How Designers and Marketers Can Work Together to Support Consumers’ Happiness
Maria Sääksjärvi 1,* and Katarina Hellén 2
Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands
University of Vaasa, Vaasa, Finland
A product’s value proposition rests on the notion that it brings value to its customers. Typically, such value is created by having novel product functionality, superior technology, or new customer benefits, but value can also be created by adhering to what is fundamentally important to customers in their lives. Focusing on customers’ happiness is a value proposition of the latter kind. Yet, implementing such an approach requires that designers and marketers have a common understanding of the product’s value proposition, and work together to create authentic value propositions about happiness that will also be compelling in the marketplace. In this article, we draw upon the positive psychology literature and present three propositions of design for happiness that designers and marketers can use to communicate and create value together. Design for happiness means designing business concepts with the aim of building and supporting long-term consumer happiness. The three propositions that we bring forward are: 1) design for fostering social relationships and belongingness, 2) design for meaning in life, and 3) design for making consumers active participants rather than passive observers. These propositions create a shared understanding of what “design for happiness” can contribute to customers, and how it can contribute to profits and sales.
Keywords – Business, Design, Marketing, Wellbeing.
Relevance to Design Practice – This article seeks to align the goals and understanding of designers and marketers, which helps them work together on the important business goal of creating compelling value propositions based on design for happiness.
Citation: Sääksjärvi, M., & Hellén, K. (2013). How designers and marketers can work together to support consumers’ happiness. International Journal of Design, 7(3), 33-44.
Received March 11, 2013; Accepted July 16, 2013; Published November 30, 2013.
Copyright: © 2013 Sääksjärvi and Hellén. Copyright for this article is retained by the authors, with first publication rights granted to the International Journal of Design. All journal content, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License. By virtue of their appearance in this open-access journal, articles are free to use, with proper attribution, in educational and other non-commercial settings.
*Corresponding Author: email@example.com
Maria Sääksjärvi is Associate Professor at Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands. She holds a PhD and MSc in Marketing. Prior to her academic career, she worked at Accenture as a consultant. Her research interests lie in the areas of innovations, emotions, and wellbeing. She has published articles in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Psychology and Marketing, the Journal of Marketing Management, PLOS ONE, and the Journal of Interactive Marketing, among others.
Katarina Hellén is Assistant Professor at the University of Vaasa, Finland. She holds a PhD in marketing. Her research interests lie in service marketing, affective states and traits, and consumer wellbeing.
A business’s raison d’être is to generate profit for its owners. Therefore, concepts such as sales, marginal value, customer retention, and lifetime value are of utmost importance to marketers when they set goals for their investments. In order to increase sales and profit, marketers are interested in creating and investing in business concepts that have a competitive advantage over those of their competitors. According to the basic philosophy of marketing, consumers buy products and services that they think will bring them value, that is, solve a problem for them or help them to achieve some goal that they find important (Grönroos, 2008). Therefore, marketers can be said to offer a value proposition to consumers, that is, explicit or implicit promises to deliver specific benefits. Following this logic, marketers should strive toward creating good value propositions that consumers desire, because that will in turn increase sales and hence profit.
However, marketing scholars have long noted that successful value propositions and marketing strategies are often not implemented by marketing departments alone. In order for the value proposition to be authentic, the product or service needs to fulfill the value proposition’s promise. In this context, interdepartmental collaboration becomes of utmost importance. Designers can be argued to play a key role in the success of marketing strategies when creating business concepts: designers plan and execute the function and aesthetics of the product (and sometimes also services). To this end, fostering collaboration between marketers and designers would not only create more compelling value propositions, but also ones that will be perceived as authentic in the marketplace. However, to create such value propositions, marketers and designers would need to be aligned in their goals, and have a shared understanding of the value proposition. Indeed, we argue that in order to reach business goals in terms of sales and profits, it is important for marketers and designers to share a common goal and understanding of the value proposition.
Over the years, marketers have emphasized different types of value propositions. During the 1980s, marketers stressed the importance of quality and functionality of products, which was followed by a period in the 1990s and early 2000s when emotions and hedonism were stressed as important purchase motives. Lately, the focus has turned to the deeper psychological reasons for how and why consumers behave in the marketplace. Among the new compelling reasons is long-term happiness, and empirical research shows that consumers often buy things because they want to become happier (Mogilner, Aaker, & Kamvar, 2012; Parks, Della Porta, Pierce, Zilca, & Lyubomirsky, 2012). Happiness is here referred to as a general estimation of how good and worthwhile one’s life is (Kesebir & Diener, 2008; Lyubomirsky, 2008; Lyubomirsky, Tkach, & DiMatteo, 2006).
The concept of happiness, or subjective wellbeing, has been the subject of research within a field called “positive psychology” (cf. review by Kesebir & Diener, 2008). Positive psychology refers to a branch of psychological research studying what people consider good things in life, that is, what makes people happy. More recently, this interest in happiness has spilled over to the marketing literature, where a research stream called “positive marketing” has evolved. Positive marketers recognize consumers’ quest to become happier and direct their research toward understanding the role of happiness in marketing contexts. Thus, marketers have noted that by using happiness as a marketing strategy, businesses can create value propositions for consumers that can reach a company’s goals, for example, increase the attractiveness of the business concept; increase sales; or create stronger brands, which makes consumers less price-sensitive and thereby generates greater profit. However, managers have found it difficult to implement strategies for positive marketing. Indeed, it seems that most practical examples are limited to superficial value propositions of happiness in the form of advertising. For example, Volkswagen’s 2013 NFL Super Bowl game day commercial (Volkswagen of America, 2013, http://youtu.be/9H0xPWAtaa8) touts happiness as the most important goal when driving a car. However, these applications mainly adhere to the domain of advertising, not product development or design, and therefore this type of value proposition cannot be considered authentic. An example of a successful value proposition is the Swedish snack producer OLW (Old London Wasa), which uses the Swedish term fredagsmys as a part of their business concept. Fredagsmys refers to a relatively new Swedish cultural ritual on Friday evenings when especially families with young children snuggle up together on the sofa to eat something tasty and relax after a week of work and school. Clearly, instead of emphasizing the taste of their products, OLW is stressing a sense of belonging, which is an authentic driver of happiness (Baumeister, 1991).
