Designing for Joy in Our New Normal

Where emotion belongs in form and function

There was a moment towards the middle of 2021, as the pandemic's shockwaves reached the most remote corners of the planet, when it felt as though the world had slowly come to the realization that there was no going back to "before."

A mist of excitement floated in the air when we understood there was a unique opportunity to influence what our new world could look and feel like. Dreams of "working from home" started to be paired with words like "forever" as some dared to choose a hybrid reality where joy was now part of the picture.

But a harsh truth also started to sink in: that behind our screens, despite connecting with co-workers all day, signing up for virtual happy hours and experiences that tried to mimic our past reality, we still felt utterly alone, longing for more social interactions and extra happiness in our daily lives.

The idea of designing for joy and emotional impact, within the parameters of our new normal, is what inspired me to rethink how we design our digital experiences. I have always thought that experience design has been more focused on designing for functionality versus emotional impact. 

The shift that is happening now, as we search for experiences that value emotions and happiness front and center, has restored a healthier equilibrium between form and function in design.

I do believe that people choose to "Marie Kondo" some aspects of their lives—meaning, if they don't spark joy, they politely thank them and send them off. TikTok, an entertainment platform jam packed with emotion, making you laugh so hard you cry one second and burst into tears the next, naturally triumphed as the top mobile download last year.

The recipe for joy is a generous amount of craft mixed with a dollop of science. With no precise measurement on how to generate emotional impact, you instinctively know when the soufflé is set. It takes an iterative process, always placing humans and their emotions at the center of everything and focusing on elevating the craft of user experience, copywriting, visual design and art direction. Always elevate craft.

Emotions drive 99 percent of our purchase decisions, and the emotional part of our brain, called the "Brodmann area 10," activates when we see something exciting, or something that we desire. It's only when we design with an intention to craft emotionally rich experiences driven by joy that we unlock interest, create desire and trust. Joy is the ultimate ingredient of loyalty.

Principles of Designing for Joy:

Speak human and act like one, too.

Nobody wants to be labeled as just a user, a consumer, or even less a persona. We are complex, holistic and emotional beings. It's specifically in moments of tension that the brand's humanity needs to come across. Just think about a notification about your order running late, or a failed payment. These are opportunities for more empathetic communication. Tone of voice, regardless of how "functional" the action might be, is always an opportunity to be welcoming, warm and helpful. 

Combine craft with strong visual impact.

Don't underestimate the impact that well-crafted and aesthetic content can bring to the experience. Elevating the lighting on a product shoot can create a unique atmosphere that sets the stage for us to feel something and capture our attention. We know just how hooked we are on GIFs, memes and social media, and for a good reason. These formats are little packets of joy. 

Design for the ears, not just the eyes. 

Music and certain noises have a significant effect on our moods and emotions, because our brain regulates dopamine—a neurotransmitter strongly tied to emotional behavior and mood regulation. As human beings, the right melody or audio can cause us to feel and perceive things differently. Think of the sound a car door makes as it slams shut. That soft but firm thump. It's not a natural sound for a car door to make. It was designed to make us feel secure about the vehicle's sturdiness. For as long as I can remember, sound has often been an afterthought in designing online experiences, whereas it is at the center of all gaming experiences.

Real life means connecting the digital and the physical.

When relevant, always try to bridge physical and digital so people can experience a holistic, connected journey. At the end of the day, that's just how we live our lives. We want the flexibility of the experience to best serve what we need, where and when we need it. A shopping experience should not only be consistent but connected all the way through to checkout, delivery and returns. Whether in store or online.  

Small details can make a big difference.

Don't overlook an opportunity to bring a bit of warmth and humanity to the boring bits as well. Think of Amazon's gallery of employee pets on the missing product page. And Google's "Aww, snap" error message. If anything, we can look at these moments as opportunities to flip a negative context into an opportunity to surprise, connect, maybe even delight ... rather than frustrate.

Let's include everyone, really everyone.

We push to design for everyone, which means we consider the full range of human diversity. By diversity, we mean all types of abilities, languages, cultures, genders, ages and any other form of human difference. It matters that designers integrate all aspects of inclusion. We have to design and curate experiences that enable everyone to feel included. No one should feel like an afterthought. Or worse, excluded. Inclusion builds spaces where we can all thrive.

Now go forth and Design for Joy!

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