Small World, Isn’t It?

How can innovative design feed our craving for the feeling of connectedness?

Posted Feb 08, 2017

How often do we say these words, when we discover connections upon chatting with new acquaintances? How do we feel when this happens? How does the awareness of connections affect our perception of the size of the world?

Why do older people talk so much about the past, about people and events they once knew? As we get older, don’t most of us feel more insecure as our ability to remember things decreases? We like to know how our world works, how people and things are connected. Context gives meaning. Lack of context often leads to confusion and misunderstanding.

Providing context is a major challenge for innovators because they have to find and create enough connections so that the value of their innovations can be easily recognized as familiar, but not “commonplace”. At the same time, new features must be different enough that new connections can be generated in the minds of users and customers (and media). The desired outcome is new perceptions, along with a certain degree of comfort with an existing awareness of value.

A new wrinkle on this approach to innovation is the concept of “shareable design”. The objective is to build social connectivity as an outcome of the human-centered design process. When products and services are already designed to elicit an emotional response, as so ably demonstrated by Apple, what can the business do to “exceed customers’ expectations”? What does that phrase even mean?

How can an experience continue to be fresh, after a new product or service is used?

We are inundated with tools, mostly created by young techies, e.g., Millennials, primarily for the type of customers they know best, i.e., other Millennials. Many of us in the older generation feel lucky when we can understand the basic functionality, but can’t figure out the more “advanced features”. Yet, when we ask our children to show us how to use those features, they quickly show us, saying “see how easy it is to use?” Of course, we didn’t think it was easy to begin with, and now we feel a bit stupid whether we agree or not.

What’s the lesson here? Of course, we have to learn from each other. What if the original design concept of an app is specifically to encourage community-building through sharing, and not just to make the app easier to use? I recently read that Instagram has “secret features” that are not evident to new or more casual users. The awareness of these features and how to use them can only be shared by those who have figured them out – or learned from someone else. Isn’t this an intriguing design concept?

Don’t we feel pleasure and satisfaction when we can share in this way? Isn’t this a little like the positive aspect of gossip? Why do we gossip? It’s fun. It’s more about relationship-building than knowledge sharing or problem-solving. The building of a human connection is much more important than the intrinsic value of the information. This creates a new context, a new pattern, for the information and for the people doing the sharing.

The human brain is wired to perceive patterns. Our emotional state responds instantly to those perceptions, before intellectual analysis can be done. The feeling of trust is a pattern. Before we feel trust, some of us want to be consciously aware of a lot of data points, words and actions that help us feel we have knowledge of another person or a situation. Others, because they come from a different context, may be able to trust with less awareness or fewer data points. Children and dogs, for example, because they are more open and have little expectation of people, can quickly decide whether to trust an unfamiliar adult human being. Whether that trust is justified is another issue entirely. As we mature, most of us tend to demand more proof of trustworthiness.

It’s a small world, isn’t it? Old, familiar connections seem to have greater credibility and validity. New connections that make sense in the context of what we already know give us comfort. The connectivity reduces the perceived distance of who we are. We are not so far apart, are we? Shared history, shared experiences, even bits and pieces, bring a sense of comfort because we are naturally driven to seek and appreciate these human connections.

Connections => Knowledge

Knowledge => Trust

Trust => Comfort (happiness)

Maybe this age-old universal truth can be illustrated in innovative tools that will help us redefine our social context to be more positive? Across the hundreds of countries in our world, things we have in common will not trigger our awareness as much as our differences.  What might happen if we focus our energies on our “connectedness”?