The underlying premise of this article is that businesses should strive to move away from superficial value propositions to more authentic ones, with marketers and designers working together to create successful business concepts. This is important because business concepts work best if there is congruence between what is promised (e.g., in advertising) and what is delivered (in the product). Drawing upon evidence suggesting that the concept of happiness has great potential in the marketplace, it is important for marketers and designers to collaborate efficiently and take full advantage of the concept’s potential. To reach this goal, this paper outlines three propositions of happiness that we hope can serve as a common ground for marketers and designers when they collaborate to develop business concepts. These propositions are derived from research on happiness and are thus grounded on a scientific base. This means that they focus on delivering authentic happiness rather than merely promised happiness.
This article is outlined as follows: We will start with a discussion on happiness and what happiness means. After that, we will outline the three propositions of happiness that marketers and designers can use to create joint value propositions for customers: 1) design for fostering social relationships and belongingness, 2) design for meaning in life, and 3) design for making consumers active. The article ends with a discussion of our findings.
Happiness in Our Time
The concept of happiness is not new. Already the ancient Greeks, such as Aristotle, considered happiness (eudaimonia) to be the cornerstone of a good life, a life well lived. Within the past decade, the literature addressing happiness within the field of positive psychology has drastically increased since scholars have noted that many people want to become happier (Kesebir & Diener, 2008; Kurtz & Lyubomirsky, 2011). Researchers have noted that a person’s level of happiness is predicted by a propensity to experience positive emotions frequently and negative emotions infrequently (Schimmack & Diener, 1997). Interestingly, intensity of emotions does not correlate with happiness. Thus it should be noted that this definition of happiness distinguishes the concept from the emotion happiness, meaning that happiness in the positive psychology literature is longer-lasting in nature, in other words a trait, and not an emotional state (Lyubomirsky, 2008). Also, since happiness is predicted by frequency and not intensity of positive emotions, designing for happiness goes beyond merely hedonic entertainment that might put a smile on your face and make you feel happy for the moment.
From a societal perspective, one could argue that today’s society promotes happiness, but also deprives people of it. Two arguments support the notion that our culture enhances happiness. First, in contrast to traditional values (such as downplaying oneself and focusing on the needs and wants of others before one’s own), people today are encouraged to place higher value and importance on themselves (Uchida, Norasakkunkit, & Kitayama, 2004), even to the point that self-esteem, or self-worth, is considered a precondition for good adjustment (Baumeister, 1991). There is evidence showing that happiness typically correlates strongly with self-esteem (Lyubomirsky et al., 2006), which supports the idea that a society that encourages self-esteem also promotes happiness. Moreover, the individualist norm of today offers people both the political and the social freedom to follow their dreams and inner desires to an extent that is unique in the course of human history (Kesebir & Diener, 2008). Thus one can argue that this relatively new freedom to “be oneself” promotes happiness, as scholars have shown that political freedom is an important ingredient for happiness (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2002). Second, positive psychologists have argued that human beings need a certain level of material wealth in order to be happy (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2002; Myers, 2000). Indeed, evidence shows that most people in today’s world rate themselves as happy (Myers, 2000).
However, there is also evidence to suggest that today’s society can deprive people of happiness. First, it seems as if contemporary people have poorer social relationships than before (Baumeister, 1991; Twenge & Campbell, 2009). Some researchers have proposed that in contrast to general belief, individualism and the emphasis on self-esteem promote self-centeredness, leaving little room to take into consideration the needs of others (Mauss, Savino, Anderson, Weisbuch, Tamir, & Laudenslager, 2012). In their article, Baumeister and Leary (1995) argue that belongingness and close social relationships are the most fundamental human needs, and review evidence showing that people are willing to suffer and even jeopardize their own lives in order to satisfy this need. Yet, at the same time, Baumeister (1991) reviewed studies showing that people today have unrealistic expectations of romantic relationships and that the new culture of non-lifelong relationships comes with the costs of instability and decreased wellbeing. Second, values of collectivism and religion have today been replaced with the value of selfhood, which has deprived people of a sense of meaning and purpose in life (Baumeister, 1991; Lyubomirsky, 2008). Thus, believing in the self does a poor job of creating meaningfulness while a commonly shared belief system works better. Third, lately many societies in the world have slid into an economic situation in which a large part of the population is unemployed. Deci and Ryan (2000) draw upon research showing that one of the most basic needs of human beings is to be able to use one’s skills and contribute to one’s community. This means that in a society where unemployment is common, more people are at risk of not having their basic needs fulfilled in terms of using their skills, having a purpose, feeling in control, and being important to the community. Indeed, research shows that the experience of unemployment hits people so hard that they do not fully recover to their previous happiness levels in the long term even after they get a new job (Lucas, Clark, Georgellis, & Diener, 2004). Clearly, feeling unimportant and not needed is detrimental to consumers’ happiness.
In conclusion, it seems that today’s society provides many ingredients for a happy life, but also poses several challenges to people in terms of good-quality relationships, sense of meaning, and marginalization.
