The Science of Happy Design

Ingrid Domingues

Can digital solutions be designed in such a way that using them makes you happy? And, if so, does it matter?

Pamela Pavliscak gave us the answer at From Business To Buttons. The short answer is “YES!” to both questions. Pamela is an energetic, inquisitive and cheerful person who combines ethnography, computer science and behavioural science in her job at Change Sciences in New York, a company that she founded.

Our ambivalent relationship with digital solutions brought her interest in “Maybe I shouldn’t ... but it's fun!” On the one hand we feel guilty because we spend too much time with our mobiles, pads and computers but on the other hand we sometimes sit and smile, laugh or even talk to ourselves. There are also quite a few notions about something inherently bad in using digital solutions. They make us lonely, dumber and we get distracted, it is said.

But can design also make us happy? And if so, what are the consequences? Happiness is a subjective measure. There is no unit of measure for happiness; we cannot measure it in kilolaughs. The technique for measuring happiness is to ask users, in a clever way, how they experienced the use. What becomes extremely important is that the questions come at the same time as the use. Change Sciences built an application that collected data from nearly 7,000 individuals visiting 262 sites within entertainment, health, travel and banking. They also looked at social media to see what users expressed after visiting those sites.

It turned out that:

  1. Sites that users ranked as “better” designed also got significantly higher rankings for happiness.
  2. There is a high probability that you will return to sites that make you happy.
  3. You willingly recommend those sites that make you happy. That visiting a site makes you happy is important in the short-term perspective, but also in the long run.  

How can you as a designer succeed in making your users happy? Pamela talked about five levels that you can think of:

  1. Usability on a basic level. The site should be easy to use in the sense that the user should be in control. Consistent navigation, clear and simple names, grouping things that belong together, fill in what you know about the user, make to possible to select from alternatives instead of remembering, clear feedback, “signposts” that show where I am and where I can go are a few simple tips.
  2. Create trust. Never let the user do unnecessary things, such as getting more than halfway in ordering something only to discover that the goods cannot be delivered. Avoid advertising when the user is in the middle of a task and the focus is on completing it. And if you really want to create trust, help in those situations where there has been an error. My favourite example is when Amazon gave me a Kindle book, even though my card number was invalid.
  3. Room for creativity. Allow the user to try things out without any risk. Help users to discover new things and to use the solution more or more efficiently. Our need for playing around with different expressions and different possibilities is endless.
  4. Create a community. What is it that your visitors have in common? Can they learn something from each another? Can they be inspired by each other?
  5. Meaningfulness. Can the user contribute to the grand scheme of things? By returning your used clothes…

So, there are many benefits of creating design that makes us happy. On the one hand, it simply gets better from a functional point of view, but above all it is a more long-term and sustainable way of designing.

When was the last time digital design made you happy?

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