver has an impact on what we do once we are out of the car.
Physically, stress can cause hunger leading you to lose or put on weight. Stress can also make you extremely restless and not focus on your work of what you love, especially the one in the morning. All of which results in a long chain of bad experiences that could last for a few years. Which is why, designing experiences is a vital job.
Experience is Practical
Experience is practical. But practical what? Practical contact. Contact with senses. In scientific terms this is what involves all the human senses. Sense is a perception of external stimuli. It’s a neuron-based message sent from a measuring tool to the brain. Wikipedia says, sense is a physiological capacity of organisms that provides data for perception. Aristotle figured that there are five most evident senses that we all know of - sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. But there are over 21 senses involved at a constant. He said, “The senses are gateways to the intelligence. There is nothing in the intelligence which did not first pass through the senses.”
There’s temperature, balance, time, direction, temperature, itch, pressure, tension, stretch, pain, thirst, hunger, fullness, magnetoreception, prioception and many more. Sometimes watching movies or reading a book, you can almost smell things like wet soil, food, chemicals.
Reactions of Our Senses
Some of us feel uncomfortable if things on the desk are not kept tidily or in right angles. If you find someone speaking hoarsely, you tend to clear your own throat. These senses together make us feel comfortable if in balance, and uncomfortable if out of balance. The levels of comfort or discomfort in a user’s day-in-life leads to formation of habits - either of adjustment or of convenience.
Good Design, When it’s Done Well, Becomes Invisible
Adjustments usually lead to distress and hence to many behavioral traits like anger, non-productivity, depression even! Convenience causes users be happy and in result to ignore what is actually causing that convenience. Jared Spool said, “Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it.”
Information is transparent or invisible when the gaps of curiosity are covered. For example, while making a food delivery app, we need to keep in mind that most people are going to be, what we know as, “hangry.” At this point, if you can turn the navigation to simplest, extending it for the user to know everything about their food you are altering their experience of hunger.
Research Before You Design
One of the reasons to do an ethnographic research of users, before designing or curating and experience for them is to analyze and put a rule book to these sensory triggers.
I was working on a project to market a diabetic medicine. They had good sales for a few years and then the sales dropped. Now the first question in order was, “why market a diabetic medicine at all?” It’s a fatal disease, medicines should be selling themselves. We could have made generic marketing and PR strategies and sold them off. But why did the sales fall?
Determining the Right Factors
So we went to the patients and tried to figure out what happened. A lot of them said it’s not helping them, they needed something stronger later on, or they faced side effects and all the common answers. Usually this would have lead us to find different mediums, channels and languages to advertise the product.
When we spoke to the users in depth, we realized a common pattern.
They would forget to take the medicine and the symptoms wouldn’t show for some time until they required a stronger dosage. So they thought they didn’t need the milder medicine. Now, it’s not possible for a lot of people to forget about the same thing at a large scale, especially taking medicines for a fatal disease.
Cultural Cause and Effect
So we went a bit deeper into the culture, understanding the cause of this pattern. We realized that it’s not about forgetting to take medicine, it’s about depending your entire life on a small tablet. So what we had to change is this definition of pill-dependency through an experience.
Who would have thought that an app can increase the sales of a medicine? All we had to do is “allow” them to forget about the pill. Empathy if not telepathy is crucial to plan experiences. So we made an app that reminds them to take a medicine and it doesn’t need to remain all the time at the back of their minds like a fruit fly.
The Design Puzzle
Imagine design to be like a huge puzzle with different elements that you need to put together. Elements like information, colors, shapes, sounds, space, light, time, environment, activity, tasks all to function like a massive ecosystem on a 5 inch LED screen.
Once in place they are literally going to transform lives of all your users. The relation of these elements to senses, in a way that it transforms a person’s behavior, is interaction. We are humans, we talk and communicate. If we smile at a person and they don’t smile back, we feel sad. Not just emotionally, but physically sad. We don’t speak to them. Even while having a conversation if the other person doesn’t show signs of listening through their body language, we stop talking
Digital Interface Needs to Communicate With Us
It’s a hurtful experience. In the similar way, digital interfaces need to communicate with us. To communicate anything -- the language and the medium are very important.
I worked on a project a few years back, to increase Internet literacy in semi-urban and rural areas of India, We had started with Bangalore. While we did learn a lot about the communities and the social structure, we also understood that their language and routine are the biggest barriers in being able to understand how websites work
Sometimes People Need a Little Extra Information
Simple phrases like “search” or “look up” don’t exist. In Indian languages the word “search” has a “voyage” meaning like the word “find.” They don’t even know about the difference between buttons and plain text. We had to teach them the use of the button “like.”
Colors sounds, and shapes evoke emotions. Our brain receives colors and sounds even shapes in the form of vibrations. Just like braille or morse code.They cause changes in blood pressure for you to be ready to react physically.
Changes in the blood pressure leads to emotional fluctuations. Some studies have shown that people can relate to sounds through colors, like the barking of a dog as red color or the whistling of wind to green.
These are the Primary Triggers of Experience That Need to be Designed
Amongst all the ages humans have lived through, the post-modern or the Information age is by far the most distracted we have been. There are experiences all over, and information in each corner you can turn at.
There’s a really cool book called “The Distracted Mind” by Adam Gazzely, who works at the MIT Labs. On the cover it says - ancient brain in the high-tech world. It’s about how we have never, up until now, been multi-tasking at this scale. This rate of multitasking is another thing that affects the market evaluation of your products from their adoption rate.
You have to make something so damn convenient and relatable, based on need and not want, that it becomes transparent in their lives.