Designing for Happiness and Its Implications for the Value Proposition
Although positive emotions and marketing of healthy products are important in order to increase consumer interest and the perceived value of the product (Desmet, 2012; Greifeneder, Bless, & Kuschmann, 2007; Norman, 2003), we argue that designing for happiness goes beyond mere product satisfaction and positive emotions (cf. Ruitenberg & Desmet, 2012). What, then, is design for happiness? Design for happiness means designing business concepts, i.e., products and/or services, with the aim to build and support long-term happiness of consumers. This means that design for happiness is not necessarily the design of a hedonic product but rather a product that either encourages people to act or think in ways that support their long-term happiness, or aims to prevent some causes of unhappiness associated with contemporary life. These two aims are not necessarily mutually exclusive or unrelated; for instance, scholars have noted that helping other people increases happiness (cf. Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008). Some researchers have suggested that the underlying reason for this is that helping is a way of starting or fostering a relationship with another person (Anik, Aknin, Norton, & Dunn, 2009). Thus, helping can be said to protect the individual from loneliness, and in so doing can be seen as contributing to happiness. Indeed, recent developments in the design discipline stress the importance of designing for wellbeing and happiness (Desmet, 2012; Desmet & Schifferstein, 2012; Ruitenberg & Desmet, 2012; van de Poel, 2012).
Happiness as a value proposition is not an uncommon theme in the marketplace. One can argue that most contemporary marketing activity implicitly provides a value proposition of happiness. For instance, the presence of beautiful models and smiling people in advertising suggests that by consuming the advertised product you too can gain some of the beauty of the model and thereby be liked by others and thus become happier. Clearly, happiness is powerful as a value proposition because it is important for consumers and they see consumption of specific products and services as means to reach this goal.
Happiness as a value proposition is appealing, because it is a very common goal for most people (Kesebir & Diener, 2008). Further, happiness as a theme seems to be open to different interpretations. Mogilner et al. (2012) showed that it is possible to manipulate consumers’ associations with happiness, and managed to associate happiness with both calmness and excitement. These results suggest that the concept is versatile and can be used across product and service categories. This is good news for businesses that wish to build their long-term brand strategy on happiness. However, marketing scholars have noted that in the long term, the success of a value proposal lies in whether the business can keep its promise or not (Grönroos, 2008). This means that there is a risk that long-term sales and profits will suffer if the product does not live up to its promise. Therefore, the work of designers is of great importance if happiness as a value proposition is to be successful.
Recent developments in design stress the importance of designing for wellbeing and happiness (Desmet, 2012; Desmet & Schifferstein, 2012; Ruitenberg & Desmet, 2012; van de Poel, 2012). So far, the evidence reporting that products could contribute to happiness is scant, but some progress can be noticed and design that aims to improve the lives of consumers has already gained some attention. For instance, a good initiative to reach this goal comes from the Center for Positive Marketing at Fordham University, which has introduced a consumer value index called V-positive that tracks the extent to which people’s lives are improved by their engagement with marketers (Lerman & Kachersky, 2012). The V-positive index quantifies consumer perceptions, across seven different dimensions, of how their wellbeing has been improved by consuming certain brands. The weighted scores from the different dimensions are used to calculate a score in the range 0–100. These dimensions are: 1) basic, meaning a sense that the business provides means to get one’s physical needs fulfilled; 2) protection, referring to a sense that the business supports one’s safety; 3) social, meaning a sense that the business provides means to foster social relationships; 4) esteem, meaning that the business supports consumers in feeling good about themselves; 5) actualization, meaning that the business supports the consumer’s sense of using his or her potential to the fullest; 6) experiential, referring to a sense that the business fosters consumer activity; and 7) happiness, meaning that the business supports consumer enjoyment and pleasure (Lerman & Kachersky, 2012). In the V-positive index for 2012 (Q4), Walmart was the brand that scored highest on the basic dimension, which might not be surprising since the business provides food and other necessities for everyday life. Walmart also ranked highest on the protection dimension, which highlights the sense of trust that comes with a relatively old and established brand. Facebook ranked first on the social dimension, which points to the power of social media for consumers. Furthermore, Facebook ranked highest on the esteem dimension, which shows that the business seems to provide its users with self-esteem. Google scored the highest on the actualization dimension, which shows the power in the service that the business offers in terms of finding information that consumers can use to get ahead in life. The experiential dimension was topped by Facebook, Google and Walmart, which demonstrates that these businesses are associated with playfulness. Also, the same three were at the top in the happiness dimension, which means that these brands seem to provide consumers with most enjoyment. These rankings suggest that these are the brands that people feel have the most positive impact in their lives. Their results show that wellbeing is important for consumers when in contact with businesses and marketers, and that brands that score higher on the V-positive index have a much greater chance of positively contributing to their profits and sales (Lerman & Kachersky, 2012). Another example of such a brand is PepsiCo. After they decreased the amount of trans fat (known to be bad for health) in their Frito-Lay chips, their sales took a short-term dip. However, because PepsiCo genuinely addressed improving people’s happiness with their product by focusing on good health, rather than emphasizing an alternative selling point such as a new flavor, their sales quickly recovered. PepsiCo’s advertising also centers on happiness, in which belongingness, family values and sharing special moments are emphasized over an individual’s needs (see, for example, their highly successful advertising campaign in China, “Bring happiness home,” http://youtu.be/WQ_B-Nh5bHk).
Design for happiness has great potential as a value proposition because consumers desire to become happier. However, we argue that it is important that consumers are provided with an authentic value proposition where promised value is delivered. For this reason, it is important that designers and marketers have a common understanding about happiness, what it is, and how and why it works. To this end, we propose three principles of design for happiness that help designers and marketers to work together on the common goal of creating an authentic value proposition, with real business implications. These principles help designers and marketers create a shared platform and a common language for discussing how design for happiness can create compelling value propositions. The principles are: 1) design for fostering social relationships and belongingness; 2) design for increasing meaning in life; and 3) design for making consumers active. These propositions have been developed based on the positive psychology literature, and will be discussed next.
