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10 Positive Design Interventions to Boost Customer Happiness

Here are 10 simple design interventions to promote customer happiness. They are based on a mashup of design-thinking and positive psychology (the science and practice of improving happiness and wellbeing) and inspired by the fabulous work of Pieter Desmet and colleagues at the Delft Institute of Positive Design.   We call this mashup POSITIVE DESIGN, and we believe ‘positive design’ – designing for human happiness and wellbeing – represents the future of design-thinking.

Each of the ‘design interventions’ (design exercises) is based on a specific ‘positive psychology intervention’ that is used to improve human happiness and wellbeing.  The mashup isn’t perfect, so experiment with what works for you.  But if you believe, as we do, that experience design should be put to the service of happiness – then it’ll be a good place to start.

  1. ACTIVATE AUTONOMY – How might we design this experience to offer people an enhanced sense of freedom, control or choice?
    • WHY? The ‘ARC of Happiness’ describes our three core psychological needs for subjective wellbeing – Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence. The universal need for autonomy is about self-determination, experiencing freedom and feeling in control
 RELATEDNESS – How might we design an experience to help people feel that they are genuinely cared for, or that they truly matter to others?
    • WHY? The ‘ARC of Happiness’ describes our three core psychological needs for subjective wellbeing – Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence. The universal need for relatedness is about feeling cared for by others and that we matter to them
  3. CULTIVATE COMPETENCE – How might we design an experience to help people feel a sense of competence through achievement, success or mastery?
    • WHY? The ‘ARC of Happiness’ describes our three core psychological needs for subjective wellbeing – Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence. Our need for competence is about experiencing achievement, mastery and self-efficacy
  4. 3GT – Three Good Things. Experiences have consequences. Think of three positive outcomes or consequences of an experience. How might we redesign the experience to make these positive outcomes more likely?
    • WHY? 3GT is simple and clinically validated way to feel happier. Each night before you go to sleep, think of three good things that happened that day, and ask yourself why they happened. This focuses the mind on positive outcomes and why they happened. Positive design, like positive psychology can focus on positive outcomes and seek to make these outcomes more likely
  5. GRATITUDE LETTER – Experience a product or service first-hand for yourself. Now write a short thank you note to the designer of the experience, explaining why you’re grateful (even if you’re not).
    • WHY? Writing a short letter of gratitude focuses the mind and memory of the positive aspects of an experience, and has been found to fuel happiness. Even when the experience is negative, finding some positive outcome or consequence can build resilience which can boost happiness
  6. CHUFF CHART – Ask people to rate how happy they are with an experience on scale of 0-10. Now ask them what’s the one change that could be made to the experience that would most improve their rating?
    • WHY? There are many ways to measure happiness, but the Single Item Happiness Scale (SIHS) uses just one simple question to get a reliable and valid reading: On a scale of 0 to 10, how happy are you feeling in general?’ And simple follow up question will help you explore what could make people happy
  7. SMILE SAFARI – Observe people experiencing a product or service in situ, and note down moments when they smile or laugh.
    • A natural smile is the universal giveaway that people are happy, a visible sign of a positive inner state. More so when it’s a full ‘Duchenne smile’ that crinkles the skin around the eyes. Smiling people are happier people, and they even live longer. By focusing design thinking on smile moments, you’ll be focusing on what makes people happy
  8. SENSORY STIMULATION – Experience the best of what’s available now for yourself. Focus on the sensory dimensions of the experience; what does it feel like literally and metaphorically to touch, to see, to hear, smell, or even taste? How could you redesign the sensory experience to be more pleasurable?
    • WHY – Our five senses are the purveyors of pleasure through the experience of sensations and how they are perceived. Pleasure contributes to happiness and lies at the apex of the ‘user needs pyramid’, above usability, functionality and safety
  9. PARTICIPANT OBSERVER – Forget traditional observation, jump in and completely immerse yourself in the experience as an active participant yourself. Observe yourself and your emotions in context with the experience itself, with others sharing the experience. Only then will you truly experience what it feels like to be the person for whom your are designing
    • WHY – Participant observation is the gold-standard in design ethnography because it allows us to feel what it is like to be the person for whom we are designing and see the world from their perspective. When we feel what the other is feeling, we are better placed to design with their happiness in mind
  10. EMPATHY MAP – Ask people how they really feel about an experience; what do they love, what do they hate, and what are their hopes and fears before, during and after
    • Empathy maps are a popular design-thinking tool that help us identify with how people feel about an experience so that we can make it better. Many versions exist, but focusing on powerful motivating emotions – loves, hates, hopes and fears, can help us design for happiness



Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
Join the discussion

  • The success of a business directly depends on the degree of its attention to design. Try to sound fresh, create interesting stories, the buyer feels and appreciates such efforts.

  • Great solutions, thank you. In fact, it is now important to use different UI / UX insights to get more. I love the new mobile menu which improves usability for large screens.

Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.