Creating customer-centric experiences often revolves around mining data to identify patterns of behavior. But what are the emotions driving that behavior? What are the universal feelings that make us all human and that can, in turn, make your brand experiences feel more human?
Through the ages, art has served as a powerful tool to help us make sense of the world we live in, the people in it and the way we collectively view things. Here, we explore core themes in Western art that can help brands craft digital experiences that speak to our shared humanity.
From cave-painters’ handprints to Instagram, people have always felt the need to confirm their unique, individual existence. We have a basic human desire to distinguish one person from the many. Today, when so much of life is conducted online where you have no physical presence, your digital identity is what gives you a voice and lets you function online as “you.” The media may have changed, but the value of identity remains. Allowing people to express — and then protect — their unique identity is essential to a positive customer experience.
The human body is designed to move. Through time, artists have grappled with portraying the power of movement not just physically, but in the patterns of nature, in divine and human affairs, and now, in the constant flow of data and information circulating throughout the planet. When designing a digital experience, we imagine users going on “journeys” that take them from awareness to desire, past obstacles and distractions, to fulfilment and conclusion. And, while kinetic energy is the essence of the digital world, experience design is the process of understanding and harnessing it.
Movement is futile without a sense of where you’re going. Because the ability to make sense of space is a key survival tool (“Exactly how far away is that lion?”), our brains reward us for developing it. There’s something inherently dopamine-inducing about depictions of illusory space.
The foundation of most interaction design is in spatial awareness; indeed, the illusion of spatial awareness is widespread. Digitally, we use a form of imaginative spatial awareness to navigate through non-linear, digital experiences – identifying a destination and then plotting routes through multidimensional space to get there. On the Internet, we move deeper into a website as we shop. Servers live in a diffuse cloud. Even our operating systems uses a physical metaphor of layers of folders and files.
Interaction designers need to think like classical artists, considering not just surface and signage, but also the fundamental principles of volume and plane, solid and void, mass and scale in order to shape the space in which we reside, prompting customers to step inside and soar. Spatial awareness is also key to designing interactive experiences that accurately reflect the virtual world that we increasingly live in, especially as virtual reality becomes more common in marketers’ toolkits.
Open and Closed Forms
Movement and spatial awareness equip us to explore the digital world. But what kind of world do we imagine it to be? Is it logical or capricious? (The same can be asked about us as humans.)
Human history is the story of this conflict, and exploring this dynamic with open and closed forms has long been an artistic tradition. Closed (or tectonic) forms are self-contained: edges are respected and there’s no coloring outside the lines. They propose an orderly and organized, but somewhat immobile world, full of balance and harmony. On the other hand, open (or a-tectonic) forms respect no boundaries, but seem to point outward to an infinite world, where growth and movement are inevitable and desirable – a Dionysian view driven by emotions and instincts.
This conflict between open and closed forms remains very much alive today. Internet founder Tim Berners-Lee argues that the Internet's fundamental nature is open: its laws and protocols are open, fluid and public. Even the structure of websites reflects the tension between open and closed. A gaming experience, for example, should be more fluid, with crossing paths and a dynamic feeling of infinite possibility. In contrast, a financial experience should instill feelings of security, with more predictable and linear paths. Every brand experience should be architected to reflect the brand tenets and the emotions it’s meant to evoke.
To grow well, digital will need to mature, deepen and acquire art’s wisdom of human experience. With every experience we craft, a union of technology and emotion is needed: a mutually beneficial symbiosis to give art relevance and digital a soul.