Building with Intention: Designing beyond features and themes

Yuri Zaitsev
Aug 13, 2019 · 6 min read

Secret template to immediate success

We are going to share a designer secret. Usually designers are asked to explain what the hell it is that they are making. Sometimes it’s to their friends, sometimes it’s during a job interview or a pitch, and sometimes it comes from the team who is trying to get behind the vision. The great big secret is this: to 100% nail the description, designers use a really simple template (generally called a “Point Of View statement” in the biz):

My big idea lets [USERS] to [EXPERIENCE] in a way that makes them [FEEL].

If you know how to use this template, then not only can you explain your idea in one incredible sentence, but it proves that you know why you are doing this in the first place. It is not enough to just list the features of an idea, talk about the aesthetic of the thing, and then say it’s a passion project for you. That sort of concept statement creates half finished projects with many misaligned pieces that all sort of glob together because they are all lacking a unified purpose.

Alright, here is how this template works:

[Users] This is who you are making the thing for, your target audience.

[Experience] This is what your target audience is doing. There should be a verb in there somewhere.

[Feel] This is the hardest part, is the most important part, and is the most forgotten about. Lets jump into it.

Template in action

More often than not, the [Feel] portion is ignored. This is how a real life example sounds like without it:

Pokemon Go lets people of all ages with mobile phones to discover, train, and battle pokemon by walking around in the real world.

Sometimes, people who want to throw around some buzz words will add “-through the power of AR, enabled by modern network technology.” Please note that if you do this there is a 50/50 chance you will be met with annoyed eye rolls instead of impressed head nods.

That sentence is fine because it gets the point across, however it’s boring and isn’t actionable. 9 times out of 10, people will describe their best idea in that way. Lets build on it by injecting the feeling portion into it:

Pokemon Go lets people of all ages with mobile phones to discover, train, and battle pokemon by walking around in the real world in a way that makes players feel part of a community while inspiring movement and exploration.

The big difference here is that now you know what the point of every feature is. If you wanted to add something to this idea, then you would know exactly what the feature should accomplish. How else could you create community? How else could you make the players physically move around more? How else could you make players feel safe to explore new areas?

The feeling portion adds depth to the idea and provides guiding principles. However, figuring out the [Feel] portion is not exactly trivial. Good news is, there is a method to capturing it.

Capturing [Feel]

If you want to create something truly great, and know deep down that you will give exactly the right experience to your audience, and have every minute detail be aligned towards a common purpose, you should ask yourself 3 questions. Answering these questions will reveal the [Feel] that will align your idea:

1. What do you want people to learn?

Designs inherently are here to serve some purpose and to give some kind of message to your audience. The first question is about unearthing this message.

Answering this question requires a few things: the main driver behind your effort as well as understanding the value that is hiding in there.

Example: Doctors Without Borders’ main drive is to provide medical aid where it is needed most. The value hidden within their organization is independence. The organization itself strives to be impartial and neutral from the rest of the world’s political systems, while also making their patients independent from their circumstance. The point is that they bring independence through their medical lens to the world in many different ways.

Values are big, nebulous concepts like fairness, autonomy, tolerance, privacy, justice (etc. this is a very long list). It is really hard to define them when thinking in broad terms, but if they are put into the context of something else then they immediately become concrete. For example, freedom is a hard concept to describe, but becomes specific in the context of child labor.

Understanding how your own values shine through different topics will help you in understanding the underlying purpose to your design.

2. How do you want people to feel about it?

This question is about figuring out how you want your audience to react to your answer to question 1. Is your message good? Bad? What is the opinion about the piece? Framing a message with an emotion has a huge effect on how the message changes a persons behavior.

But to do this, you must decide what emotion to use as the frame. To make things easy, there are :

  1. Disgust

2. Anger

3. Contempt

4. Sadness

5. Fear

6. Happiness

7. Surprise

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and even the article linked above goes into more. These are just the basic emotions that have been found to be universal and distinct from each other.

So for example, Doctors without Borders provide independence through their medical lens, and importantly they want people to feel happy about it. We can go further and pick a more complex emotion like confident also. If another organization was working on providing freedom to kids stuck doing child labor in an awful factory, then perhaps they would want their audience to feel disgust and anger at the atrocity.

But what about FUN?! This is a common one in a lot of design, especially in games and UX. Fun is a loaded term because nearly anything could become fun if you designed it correctly. A better question to ask is:

3. How could people experience that emotion?

The answer to this question will tell you how you would like people to engage with your design. Ultimately, this will be the basis for how people will interact with your design, and what behaviors you will empower.

Overall, the ways in which people experience anything can be broken down into 8 categories. .

  1. Sensation: These are sensory-pleasure experiences. Like ASMR videos.
  2. Fantasy: These are make-believe experiences. Like movies or some games.
  3. Narrative: These are unfolding drama experiences. Like books or podcasts.
  4. Challenge: These are skill mastery experiences. Like obstacle races.
  5. Fellowship: These are social community experiences. Like team sports.
  6. Discovery: These are exploration experiences. Like escape rooms.
  7. Expression: These are self-discovery experiences. Like making art.
  8. Abnegation: This is an experience to pass the time. Like scrolling on the internet. Note: This is a weird one because a lot of negative traits, like addiction and depression are associated with this type of experience. Depending on how it is implemented, it could also be used as the basis for zen-like experiences, like meditation, which are associated with typically positive traits.

It is absolutely ok to design something that has multiple types of experiences. Each type of experience has its own strengths and weaknesses, and will take shape differently depending on the context it is in. This is the exciting part because you can experiment with this part to see how it influences your design.

Let’s take the organization that is working on providing freedom to child labor. They want their audience to feel disgust and angry. How could they get their audience to feel that way about child labor if they made a Narrative experience? How would it be different if they created that feeling through a Fellowship or Discovery experience? The idea would totally change.

By this point you should have all the basic elements to construct [Feel] into your Point of View statement. In fact, your [Users] and [Experience] could have also changed after answering these questions. Your answers to the 3 questions don’t need to necessarily appear in the Point of View statement, but will the basis behind it. All of the answers to the previous questions should be independent of the design that you have in mind. If anything it is the starting point from which your design will grow.

The heart of design is understanding how to implement [Feel] into a cohesive whole.


Curious ruminations on human-centered design, by Amplifi Design and friends

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