In our search for convenience and efficiency, many of our everyday chores have become monotonous routines. As a result, they are often carried out with minimal thought, and the opportunity to create sensory delight remains relatively untapped. But what if those repetitive actions could instead become a way to bring joy into our lives? What if consumers did engage more deeply with everyday experiences? What could this mean for consumer brands?
Everyday rituals can help people cope with unpredictability, allowing them to regain a sense of control, no matter how small, and create order within their environment. At a time when we are constantly exposed to snippets and soundbites of social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental volatility, this has never been more relevant. So, if rituals can help us connect with what we are doing, be present in the moment and take comfort in repetition, how can brands reimagine their product experiences, elevating them from routine to ritual?
We explore some of the forces at play…
The dimensions of ritual
A search of the word ‘ritual’ will produce any number of ‘elements’ or ‘dimensions’, primarily related to the act of rituals and what it takes to create them. But a good place to start would be to understand what separates a ritual from a routine.
To put it simply, a ritual comes with a heightened level of effort and awareness around the action. In this sense, it is the action, rather than the endpoint or the outcome that becomes the focal point; it is the action that people choose to give their time, effort and assign meaning to. And essentially, it is the attitude of the person behind the action.
How many times have we gone on ‘auto-pilot’ when making a coffee, vacuuming the floor, or wiping down our kitchen worktop at the end of the day? How much effort do we truly put into the action of these everyday tasks? How much awareness do we have whilst doing them? How much meaning do these actions really hold for us? And what is our attitude at the time?
Understanding the user experience
When designing highly functional products for the home, it is easy to become overly focused on the functional benefits without considering the emotional benefits, which also play a vital role in the overall experience. That duality of function and emotion can enhance even the most mundane of household tasks.
Take for instance the design of a domestic floor cleaning product. More often than not, the focus will be largely around how easy the product is to use and handle by the consumer, where the consumer will store it, the efficacy of the product, how easy it is to refill and maintain, and whether it will save the consumer time.
But what if we were to consider other aspects of the experience? For example, how the product makes the consumer feel while using it – in control, relaxed, present in the moment, or dare we even go as far as to say, happy?
A good starting point for reimagining a product experience is to gain a deeper understanding of an existing one, to uncover unmet needs. An effective method of doing this is through the Human-Centred Design (HCD) tool, experience mapping.
Experience mapping is a method to document and visualise the steps and key touch points of a consumer’s journey through an entire product, software, or service experience. At PDD, we use experience mapping as a tool to understand not just what a consumer is doing, but also what they are thinking and feeling at the time. This enables us to identify pain points within the experience – things we need to improve on – and also joys within the experience – things we need to protect and amplify. The process of understanding what works and what doesn’t within a consumer experience helps to pinpoint key design opportunities that can lead to innovations for future product iterations, as well as entirely new market opportunities.
Elevating the experience
Back to the business of rituals, once we acknowledge that we need to heighten consumer awareness, effort, meaning and attitude to elevate an everyday task from a routine to a ritual, what are the key factors we need to consider?
- Intention: When thinking about the intention of everyday routines, the emphasis for consumers is always on the functional aims and purposes of the act: “I need to get this floor clean…”, “I need to make this coffee before I can sit down…”. But why not start to engage consumers in a dialogue around their emotional intentions instead? For example: what else could a clean floor mean to consumers…satisfaction, calmness? Equally, what else could making a coffee mean to consumers… appreciation, joy? By identifying positive emotions we can start to consider how we can tap into them through various aspects of the product’s design – the form, points of interaction, materiality, haptics, and sounds. By considering the physical aspects of a product from a different perspective, we can take a more sensorial and emotive approach to design, creating a lasting impression of not just the product but also of the brand.
- Environment & Artefacts: There is no denying that there is a certain theatre to rituals, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the environment of a ritual and the artefacts that reside within it. If the environment is about creating a stage for the act, then the artefacts become symbolic enablers. Consumers behave, think and act differently within different environments; by combining a range of ethnographic methods such as contextual enquiry, journaling, cultural immersions, and interviewing; brands can build up a broad picture of how the environment of a consumer can influence the usability of a product and affect the overall experience. While we can’t design a product to suit every individual’s contextual setting, we can however identify common challenges. So, when designing solutions for everyday acts, it is important to keep in mind the relationship between the consumer, the artefact, and the environment: What flows between these three elements? And how does one influence or amplify the other?
- Presence: It would be fair to say that a sense of presence is missing from many daily actions. How many times have we drifted off into another world, space or time when doing chores? Or feel like time has skipped? When looking to elevate the experience of everyday products, we need to consider how we can turn repetition from mundane into something engaging and delightful within that moment of time. Brands should consider how they can create small moments of delight from the twist of a knob or the flick of a switch. Imagine how a trigger spray of a bottle could feel satisfying through the haptic feedback the consumer receives. Within design, we often talk about the importance of details, and brands that will lead in this area must take a far more sensorial approach to the design details of their products – a sensorial design language that complements their visual design language.
- Gratitude & Appreciation: It’s important to have a closing to a ritual, and that’s where gratitude and appreciation come into play. When looking to create a sense of deep appreciation for ordinary objects and everyday acts, thankfulness becomes the focal point – feeling thankful for what you have just done (gratitude) and showing that you are thankful of the act (appreciation). Again, this is where brands should consider the emotive side of the product experience – beyond efficacy, what are the other ways we can make people feel pleased whilst using a product? How can we allow people to show they are pleased?
It’s amazing how small things can make a big difference to the user experience – details that the consumer won’t necessarily be able to articulate straight away, but will certainly feel, and go on to influence their perception of a brand. To reimagine the brand experience, consumer brands must find ways to turn monotonous routines into enjoyable acts for consumers, into rituals that consider both the emotional and functional dimensions of their products. Defining your own brand sensory design language to stimulate consumers, will enable them to engage more deeply in the action of doing, rather than focusing merely on the outcome – brands have an opportunity to create joy, and bring delight and satisfaction into our everyday lives.
If you would like to know more about how PDD can help your brand explore and amplify your consumer experience, please get in touch.
Posted by Sarita Wilkinson
The last thing that inspired me: Chinese teacups from a small café in Camden Town, London - the most amazing collection of colours and textures.
My dream project: Something multi-sensorial.
My obsession: Stationery - retro inspired, Asian influenced, graphically intriguing, sensorially indulgent and the 'unique'!