1) Design for fostering social relationships and belongingness
In a previous section, we reviewed evidence showing that poor social relationships pose a challenge to human happiness. Therefore, design for happiness should support a sense of belonging with other people and the building of social relationships.
Individualism as a societal value is associated with the idea that happiness of individuals is best promoted by emphasizing a person’s uniqueness and gaining personal material benefits. For example, some scholars argue that people today do not share common values, which deprives them of a sense of identity (Baumeister, 1991). Thus the contemporary person needs to constantly build and create his or her identity by for instance consuming certain brands or products (Belk, 1988). To this end, marketing scholars often advise firms to allow consumers to individualize products and strive for uniqueness. However, there is evidence that humans are more collective in nature than the contemporary culture suggests. Baumeister (2005) argues that human beings are deeply programmed to thrive in environments where they are members of relatively small, close-knit groups. Furthermore, he demonstrates that people strive actively to be liked by other people even at the expense of their own personal preferences (cf. Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Mead, Baumeister, Stillman, Rawn, & Vohs, 2011). This means that people seem to be happier when they adjust their behavior to other people and not necessarily when they “are themselves.” Evidence for this view is provided by empirical studies showing that happiness-enhancing strategies serving others increase happiness. For instance, scholars often recommend spending money on other people as a strategy for becoming happier (Aknin, Norton, & Dunn, 2009; Dunn et al., 2008), as well as making an effort to help other people around you (Buchanan & Bardi, 2010; Schwartz & Sendor, 2000). Indeed, a recent set of studies by Caprariello and Reis (2013) showed that the reason non-material experiences make people happier is because they are likely to be shared with others, whereas material possessions tend to center around one person’s solitary use. In four studies, Caprariello and Reis showed that the advantage of experience relative to material possessions depends on the fact that experiences tend to be shared: when sharing is removed, experiences score no higher than material possessions on happiness. One way to enhance sharing is to encourage people to use the product together instead of using it on their own. Products that are designed for happiness are more likely to be shared than other types of products. As pointed out by Kay, Wheeler, Bargh, and Ross (2004), some material possessions are designed to facilitate social interactions (e.g., board games, sports equipment, and stereo systems for family rooms).
Designer perspective. What are the implications for designers of design for fostering social relationships and belongingness? In essence, designers should focus on creating concepts that foster social relationships and increase consumers’ sense of belonging. Belongingness is defined as a sense that one is a part of group of people: for example, a part of one’s family, a sub-group related to one’s profession, or a more global identity such as national identity. The importance of belongingness as a consumption motive has been the subject of much marketing research (Belk, 1988) where it has been recognized that people consume in part to signal their personal identity and group belongingness. For business, such designs are beneficial, because social relationships mean supporting actions that help to either create or deepen friendships, and relationships in general. Opportunities for designers to create value, with regard to this proposition, include:
- Designs that encourage people to do things for other people, for example by helping, are an important part of design for fostering social relationships and belongingness. There is plenty of empirical evidence to suggest that helping is a universal human virtue that is associated with happiness (cf. Aknin et al., 2013; Aknin, Hamlin, & Dunn, 2012). Helping means that one is making an effort to benefit other people, for instance by volunteering to help people less fortunate than oneself, helping family and friends, donating money, or buying gifts for other people (Dunn et al., 2008). As helping is linked to consumption practices, it as an important focus point for designers.
- Designs that encourage people to do things together with others (instead of solitary usage). Doing things together means that two or more people are performing activities to reach a similar goal, for example to have fun at an amusement park. A study by Caprariello and Reis (2013) shows that one of the benefits of consuming things together is that it fosters happiness, and therefore designs that encourage people to do things together are important for designers and marketers.
- Designs that encourage sharing. Sharing might mean two or more people use the same product, for instance, they own a car together and share its usage in terms of drawing upon its benefits and paying for its costs. Thus, sharing means having mutual responsibilities for something but it does not necessarily mean that one consumes the product at the same time (in contrast to doing things together with others). Sharing can also mean exchanging experiences with a product with other users, for instance by sharing one’s photographs with other enthusiasts online or in real life. Just as with designs that encourage people to do things together, sharing is likely to foster happiness and is thus of importance for designers. For example, products that contribute to communal projects, such as Radio-Contact or Piet’s vegetables (as described in Ruitenberg & Desmet, 2012) encourage people to think about their contribution to their local community, and make them more aware of how they could contribute. To this end, products that promote sharing can be seen as contributing to happiness.
- Designs that encourage interactions with others. Interaction means that one verbally or physically interacts with other people (e.g., sitting next to other people, being in the same room together). The positive psychology literature suggests that interaction is beneficial for happiness. This means that designs that encourage people to verbally interact (e.g., by reducing noise levels), and considering how the presence of others can be made to enhance the consumption experience (e.g., by fostering designs that contribute to a good overall atmosphere), may help to promote happiness.
- Designs that emphasize belongingness. This means that designs should provide visible and mental clues that point to things that are common between customers (and not things that are different between them). For instance, designs could use clues typically utilized in brand communities and social groups that use common colors (e.g., on t-shirts, bags, pens, etc.). This means focusing on commonalities instead of differences, and sameness instead of uniqueness, as it fosters a sense of belonging. Belongingness is positively linked to happiness and is an important consumption motive for consumers (Belk, 1988), and is thus of importance to designers.
