Want happiness? Seek experiences

“Blogrolling” the other day, I happened upon experience designer Andrë Braz’s Experience Design Manifesto, a cute, insightful (if not a little Bohemian) piece that began, “The ultimate aim of all creative activity is to bring happiness to people’s lives.”

Where happiness is defined as an emotion that results from positive experiences existing in the past, present and the future, it also takes the form of memories, connections or desires to re-live. The past offers up memories that we re-live in the present and desire for the future; present experiences form a holistic connection to the mind that focuses on the flow of now, and the idea of the future forces desire to the present, founded upon the principle that future experiences have latent potential.

The end result? Happiness lies within the experience itself rather than in the result of the experience. And with this interpretation, the desires of the future influence the memories of the past in ways that change the present.

Experiences do not necessarily exist only in reality; in fact, reality and fantasy can work to empower each other in a way that is more powerful than a simple summing up of the resultant separate experiences.

Therefore, the more immersive and sensorial the experience, the stronger it will speak to the mind. And here we’re not talking about a good lump of lorem ipsum text, which tends to not get read regardless of how pointed it may be. People are attracted to images and stories and the images that stories present because they are relatable, which makes them credible.

A story is not merely a collection of text: a story boils down to the forms and images the brain constructs in recognition of words on a page (or screen). And passion of presentation adds to the mix.

A passionless presentation added to un-relatable filler text does not equate to great appeal; in fact, if forced (i.e. when reading a boring textbook), this lack of connection can almost bring on a sense of fight-or-flight and bode negatively for the future. When presented with a deluge of something complex, a person will first and foremost search for and analyze the directly apparent key components.

According to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, “The moment we encounter an object, our brains instantly analyze just a few of its key features and then use the absence or presence of its key features to make one very fast and very simple decision: is this object an important thing to which I ought to respond right now?” There is definitely something to be said about simplicity in this day and age as our fixation on postmodernism pervades.

Success of experience is measured not by its separate, individual qualities, but rather by the completeness in its ability to bring happiness, fulfillment or enjoyment to life and the desire to live or re-live it, kind of like a movie. Its success is contingent upon its box office record (the enjoyment it brings) regardless of whether or not it wins any awards for individual aspects of the film’s production.

Braz’s tenants can and should be applied to today’s sciences and technologies in more than just an objective sense. In this manner, artists can be considered no different than scientists and innovators. In the words of Walter Gropius, “The artist is an exalted craftsman.”

Just because measuring the happiness of a new product, layout design, etc. tends to be subjective and intangible does not mean that experience is an inconsequential side effect of a well-made thing. Take the iPhone: even though it has functional flaws (it is lacking, I promise!), people love it because of its design and its ability to bring a sense of happiness, regardless of why. It really is as simple as, “It makes me happy to use. I like it.”

I just read an article about the resignation of Yahoo!’s Jerry Yang. While Yahoo! was huge in its day, it over-emphasized usability to the detriment of user experience; it remained bogged down with advertisements and text, while little Google drove a simple page design, utilizing a colorful logo, a search field and tiny ads that neither detracted from presentation nor usability.

If something brings enjoyment, it is not by chance. The success of a product should not be attributed to sheer serendipity. To attribute success to luck is to acknowledge failure in process, and through this, challenge, purpose and drive are destroyed, making us all more tolerant to mediocrity and stagnation.