Designing for the soul

Rami Tabbah - February 17th 2009

"The name cognition, as used to label a very active field of inquiry in contemporary psychology, is itself quit old. It was first used by  St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1244) when he divided the study of behavior into two broad divisions: cognitive, meaning how we know the world, and affect, which was meant to encompass feelings and emotions. Today's definition of cognition is as broad as that of Aquinas." (The Handbook of Psychology)

This suggested to me a link between the basic concepts of spirituality and cognitive engineering, which could impact usability and design. 

Humans turn to spirituality to find meaning and relationship with what is beyond. Every one approaches spirituality his own way of course. Spirituality deals with perception at a higher level of abstraction. It deals with senses and emotions. 

Looking at usability criteria from a spiritual angle, I came up with criteria for designing for the soul:

1- Love: When designing a product or an interface, the ultimate goal is that the user will love it. When we start using a product, we see it on the shelf, we see a web page link in a list of search results, or we see a web page for the first time, attraction and beauty may play a role. To continue using the product or the web site, it takes more than attraction, it takes comfort, commitment and passion when using it. Isn't this the dream of a designer? Isn't this commitment/loyalty the dream of a product manager?

2- Allowance: In engineering, an allowance is a planned deviation between an actual dimension and a nominal or theoretical dimension. By allowing this deviation, we open the door for freedom. Users are different and do things differently. Users should not be penalized because they are different. We try to manage errors, but we allow enough freedom, flexibility and control. Users should be allowed to choose how to perform their tasks the way they want it and designers should allow this and make sure the process supports this as long as we help the user reach his goals.

3- Intent: In law, intent is the planning and desire to perform an act. This is the ultimate goal of a user. His objective all the time is to reach a goal, find information, purchase an item, etc. A good interface should allow users reach their goals. Intent is the ultimate goal of usefulness and usability combined.

4- Balance: A product that causes the least fatigue is a balanced product. As designers, we know that we need to balance the users abilities and capacities with the effort required from him. Techniques like reducing memory load, simplicity and consistency help us achieve this balance. 

5- Fairness: In a relationship, there are expectations. Users that love their applications have expectations like respect and perfection. The best customer service is to be fair with clients. It includes transparency, offering what clients expect, giving a fair value for what clients pay for. A user invests himself, time and emotions in a product. Look at how people show their iPhone around. How they download music and movies and make this tool part of their life. They do invest themselves and the least they expect is to get back what they gave in the form of a bug free product.