Disruptive Purpose & Emotion – Experience Design


Disruption is often presented clinically as a rational economic & technological process. Often the only consideration of emotion referenced is the emotions in the reactions of those disrupted. Focusing only on the rational misses a lot. Remember Clayton Christensen, who did much to create disruptive innovation’s present focus, began trying to understand companies that seemed to the traditional participants they undermined as irrational entrants to markets.

We can open consideration of disruptive opportunities to a wider range of influences and inspirations. We must not forget the opportunity to design for emotion, passion and purpose. There is much disruptive potential in the design of new and better services and many opportunities to make work and life more human in the process. 

The Emotional Opportunity at Disrupt Sydney

At Disrupt Sydney 2014 in the anti-panel, an unusual theme rose from the synthesis of the morning’s insight into ongoing activities in digital disruption. A recurring theme was the power of emotion, experiences and purpose. We reflected that perhaps as discussion of disruption matures from a focus on technical wizardry, there is a rise in the elements that make disruptive forces more human.

Disrupt Sydney’s keynotes and short talks had laid a strong foundation for the rise of this theme of human emotion & purpose.  Maria Ogneva had spoken of building community and movements, stressing the pragmatic needs for common purpose and human interactions. As Maria noted community is a human activity. Community is not a use case or a feature. Paula Bray had shared insights in the use of digital in the Powerhouse Museum to create new open conversations and experiences. Ruben Martin had described the potential of sharing human intent and developing solutions to bring people together around intent. Equally the compelling Mya Dellow, aged 13, had described the potential of Minecraft to engage students in education because of its open, creative and addictive nature. Most dramatically, Marc Sagar had wowed the audience with a demonstration of Baby X, an intelligent toddler simulation. This latter talk reinforced the value of emotional interaction and the high bandwidth of personal human communication. 

With this wide range of inspirations, the anti-panel played a key role by empowering the audience.  Participants needed time to synthesise, connect and learn with others on their experience of the morning, to reflect on their own emotions and to connect what they had learned to their personal purpose. The anti-panel was a learning experience.

Experience = Purpose + Process + Emotion

As the focus of disruption shifts to the disruptive opportunities in services, it must increasingly account for emotion & purpose, two very human characteristics. The disruptive services will succeed or fail on their ability to unite a customer purpose with a process of interactions and associated emotions to create something unique, memorable and compelling. Creating community through new services requires an even deeper focus on the purpose, the interactions and the emotional journey.

Best practice is no longer to plan for optimum efficiency in a process or a product. Efficient solutions will always be outperformed eventually. Many providers of efficient services never give any thought to the purpose their customers are fulfilling. That is their loss. If their logic never moves beyond the purely rational drivers of efficiency, then real humans will move on to the next better solution to their purpose, a little dissatisfied that their human needs were met so narrowly and so blandly. 

Design for a Human Experience

Better practice is to design for a human experience that enables a purpose and shapes the emotional value of that experience. A diverse market of consumers will have differing purposes and experience differing emotions. There is an incredibly breadth of opportunity to engage them through emotion and purpose.

Some consumers will care about your values. Others will want to know that you have treated your employees or the environment well. You may not be able to satisfy them all. The way the design of your service or solution outperforms in this challenging but human domain of competition is the foundation for something truly disruptive. That radical disruption is to design for human experiences.

By adding human purpose and emotion to our normal focus on process, we start to make work and our lives more human. In addition to focusing on the opportunities at the bottom of markets, we should focus on that which lies in the bottom of our motivations and decision making. There is a much richer opportunity in making experience design more common in services.