Marketer perspective. The proposition of design to foster social relationships and belongingness refers to designs that promote the establishment of new interpersonal relationships, or support existing ones. This is likely to increase satisfaction with the product and/or service, which in turn is likely to increase loyalty and thus contribute to higher revenues. When creating the business concept and planning marketing campaigns, marketers should take into consideration the following:
- Marketers should make sure that they properly communicate their business’s involvement with nonprofit or community work. For example, the clothing retailer H&M has conducted several campaigns aimed at increasing awareness of AIDS, in which they communicate that 25% of the profits were donated to AIDS prevention projects. In this way, consumers have the opportunity to help other people while shopping for themselves. This is important because consumers might not always realize that their consumption can help other people. Also, it should be clear to consumers what the money is used for. For example, many charities explain what can be bought with a commonly donated sum, such as a can of water, a tent, or a school uniform.
- In their marketing campaigns and communication, marketers should emphasize togetherness, sameness, and belongingness over individuality. For example, Nike’s FuelBand encourages users to exercise by enabling them to share their exercise regimen and daily goals with others. By sharing this information, people make a solitary activity into a social happening. Since many consumers today often want to be unique and emphasize individuality, it might be tempting for marketers to draw upon these values. However, these are not likely to support long-term happiness, and thus the recommendation is to focus on commonalities over differences, and togetherness and belongingness rather than individuality.
- When planning marketing concepts, marketers should aim to increase interactivity between consumers, since this may prevent a sense of loneliness and may support a sense of belonging. A classic example is the Harley-Davidson brand where the users foster a strong sense of belonging by engaging in the brand community, riding together, and buying and talking about accessories. Online, social media companies succeed based on fostering interactivity among users by creating a platform where the users create and share content. For marketers, this means allowing for and encouraging interactivity on social media and on their homepage, even though this means losing some control over the communication about the firm (such as potential negative information about the business). A successful implementation of this concept is MyStarbucks.com, where users can share their latest ideas and inspirations for coffee, and Starbucks regularly reviews the concepts that have received most “votes” or “likes” from other customers.
2) Design for meaning in life
We have stated above that contemporary life is characterized by a sense of lack of meaning (Baumeister, 1991), and therefore we propose that design for happiness should incorporate design aiming to support or provide a sense of meaning in life for consumers. In today’s society, traditional and commonly shared values have had to give way to a plethora of different values (Baumeister, 1991). For instance, fewer people describe themselves as religious but the negative side is that religiosity is one of the best sources of meaning for human beings (Baumeister, 1991; see Shachar, Erdem, Cutright, & Fitzsimons, 2011, for results suggesting that strong brands function as a substitute for religion). The positive side of a lack of conformity in values is that people are relatively free to adopt or reject values according to their own preferences. However, a lack of agreement on how a contributing person should act and think is also associated with problems. Baumeister argues that one of the sources of unhappiness in contemporary people is a lack of a commonly grounded belief system because it forces people to constantly create their own meaning and identity. Meaning refers to a sense of value and motive in one’s life. This meaning is especially important for people in stressful situations.
Baumeister (1991) reviews the psychology literature and argues that people need four types of meanings. The first is purpose, which means that people are goal-orientated by nature and need to feel that their behavior and actions are steps in a direction toward a larger goal. However, it seems that the need to strive toward goals is more important than actually reaching these goals. For example, a person’s goal might be to be a better parent and thus they might spend time and resources to build a stronger relationship with their child, but few would expect to ever become the perfect parent. Thus, the role of designers is to identify goals that people find important and offer solutions that support and facilitate people’s quest for these goals (Grönroos, 2008). The second source of meaning is value, meaning that people have a need to feel that what they do is “right and good and morally justified” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 36). This often means to accept a value base, such as religion, that one follows without questioning it. For instance, a person’s conviction of the importance of environmental protection might justify this person’s spending more money and time to purchase organic products. The third source of meaning is efficacy, which means that people need to feel in control in life (see Deci & Ryan, 2000, for similar arguments). Although it might be an illusion, people need to feel that they are capable of steering the course of their lives. For example, insurance companies sell a sense of security to people in order for them to feel safe and in control if something bad were to happen to them. The fourth source of meaning is self-worth, which is defined as a feeling that oneself as well as other people feels good about oneself (Brown & Dutton, 1995; Wheeler & Miyake, 1992). However, Baumeister (1991) extends this discussion and claims that the line between self-worth and narcissism is thin, as gaining self-worth “often means finding a way to feel superior” (p. 44) in relation to other people in domains that one finds important. In marketing contexts, this striving for superiority can be observed in many commercial situations. This is obvious in the consumption of luxury products which signal the status of the owner, but also the purchase of green products can be done with the aim of informing other people of one’s status and one’s moral and intellectual superiority (Griskevicius, Cantú, & van Vugt, 2012; Iredale, van Vugt, & Dunbar, 2008). Thus, designing for happiness also means supporting a sense of meaning in life in consumers.
Designer perspective. The implications of this proposition for happiness are that designs that support a sense of meaning in life are likely to be beneficial for business. Opportunities for designers, with regard to this proposition of design for happiness, include:
- Goals: Designs that support different goals that people have in life, such as parenthood, romantic relationships, career, and so forth, hold important implications for designers. In this context, it is important to recognize that it is sufficient that people have goals that they strive for, regardless of whether they actually reach them (Baumeister, 1991). That might explain why consumers keep buying products that may not be influential for goal achievement. For instance, consumers spend large amounts of money on anti-wrinkle creams and weight-loss products, although there is no guarantee that they will make the person look younger or make the irritating love handles go away. It is the journey that is important more than actually reaching the goal, and designs can provide visual clues that remind consumers of their goals. Most, if not all, products and services can be said to implicitly offer a boost toward reaching personally important goals. For example, Mint.com helps customers to get their personal finance in check and save money by providing a service that allows customers to visually monitor their spending, and illustrating ways of reducing it. Also, customers can use specific goal-setting tools that help them reach their savings goals.
