Putting Delight in its Place

Making our experiences more “delightful” is a worthy pursuit, but we shouldn’t confuse it with the deeper goal of improved functionality. In the booming industry of personal technology, “delightful design” has recently taken hold as an imperative for new software products. The story goes that apps should instill a sense of wonder in their users, interjecting unexpected bit of joy into their lives. But as this NY Magazine article sums it up, “…delight’s days may be numbered.”

Policy Design Pyramid

The tech world has moved from “delight” to “frictionlessness” in its quest for a one-word design mantra. Both have their merits, and in the right circumstances a design can achieve both. But the underlying assumption required for either delight or frictionlessness to be of value is that the product functions well. The adage that form follows function is all the more important when considering the design of policy to address challenging subjects like carbon emission reduction.

How can this lesson from the tech industry be translated to the drive for a more sustainable development paradigm? Perhaps it is useful to consider functionality, frictionlessness, and delight through the framework of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In order to be viable a policy must first be functional; it must fulfill the objective that it was designed for. This is the major hurdle to clear, and only after it have been achieved should policy designers consider the other two qualities in the pyramid. Frictionlessness is perhaps too lofty a goal for policy design, as there is always some aspect of a new policy that clashes with existing circumstances. But it is useful to think of designing a policy that is closer to frictionless than frictional. Lastly, delight can be interjected into the design not merely as an aesthetic after-thought but as an important humanizing quality that could potentially be pivotal in the success of the design.


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