Anu Mäkelä & Jane Fulton Suri (2001). Supporting User’s Creativity: Design to Induce Pleasurable Experiences

Mäkelä & co. suggest in their article, that it is too much to claim that one could really design an experience for the user, because experience is something personal and it has many factors that the designer can’t do anything about (for example expectations or previous experiences). They take as an example mobile phones, how first people had behaviors and expectations from wired in phones, but now their motivations, contexts and actions have changed. Hence it is not possible to predict motivations, contexts and actions before hand for a new product. This is why they suggest that designers will be more successful in creating pleasurable products if they leave room for users own creativity rather than trying predict all the factors that could lead to a pleasurable experience.  At that time that the article was written there was little literature on how to support users creativity, so in this text they approach this subject by presenting four design cases where the goal has been to support users creativity. From those they will derive some design principles on supporting user’s creativity.

Case 1: Kodak’s interaction design architecture for consumer digital cameras

The case is about the design architecture for Kodak’s firs generation of consumer digital cameras. First they were concerned with the fact that the photos taken with the digital camera wouldn’t be in as good quality as the film camera photos had been. But when looking closer into the matter, they discovered that was the main issue with the users was that the development of cameras had separated the users from the creative process of taking photos. The time between taking the photo and seeing the result, that was a problem with film cameras and the early digital cameras without a built-in screen, had limited photo taking to only “memorable occasions”. However adding the built-in screen and getting to see the result immediately, resulted in getting the user be on charge of the process.  Also this added to the creativity, now the photos could be taken more freely for example to visual jokes or shopping list. The built-in screen also added to the social factor of taking photos, the camera could serve as a portable photo album with personal content to share with other people. According to the authors all these factors created more enjoyable experience for the user.

Case 2: Maypole pix

The Maypole was a research project that begun with the study of family communications needs. Later, to meet the found needs, several different concepts were created. When deciding which concepts should precede the design team decided to focus on communication with digital images. They studied how people used images with existing products, and discovered that capturing, editing and printing pictures was fun and especially social activity. Based on those discoveries prototypes of Pix concept were created, to study even further how people use pictures in day-to-day communication. The Pix concept was a handheld device for capturing and editing digital pictures and sending them to friends and relatives over a wireless network. The prototypes were them given to free use of groups of people in Finland and Austria for four weeks.

Even though the prototype was bulky, all users enjoyed using it.  The robust nature of it enabled also the children and grandparents use it.  The features that most enhanced the users’ creativity were the flexibility and ability to combine pictures with other pictures or with a logo to make it more personal.

Case 3: Computer-based activities for children

The third case is also a conceptual design project, aimed to find out how also children 2-5 years could receive enjoyment and educational benefits from using a PC. The design team studied children at play and indentified several key factors for enjoyable actions for children:

  • Social element: Communication and co-operation through play.
  • Physical involvement: Free movement, whole-body, dynamic activities
  • Sensory quality: The smell, texture, taste and physical motion
  • Open-ended quality: combining and organizing element infinitely, creating patterns, imagining their own storys

Based on these principles the team came up with several design concepts, for example a mat that encourages full body movement, a puppet that supports physical involvement and co-operative play and a theatre that provides a scene for physical play.

Case 4:  Handspring’s Springboard™ for a user configurable hand held computer

The third example Mäkelä & co. provide is a handheld computer. The concept is to provide small, easy to use, pocket-sized devise that has only a limited size of core functionalities, such as calendar, contact database and notepad, but that enables the user to select which additional software they feel personally relevant whether it is an e-mail program, enterprise applications or games.  The concept also has social effect, allowing users to connect with each other’s devices to share applications and other information. The devise in hand seek to allow the user to express his/hers personality also by having variety of models that have different covers. The Devise is also designed to be compatible with numerous plug-in devises and modules and the connection to these is supposed to be robust. The bottom idea is to allow users to customize the device at any given moment. However this concept was not proven at time of the article was written, since many of the expansion modules were not available yet.

Principles for supporting creativity

Based on recurrent themes in these four cases the authors propose principles for supporting user’s creativity. They suggest that the design should be:

  • Open-ended
  • Social
  • User control
  • Robust and forgiving
  • Physical/sensory
  • Flexible
  • Personal

Authors also point out that even though they think that a specific experience can’t be predicted or designed, it is nevertheless important to try to understand the experiences and design qualities that influence people’s enjoyment. This can be done with prototypes or products that are already in the market. They see users as possible co-designers, a source of innovation.