- Control: Designs that make consumers feel that they have control are also of importance. Control refers to the ability to influence events and the course of one’s life. It comprises both genuine control as well as illusion of control. Genuine control means that people are able, to some extent, to influence events that are related to them, whereas an illusion of control means that people think that they can control their lives and their surroundings to a greater extent than they really can (Baumeister 1991). Designs can increase a sense of control by being transparent and honest. For instance, the term Value Sensitive Design, which refers to designing using human values as a point of departure, was coined as researchers noted that when designing technological systems these need to be developed from the outset from the user’s perspective (Friedman, Kahn, & Borning, 2002). Today, society expects people to make consumption decisions, including very important ones, that are complicated. For instance, selecting the best bank for one’s mortgage, or choosing a retirement fund, insurance, a car or even a mobile phone require expert knowledge that consumers often feel they do not have. Therefore designs that increase transparency are of importance for business.
Marketer perspective. As consumption is a highly visual means of communicating one’s social status and character to others (Belk, 1988), products that communicate meaning may communicate important characteristics about oneself (e.g., I drive a Volvo, hence I think about the safety of my children, thus I am a good and considerate father). Most people are highly sensitive to what others think about them, and engage in consumption partially based on the impression they make on others. Products that communicate meaning are likely to be considered “extensions of the self” and relate the consumer to desirable personal traits. When planning business concepts and marketing communication, marketers can have the following in mind:
- Marketers ought to emphasize the business concept as a tool for reaching goals that are important for consumers. It is not necessary to help consumers actually reach their goals; rather, consumers should get a sense that they are getting at least a step closer. For example, many coffeehouses employ a “buy 10 coffees, get one free” policy, in which customers get a stamp or a sticker in their card to indicate that they are one step closer toward reaching their goal of a free coffee. When products specifically relate to goals, marketers should signal goal progress in their customer communication. For example, a pop-up window or a message that states “Milestone reached!” or “6/10 savings goals completed!” would make customers feel that they are progressing toward their goal of saving money.
- An important lesson in terms of values is to aim to be a safe haven in a world offering a smorgasbord of values (often conflicting) that consumers can adopt or reject. Thus marketers should aim to stick to the brand’s core values and provide their consumers with stability in values. Therefore, marketers should be careful about making any radical changes in the values the brand conveys. For example, classic luxury brands, such as Burberry and Mulberry, keep their campaigns modest and do not make any radical changes to their business concepts. Thus the brand communicates the same types of values and stability, which appeal to consumers.
- Self-worth: Since self-worth, i.e., liking oneself and superiority over other people, is of importance to consumers, the job of marketers should be to try to elevate a sense of self-worth. Opportunities for increasing a sense of superiority involve identifying what is important for customer segments, and recognizing who the customers in this segment would like to feel superior to. In this way, products that communicate a sense of self-worth are likely to influence people’s consumption practices. Examples of this category are all types of luxury products whose exclusivity signals a type of status in relation to other people. For instance, brands such as Ferrari, Porsche, and BMW are car brands that signal status. Another example would be L’Oréal’s “you are worth it” campaigns, which emphasize individuals’ sense of self-worth by indicating that the individual deserves good things in his/her life.
- In creating the business concept and in their marketing communication, marketers should aim to increase consumers’ sense of control. This means that the business concept should be transparent to consumers, in order to create a sense of trust and fairness. Also, it would be important to communicate to consumers the different ways in which they can be in control, for example by giving customers different options to choose from, or by allowing them to customize their customer journey. For instance, Amazon (as well as many other online stores and also shipping companies) use online tracking systems, whereby consumers can see where their expected package is, and estimate when it is supposed to arrive.
3) Design for happiness makes consumers active
Contemporary life provides people with the opportunity to live, at least in comparison to the past, a relatively comfortable and effortless life with plenty of spare time. The drawback is that it can make people passive; we sit and watch the lives of others on TV, we read about the lives of others in magazines and we follow the lives of our friends on social media. But what about our own lives? Research on happiness suggests that a happy person is typically not a bystander in life, but an active participant who contributes positively to the lives of their dear ones as well as to their community (Myers, 2000). Thus, even though a television program might be fun and relaxing, it is not enough for contributing to a person’s long-term happiness.
The importance of doing has been demonstrated in the literature on happiness. A succession of researchers within the psychology literature have proposed that consumers with a desire to become happier should focus on buying experiences rather than on material goods (Carter & Gilovich, 2010, 2012; Rosenzweig & Gilovich, 2012; Van Boven, 2005; Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003). Within this stream of literature, experiences are conceptualized as firm offerings that relate to “doing,” whereas products relate to “having” (Rosenzweig & Gilovich, 2012). Thus experiences tend to be associated with consumers’ active participation while products are associated with ownership. This definition often means that experiences comprise non-material services, such as vacations and visits to museums, the movies and the theatre, while material products are tangible objects that one can keep in one’s possession (Rosenzweig & Gilovich, 2012). However, Hellén and Gummerus (2013) review this literature and argue that, since the line between doing and having is blurred (Van Boven, 2005), firms can choose to emphasize different aspects of their offering and thus create a mental picture of the firm’s offering as either an experience or a material purchase. For instance, a firm can market a boat as an experience by drawing attention to the sense of freedom and joy that the consumer might feel when sailing it or when socializing with family and friends on board. However, the boat can also be marketed as a product by listing its features or emphasizing the ownership status of having such a boat. Thus the distinction between material products and experiences is not objective, but should be regarded as dependent on consumer perceptions of tangibility/intangibility (Hellén & Gummerus, 2013).
