Let’s start with the Nintendo Wii. A surprise hit when Nintendo released it in the fall of 2006, the Wii introduced new human/computer interactions in the context of a video game system. Previously, most video games required people to move a joystick to create movement and push buttons to initiate action. These modes of input mapped to game metaphors that had no real-world connection to a joystick and buttons, such as running and jumping. The Wii, using new technology, transformed the joystick-and-buttons paradigm into an interaction model in which players can behave in approximately the same ways in playing games as they would if they were engaging in the same activity in real life.
The best-known examples are from the Wii Sports game, which the game system includes. When bowling, the game allows—and even implicitly encourages—players to walk up and approach the lane, then throw their arms as they would if they were actually bowling. These behaviors are then reflected on the actual game screen. While children and hard-core gamers quickly figured out that all players actually need to do is just flick their wrists in the correct way—the literal mapping of exact physical movements to their corresponding performance on the screen is not necessary—the game nonetheless removes the inhuman interface from the game. Bowling on the Wii can play remarkably like bowling in a real-life bowling alley. The result of this innovation is that the Wii has transformed Nintendo from a moribund kiddie video game platform that was deeply in the shadow of Sony and Microsoft into the runaway hit of 2007. The Wii is such a popular product that—more than a year since its release—retailers still have difficulty keeping it in stock.
Understanding the success of the Wii is fairly straightforward: It took what was predominantly analytical video-game entertainment and immediately made it profoundly physical. However, in the process, it also tapped deeply into the emotional side of game playing. People who had previously seen video games as outside their domain of interest—that is, people who would never consider playing a video game or who even felt intimidated by the idea of playing a video game—suddenly began to play. Video gaming progressed from being the domain of children and young adults into a multigenerational family experience. Stories abound, featuring delighted grandparents playing games with their grandchildren for the first time or even crippled or injured people being able to play and experiencing touching emotional breakthroughs in the process. The success of the Wii is in its incredible triangulation of all three dimensions of human behavior: the Analytical, Emotional, and Physical. Never before have video games been so open and accessible. What was previously the domain of youth subcultures has suddenly become the province of everyone. Even the most ambitious analysts didn’t imagine the degree of impact the Wii was destined to have.
Now, let’s consider the other smash digital product success of 2007: the iPhone. Like the Wii, the iPhone was a major cultural focal point, becoming the must-have adult personal accessory in many parts of the world. Like the Wii, the success of the iPhone is the product of its user interface technology. However, whereas the Wii relied almost exclusively on a revolutionary new interaction model, the iPhone synthesized many different innovations and inventions to collectively move its user experience far beyond that of its nearest competitor. While the iPhone likewise introduced a more natural style human/computer interaction, it also debuted with
- a large, high-resolution screen that was unique in the industry and brought what approaches desktop-computing capabilities to a handheld
- incredible battery life relative to its capabilities
- direct and well-conceived integration with other Apple software programs and the overall computing experience
- the trademark Apple form-factor sexiness that left all other existing designs far behind
Unlike the Wii, the iPhone did not bring a lot of new customers into the mobile device market: Most adults already owned mobile phones. It did help make truly mobile computing devices more popular. While most people saw the previous category benchmark, the BlackBerry, as a business accessory, the iPhone transcended business to become a lifestyle accessory. Not only did this help Apple take market share from other device manufacturers, it also began to redefine, in a mainstream way, who and what mobile devices are for—at least in the United States. People who would not have considered adding a data package to their old phones were signing up for those expensive data plans and, in doing so, had joined a mobile-computing revolution before they had even realized what was happening. Apple achieved this by creating a product that innovated in so many different ways it set itself apart from competitive products.
Mapping these products to the design framework I’ve described, both the Wii and iPhone succeed very well on all three axes: the Analytical, Emotional, and Physical. On an analytical level, the iPhone brings an Internet experience similar to that of a desktop computer to people’s mobile lifestyle. Via its connection to the Internet and a fully rendered browsing experience, the iPhone enables people to get virtually any information they want in a matter of moments, fostering understanding and building knowledge. While the Wii is more limited in what it has to contribute analytically—because it doesn’t provide such a frictionless window into the Internet and relies on independent software publishers to create worthwhile content—it nonetheless offers analytical potential that is similar to that of any computing device with large-display capabilities and Internet access. Emotionally, both the iPhone and the Wii cover most of the needs and desires the framework outlines, up to and including Belonging. The Physical is where the Wii shines more brightly than the iPhone, successfully covering all of the needs and desires in the physical sphere. While the iPhone, in its current early novelty stage, does touch some of the Participation or even Engagement-level needs and desires, this is the area where the Wii is far superior.
In the totality of their user experiences, both the Wii and the iPhone succeed in reaching the level of Well-Being. With the Wii, this success comes primarily from the Physical, potentially enabling Growth, Health, Joy, and Satiation. In extreme cases, Ecstasy, Meaning, and Fulfillment might even be possible. While the iPhone struggles comparatively—given its limitations in meeting physical needs and desires—its strengths in the analytical and emotional areas are so pronounced that Fulfillment, Growth, Joy, and Meaning are all at least possible through its use.
I chose these two examples because most readers are likely familiar with them, given their cultural significance. However, we can map any product—digital or otherwise—directly to this framework. In almost every case, the products that satisfy more and deeper human needs and desires are either the most successful products in their markets or are very popular and much beloved, despite their not pacing the market. This is no accident. There is a causal business relationship between meeting human needs and desires and how that translates into purchase decisions, product loyalty, and business success. The Wii and iPhone are just two obvious examples of this.
Mapping the Framework to Non-product Experiences
My friend Bob Baxley likes to say that the only true experience designers in history are Hugh Heffner, Walt Disney, and Steve Jobs. While Bob’s point is tongue-in-cheek, it underscores the reality that what so many people erroneously call experience design is really a highly complex symphony of interrelated experiences that operate together as a cohesive whole. Within the realm of human experiences there is a myriad of non-product experiences. Looking at three very different examples, let’s consider
- customer service contact points such as automated email notifications
- personal services like a massage
- environments like a hotel room
Each of these experiences has the potential to affect people on a variety of levels.