Sunday October 23, 2016

'Human beings are looking to create meaning from their experience'

A slide from The Science of Happy Design by Pamela Pavliscak

A slide from The Science of Happy Design by Pamela Pavliscak (SlideShare/Pamela Pavliscak)

Listen 9:38

Sometimes it can feel like our digital technology is actually making us unhappy. Our smartphone? It can seem like a portal to stress.

How, then, to design in a way that supports human happiness?

Pamela Pavliscak is a design researcher, digital anthropologist, and author of the upcoming book, Designing for Happiness.

Through her research, she's found that what really makes people happy is meaning. "Human beings are looking to create meaning from their experience," she says.

"The people that felt good about their technology use...were creating meaning. They were participating and they felt that the technology was created in such a way that it...invited them to participate in a meaningful way."

Participation might range from commenting on Facebook, to creating photographs.

That sense of meaningful activity, she argues, comes down to three things. "One was around competence, or feeling mastery," she explains of her research.

"The second was feeling challenged, so that you are becoming a better you...And then the third thing I saw was...using technology in a meaningful way."

Designers can support that sense of meaning, but the realities of the tech business can get in the way.

"At least for some experiences, where it's ad-based, that puts the value somewhere else, not with the human being at the other side of the experience," she says. "It creates value for a third party, so that always complicates matters."

But that doesn't mean it's all up to designers.

The way we decide to use our technologies has a lot to do with our mood, for example on Facebook.

"People who were a little more passive, who were watching dramas unfolding before them, or seeing the endless photos of awesome vacations and baby pictures...were not as happy," she explains of her research.

"People who felt like 'I've created a community here' - those people had a sense of well-being."