Beyond Gamification – Designing up Maslow’s Pyramid

The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” – Steve Jobs. [Wired, February 1996]

The outpouring of love for Steve Jobs over the past couple days is summed up by Techcrunch writer John Biggs: “Apple and Jobs brought something to technology that it didn’t have before he began – irrationality.”

I can accept this view in the sense that you can’t explain it, people wonder why they’re crying for a complete stranger, and that you can’t understand it, some other people, mostly non Apple users, consider those of us crying crazy and ought to be committed.

Here’s my take: people love their Apple products, so they love the person(s) making it possible. Beyond word processing and making spreadsheets, they have an emotional connection to their devices.

But don’t take my words for it. It turned out through neuroimaging that You Love Your iPhone. Literally.

“But should we really characterize the intense consumer devotion to the iPhone as an addiction? A recent experiment that I carried out using neuroimaging technology suggests that drug-related terms like “addiction” and “fix” aren’t as scientifically accurate as a word we use to describe our most cherished personal relationships. That word is “love.”” – Martin Lindstrom

Ok, love may be completely irrational. It’s also another thing: the third level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The challenge of business: how to serve needs higher up Maslow's pyramid. - Alain de Botton

I wonder: What are examples of products in each of Maslow’s level? What do they do? What are their characteristics? What works? What doesn’t work? Most importantly, how do we design to serve up the pyramid, all the way to the Self-Actualization level? 

Design is often viewed as a compromise between business needs, user needs, and technology capability. If we take out the business needs, which I’ll abbreviate as money and profit, and technology, which usually becomes possible in due time, we are left with user needs, or what Interaction Designer Jonathan Korman calls human sense.

“Apple has aggressively worked on accessibility for users who are blind or deaf or have other limitations, an effort that makes no “business sense” but surely makes human sense if you read that or any of the countless other articles about what a boon the iPhone has been to the blind.”

Money and technology represent the first two Maslow levels and provide shelter, safety, food, water, sleep, sex(?), employment, property, resources, etc. User needs span the whole pyramid, and we address the most basic needs first: the functionality, ie. user must be able to input username.

We have User Interface Design Guidelines for non-functional needs, like consistency and appropriate error messaging. We have usability tests, we have user research data. Yet, how do you spec Love?

Question: We already have guidelines to create passionate users, what does it take to create self-actualized, compassionate users?  In other words, what are products that make us feel fully human: more fulfilled, more self-aware? What are apps that do this today? 

“We tend to assume the problem is with us, and not with the products we’re trying to use. In other words, when our tools are broken, we feel broken. And when somebody fixes one, we feel a tiny bit more whole.” – Jonathan Ive

One more thing: Am I crazy for thinking about this in product design?

This constant fear: is it insanity or just ambition? - Alain de Botton