Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The growing importance of experience design

This is a very interesting post by David Armano which does a good job of putting into words what has been in the back of my mind for the last couple of months. Basically, he's seconding the proposition of this Economist article, which is that the economic crisis has hastened the phenomenon of people second-guessing whether the constant struggle to keep up with the Joneses by acquiring as many gadgets/knick-knacks/kitchen applicances (i.e. "junk") is really the best way to spend their disposable income. As Armano puts it, we're entering the "post-consumer era." I think this passage is rather salient:

...Credit lines have ensured that we can purchase beyond our means and advertising has had years to perfect it's craft making us believe that we don't want the latest and greatest product—but that we actually NEED it. In fact, if we can't have it our lives will be empty—we will be missing out we won't be living life as it was meant to be lived.

This of course is a lie.

But it's worked for years. Bigger, better, faster, newer. Get it and get it now before your neighbor does. It's a myth that's stood the test of time and fueled a global economy because it could. When it's old, throw it out or give it away. Then one day, the housing market collapsed, the stock market collapsed and we woke up scratching our heads as to why. And some of us are re-thinking the economics of mass consumption.

I think a lot of people are finally realizing that they reached the point of junk saturation a few years ago and there is just no longer a need to rabidly acquire stuff like there's no tomorrow. As such, I think the term "post-junk" may be more appropriate than "post-consumer," for as long as we live in a capitalist society there will always be "consumers" and "producers," per se.

One consequence of such junk fatigue will be an increased desire for fewer high-quality products rather than more low-quality products. Jason Kottke highlighted this a while back in this post, in which he talked about "upgrading oneself" by, for example, replacing off-the-rack dress shirts with tailored shirts.

As Armano goes on to point out, the ever increasing interconnectedness of humanity that has been enabled by the internet is going to push people into becoming smarter, more demanding consumers. This may not necessarily be the result of conscious decisions by each consumer, but rather as a simple consequence of our digital surroundings (e.g. Facebook, Google, Twitter, whatever's next, etc.). Without even realizing it, the inputs into our decision making processes will in effect be pre-screened by the recommendations, purchases, and comments of our trusted peers.

From my perspective, these two phenomena (junk reduction and increasing consumer awareness) pretty clearly point to a greater role for good experience design amongst both products and services. People are going to want better stuff that simplifies/de-clutters their life, and whether they know it or not they're going to be nudged away from objects/services that they perceive as junk and toward objects/services of trusted value.

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