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11/10/2008 Utility + Joy

Someone asked me the other day what makes a great Web site or interactive experience. There were a lot of things I could’ve answered, like great design, control, interactivity, personalization, and all the buzzwords we’re used to hearing.

I thought about it for a while, and realized that what I described is what we all look for in any customer relationship: give me something that can help me (i.e. is useful) and do it in a way that makes me feel good. Utility + Joy = Satisfaction. There’s not that much difference from talking to someone on the phone. Except, perhaps that once we add in control, we get ultimate satisfaction.

Utility + Control + Joy = Love
Love is a strong word, but I think people love that combination. I think this is why something like Facebook is so popular. It’s certainly useful, you’re in total control, and you get a lot of emotional energy from using it. I know this is why Macs, iPhones, and iPods demand such a loyal following, because Steve Jobs has always built products this way. Bill Gates gives you utility and the ability to control some things. But no joy.

Is joy design? Partly, but it’s partly the intuitiveness with which some things anticipate my personal tastes and needs. It’s when it looks good and I just get it. When it’s fun to use.

One of the sites that got me thinking about this was National Grid’s Floe campaign. I’ve built a number and visited a ton of sites helping people reduce their energy use. One of the truisms about most of these tools is they have a lot of data, but they’re too hard to use, or overwhelming in the information they give. I think Floe does a great job of packaging the utility in a smart yet emotional way.

It’s also interesting looking at a number of travel sites or destinations, for example. They seem to split between Joy and Utility. But there are few who combine these together.

But that’s where I’m starting all of my work now. It’s a pretty simple mantra.


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