Why would “doing” be better for one’s happiness than “having”? Although there is empirical evidence that experiences tend to make people happier than does buying products, there are at least five theories, not necessarily mutually exclusive, that may explain these findings. First, experiences are often consumed together with other people, helping to foster social relationships, which in turn have a positive effect on happiness (Caprariello & Reis, 2013; Van Boven, 2005; Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003). Thus experiences satisfy the psychological need for relatedness, which in turn increases the feeling of vitality and ultimately leads to greater happiness (Howell, Pchelin, & Iyer, 2012). Second, experiences are associated with uniqueness and one’s personality, which makes them feel closer to oneself than material products (Rosenzweig & Gilovich, 2012). Third, people tend not to associate experiences with opportunity costs as they are seen as unique, while products are subject to comparisons and buyer’s remorse (Carter & Gilovich, 2010; Rosenzweig & Gilovich, 2012). Fourth, it is likely that material products evoke a maximization of materiality. In Carter and Gilovich’s (2010) studies, it was documented that consumers selecting between material products tended to maximize, that is, tried to find the absolute best product alternative, while people settled for less with experiential offerings. Study results showing that yearning for money and material goods is associated with unhappiness (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2002), showing a connection between distress and material purchases (Carter & Gilovich, 2010; Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003) and showing that materialism and loneliness are related (Mead et al., 2011), suggest that material offerings might create a psychological mindset of increased desire for having which in turn makes people unhappier. Fifth, findings from positive psychology show that happy people keep busy and are active (Fordyce, 1977) and thus it seems that activity as such leads to happiness. There is plenty of evidence showing that this is the case. Deci and Ryan (2000) argue that using one’s skills, that is to say working, is an important component in happiness, Csikszentmihalyi (2009) argues that a state he calls “flow” occurs when a person is really focused on something, for instance in work settings or when playing a game, and that experiences of flow are associated with happiness. Thus experiential purchases tend to engage and involve people to become active participants rather than making them into passive observers.
Designer perspective. Design for activity means designing with the purpose of doing rather than having, that is, it encourages participation rather than observation. This might be a challenge, as people often associate vacations and lazy days with happiness (Mogilner et al., 2012) and work with at least a certain amount of displeasure. Yet even though passivity feels good at the moment, it comes at the cost of decreased happiness in the long run (Fordyce, 1977). Opportunities for increasing activity include, for instance:
- Designs that focus on doing rather than having. This should not be interpreted as meaning that products will automatically make people passive, since people often buy products because they can perform activities while using products (Grönroos, 2008). Thus the important thing is to focus on supporting an active lifestyle. This may involve, for example, designs that foster activity of mind and/or body. Physical exercise has been related to happiness, so designs that support regular physical exercise have a positive impact on happiness (Harte, Eifert, & Smith, 1995). For designers, supporting an active lifestyle is important, as people appreciate products that make them active rather than passive, especially over the longer term.
- Designs that support and foster the development of new skills. Skill refers to an ability to perform specific activities in such a manner as to reach a certain goal, for instance by using one’s hands, body or mind. A skill can stem from a natural talent and/or a combination with a developed skill that one obtains through repetitive training or education. A person’s contribution to society is referred to as a subjective feeling that one’s skill and work are important for other people. Designs that allow people to learn by increasing their knowledge of a certain topic or by their mastering a physical skill either with their hands (such as a craft), or with their body (gaining stamina), contribute to people’s happiness. The facts that a feeling of being able to use one’s skills and contribute to society is an important cornerstone of a happy life (Deci & Ryan, 2000), and that more and more people are deprived of this important feeling, make this an important opportunity for designers.
Marketer perspective. Marketers seeking to boost design for making consumers active can consider the following suggestions:
- For physical products, marketers should emphasize what the consumer can do with the product, rather than what he or she will possess. For instance, Nike does not offer only “running shoes” to its customers but rather highlights the inbuilt electronic chip in the running shoe and the different software programs that consumers can use in order to track, analyze and share their running performance. In this way, Nike has gone from offering a product to making its shoes a part of the business concept that is the running experience. Also, it would be important to highlight to the customer that the product is an opportunity of gaining an experience rather than an end in itself.
- Emphasize skill development in marketing communications. There are several possibilities for marketers to increase consumer skill development and support the skills provided by the product. For example, designs that allow people to learn a craft can be enhanced by providing customers with virtual tokens (such as badges or stars) when their mastery in the craft has increased. Customers could use these to communicate their self-identity (e.g., by attaching the tokens to their blogs or social media profiles), and to signal group membership. Another avenue that holds a great deal of potential is leveraging the techniques used in the gaming industry. McGonigal (2011) argues that playing games, that is, trying to perform certain activities to reach a certain goal, while aiming to improve oneself and compete against others, is a fundamental part of human nature, and not only improves the person’s own skill development but also fosters social skills (such as helping, sharing, and contributing to a common goal). These techniques could be used in conjunction with other products that promote skill development, by fostering collaboration (e.g., by having users work together on a common product-related goal), competition (e.g., by holding contests related to the product), and helping (e.g., by having users earn points when they support other users’ skill development by providing reviews, tips, or other types of help regarding the product).
Conclusion: The role of design for happiness in businesses’ value propositions
We have highlighted above the important relationship between an appealing value proposition and sales and consequently business profit (cf. Grönroos, 2008). Consumers purchase things that they feel will provide them with value, that is to say benefits, and the task of a business is to recognize what consumers desire and what motivates them. In this way, businesses have a better chance of creating value propositions that have a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Drawing upon research showing that happiness is a great motivation for consumers, as well as practical examples showing that implementing happiness into value propositions is difficult, we have hoped to provide guidance to designers with regard to how to communicate with marketers regarding design for happiness. We hope that the three propositions presented will serve as a platform for discussing design for happiness and its implications for business, with the goal of designers and marketers sharing a common language for working together to create value propositions that are also likely to succeed in the marketplace. By fostering a common understanding of happiness and its impact on business, both marketers and designers can perform their roles more effectively to ensure the delivery of a successful value proposition.
