Lake Pehoé

Designing the social experience

Do you prefer to interact with companies or products that have social goals or otherwise make you feel good about giving them your business? Now flip to the other side. As an experience designer, do you consider this feeling when designing customer experiences? Have you ever worked on products or services that leveraged a social good as the customer experience rather than the direct value derived from the product or service itself?

Take Patagonia for example. On the surface, they are an apparel company, specializing in rugged outdoorsy gear. The reputation of their products is pretty solid, so they can market themselves as a high quality provider. But they don’t. Instead, they promote their social mission. They donate 1% of sales to grassroots environmental causes. This is self-serving, you might say, since their best customers are probably environmentally minded.

I think that those values are very healthy ones for business. It’s like alchemy, like everything kind of works together. I think people want to buy the product because they know what the company stands for, and because they know that we’re willing to take risks to talk about environmental danger, to open up a dialogue around that. Being a private company really gives you a lot of ability to express yourself and not be confined by this mentality that profit has primacy over all things.

But they go pretty far with their advocacy. On Black Friday last year, their marketing campaign was “Don’t buy this jacket” with the message that buying things you don’t need puts an unnecessary strain on the environment so you shouldn’t be sucked in by Black Friday sales. Even if you are buying Patagonia products.

They also go beyond projects related to their direct mission. They funded a documentary on dam removal that could easily offend some of their customers. They also invested $13 million to put solar panels on homes in Hawaii. Why? Because it had a generally positive impact on carbon footprint. Nothing related to outdoor clothing whatsoever. They also share their R&D with the competition when it is environmentally friendly. Even at its own competitive disadvantage. Because “at the end of the day, this will be better for the planet.”

Another version of this philosophy is to integrate a social good into your business model. Luis von Ahn seems to have mastered this approach. He founded Recaptcha and Duolingo with this in mind. Recaptcha uses the captcha model to digitize books that automated OCRs failed with. The user doesn’t really notice the difference and the digitization gets done for free for the benefit of the public. Duolingo uses hard to translate web pages as assignments in a language learning program. By getting companies like CNN and Buzzfeed to pay for the translations, they can offer the software to poor people learning English as a second language for free. The users just feel like they are doing their homework, but they get the translations done. CNN and Buzzfeed can experience the social good for their translation budget

My Take

I am a strong advocate of defining the user experience broadly. Including the experience of the social good is a powerful tool for our design arsenal. I don’t see any reason why it is less relevant than any other value derived from the experience. In fact, from what we know about emotional design, it could easily be more important in many cases. We know how to leverage it in design quite well. If you have studied persuasive design, this fits right in. Many of our previous articles here on EID cover both persuasive design and affective cognition.

Your Turn

So please share. Have you used social goods in your design? Or something else that breaks the bounds of our traditional scope for user experience? Let us know.

Image Credit: Miguel Vieira

4 thoughts on “Designing the social experience”

  1. I never realized this aspect of Duolingo and Recaptcha and yet I have been using them for quite some time. Interesting thing is, now that I have knowledge of this I would actually stick to both of these things which is the point of the entire article.

  2. Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Spending some time and
    actual effort to generate a really good article… but
    what can I say… I put things off a lot and never seem to
    get nearly anything done.

  3. to someone on Twitter, and they reply back to you, all of their followers see that reply and might go check out what else you have to say. Blogs seem to be a bit more limited in their reha.hOtcer than that, I think it’s another good way of letting people see the human face of the company (for those folks who care about that; I suppose not everyone does).

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