Bettering People Through Software

Looking deeper than features, cosmetics, and marketing, why would one application thrive and a similar one die? Designers state the quality of the interface design and user experience makes an application succeed. Programmers will argue that the platform and technologies used play a large role. Social Media Experts will tweet till their HootSuite dashboards explode that marketing prolongs an application’s shelf-life. These are all valid points, however I’d like to add another item to the list: an application’s ability to better someone.

Uses of Emotional Design and Designing for Delight are becoming more common online. Emotional Design tells us it’s okay to show that we’re humans, that we don’t need to pretend to be mega-corporations in order to be successful. Designing for Delight has be summed up as:

“Anxiety > Resolved Effortlessly > Delight.”

Giles Colborne of

Emotional Design and Designing for Delight are both excellent paths to follow, but there’s still a component missing. Why would one application resonate better with someone over another application?

Let’s look at Instagram, a mobile application that allows people to share photos through their iPhone. Not a new, unique, or particularly interesting idea. So how did Instagram six months after its release have 3.75 million users? By enabling people to create photos they otherwise couldn’t have. With Instagram’s filters, a mundane photo of a sandwich appears to have come back from the darkroom with the perfect cross-processing treatment. Instagram’s success is in making a person’s photography, better.

Looking at an example from the desktop: iPhoto ’11 from Apple. If we break down the marketing for iPhoto we’ll notice a theme:

“Send your photos in email designed to earn you oohs and aahs”

“Astonish your audience with slideshows that play like mini flicks”

“Create elegant letterpress cards using your own words and photos”

Nowhere does Apple list iPhoto’s technical features. Each message outlines a task and states how its outcome makes a person feel. Apple is building software to better people, and using positive emotions as marketing.

When an application improves upon a person’s efforts, it makes them feel positive emotions. This results in a person wanting to continue to use an application, share it with friends, and buy into its brand. On the flipside, when an application gives a person a disappointing experience, well we all know how bad relationships end.

Next time you build an application, ask yourself:

How does _____ make someone better at _____?

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