Marketing scholars as well as practitioners have noted that the desire and promise of happiness are important ingredients in the marketplace, but practical attempts by businesses have mainly been limited to marketing campaigns. We advocate a view of design for happiness in which designers and marketers work together to create successful value propositions. This means that designers should aim to create concepts that increase long-term happiness of consumers, which marketers can use as a selling point. Furthermore, we argue that concepts incorporating happiness should be based on scientific research and not on a single designer’s or marketer’s personal perception of what happiness is and how it can be increased. To achieve this goal, a shared understanding of happiness and its implications in the marketplace is needed. In this paper, we have presented three propositions of happiness that designers and marketers can use as a common point of departure when planning and executing a value proposition for consumers. These propositions are: 1) design for fostering social relationships and belongingness, 2) design for increasing meaning in life, and 3) design for making consumers active. We base these propositions on empirical studies conducted in the positive psychology literature; thus one could say that by trying to take these propositions into consideration, designers and marketers are more likely to actually increase consumer happiness. Importantly, these propositions are also likely to have a positive impact on businesses’ sales and profits. The first proposition, design for fostering social relationships and belongingness, is important because these concepts are the foundation of a happy life. Furthermore, as pointed out earlier, one side effect of our culture is unstable relationships and loneliness. Thus design for happiness should focus on supporting the formation of social relationships and a sense of belonging. The second proposition, design for meaning in life, draws upon arguments suggesting that contemporary people often find life pointless. Supporting a sense of meaning in life is important since it helps soften the landing and promote recovery from the inevitable hardships that life brings to most of us. The third proposition, design for making consumers active, is important because happiness is associated with an active lifestyle and passivity leads to unhappiness.
Although we recognize that our list of propositions is not exhaustive, we believe that we have captured the most important aspects, such as social relationships and belongingness, as well as the issues that are critical in our time, such as lack of activity and meaning in life. Of these, social relationships and belongingness are likely to be a core source of happiness (Baumeister & Leary, 1995), and are also easy to sell in the marketplace because they relate to a fundamental need of human beings. Many aspects of the meaning of life, such as self-worth and value, involve the often complex relationship between the individual and the community. For instance, a feeling that one is doing the right thing is important, because if one is a good person one’s inclusion into a social group is justified. Thus the fostering of social relationships and belongingness is a core source of happiness, and one that is compelling to customers.
Some of our propositions might be more pertinent for people today whereas others are more future-oriented. Today, a lack of stable relationships and belongingness as well as a lack of meaning are problems that loom especially large for a great many people, a development that is not likely to slow down any time soon. Research shows that narcissism is increasing in Western societies, since our culture associates self-improvement and attention to oneself with being well adjusted (Twenge & Campbell, 2009). A negative side-effect of this trend is that relationships suffer, because most social relationships require adjustment on both sides, and a person who stubbornly defends his or her right to be “him/herself” might be a poor candidate for developing good relationships. For the future, we speculate that passivity might pose a bigger problem for happiness than it does today. Hutton (2013) writes about the robotization of our economy, where robots increasingly rapidly take over work tasks of humans. In the article, Hutton proposes that the labor market will face great challenges and that a job in the future might be considered a luxury reserved for an “elite.” Although the extent of the problem can be debated, it seems likely that unemployment will be a bigger problem in the future than it is today. This means that a growing number of people will not have their basic needs fulfilled in terms of feeling important, using their skills, working toward a goal and contributing to society. Therefore, there is likely to be an increased demand for design for and marketing of activity in the future.
We also recognize that some of these propositions might be paradoxical. For instance, one of the aspects of meaning of life, the importance of self-worth and feeling that one is superior to other people in some aspects of life (Baumeister, 1991), suggests that a person who wishes to increase their happiness should consume in a manner to increase their status (e.g., by buying luxury products). However, there is plenty of evidence showing that materialism is associated with unhappiness (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2002; Dunn et al., 2008; Mead et al., 2011), suggesting that people should avoid seeking happiness through material standards. This conflicting evidence can be understood by recognizing the fact that superiority does not only comprise monetary superiority, and that status is not the same as being personally liked (Sijtsema, Veenstra, Lindenberg, & Salmivalli, 2009). Indeed, it could be argued that striving to become happier through consumption of status-seeking products might actually be a strategy for popularity that comes at the cost of intimate personal relationships. Thus seeking status is, in part, in conflict with the proposition of happiness in social relationships and belongingness.
What are the implications of the three propositions? First of all, it should be recognized that these propositions can be built into design, but can also be further promoted via advertising, auxiliary services, member programs, or add-on modules, or in conjunction with other products or services, or around the messaging of a product, such as by being embedded in the product narrative or learning experience. Importantly, these propositions are broad enough to be applicable to almost any product or service, and can be harnessed both early on and later in the product lifecycle. By considering and implementing these perspectives, designers and marketers can together create a value proposition for consumers and thus contribute to practices that will actually make a difference in people’s lives and reach business goals at the same time.
For academics, we hope that the propositions outlined will spark a discussion in terms of how designers and marketers can work together on the topic of design for happiness, and that this in turn will stimulate discussion of the interrelations between the two disciplines. Designers and marketers are both focused on providing the customer with the best product possible, and thus it would be important for them to work together to achieve product-related goals and targets. Focusing on common objectives that are relevant for both designers and marketers can help people in both disciplines reach common objectives and look beyond the boundaries of their own discipline to examine how best to reach product-related objectives.
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