An edited version of this article first appeared in issue 234 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.
We are having a powerful love affair with our mobile devices; we sleep with them next to our beds and they are rarely out of our palms, pockets or handbags. They are a hub for our digital valuables – apps, photographs, services and messages – and they record our most private moments. Indeed, when we don’t have our mobiles (and the digital services that go hand in hand) we feel incomplete, cut off from the rest of the world. Although they are inanimate objects, our relationship with mobile devices is inherently emotional.
Because of this emotional connection, achieving success in the mobile space requires an equal understanding of the deep connections people have with their devices, and how those connections can best be addressed and served. In particular, design professionals must be able to grasp the nature of how people use their mobile devices in relation to their lives – knowing how devices impact on people’s lives and affect them on a personal level provides the designer with the understanding of how mobile services can benefit people in their everyday lives. Get the emotional formula right and you’ll do well: Instagram, Google Maps and Foursquare are testament to this fact.
Service design is a design approach that’s about creating living entities, which evolve and change over time. It factors in human connections and puts people and usability at its core. This is fundamentally different from other forms of design, which generally aim for permanency.
At their core, services are much like human relationships: users go through different stages of service engagement. But delightful experiences can make people loyal and valuable advocates. As such, service designers should aim to design services that people fall in love with, designing for an emotional connection in addition to function.
At Fjord, we have identified three stages of love – Matchmaking, Dating and True Love. Just as in real life, falling in love with a service is something that normally happens gradually over time.
This stage is all about creating that ‘aha’ moment, encouraging people to discover and understand the service in the first place. As such, digital services must be designed so that they can be easily discovered and understood, and should feel real and relevant. Importantly, there should be a strong ‘hook’ or point of differentiation – this is what people will mention to their friends.
In the past, Fjord has collaborated with Foursquare, a company that provides a good example of how to do matchmaking the right way. It has a focused offering that is both social and approachable, and a playful personality that appeals to a diverse group of users. As a result, Foursquare has become the winner in its domain. With more than 20million users and over two billion check-ins, the three-year-old business has clearly earned more ‘aha!’ reactions than its direct competitors.
The second stage is all about reeling people in, encouraging users to truly engage with the service. What does this mean for designers? It’s important to reduce all barriers to usage in order to make it as easy as possible to get going. Gaming dynamics, social service components, and beauty can be very powerful at this stage, while fresh content, humour, and a winning personality are key. You want to be eliciting a ‘wow!’ reaction from users.
The third and most powerful stage is true love – the real test of whether a service has longevity. If you have designed a service that adds value and remains meaningful over a long period, users will stay loyal. The most important things for a designer to consider are how to build trust and consistency: what we seek from a human companion.
As users trust the service with more of their information over time, it is crucial to ensure they have no doubts about privacy or the true intentions of the service provider. An ability to fluidly use the service across platforms and locations is also important. However, with multiple touchpoints and interactions, complexity is a real issue – both for people using the services, as well for companies that provide them. For service designers, the trick is to make complex systems simple and elegant. When users fall in love with a service, a typical reaction is “of course!” – an indication that the interaction feels intuitive and natural.
Finally, you want to avoid ‘divorce’ at all costs, and like any romance, keeping your users engaged and ‘in love’ with a service in the long-term is difficult. But when it happens, it’s magic. The companies that design compelling digital services will ultimately be the ones that create the most successful and long-lasting bonds with their customers. Designing for love relies on the ability to understand the user, and to be able to connect emotionally with him or her. As people age their personalities may change, but the best relationships grow with one another. The same goes for mobile services.