Experiential Design: Perception of Performance vs. Reality of Performance

People with an engineering mindset look at problems from the standpoint of product/service performance. They seek opportunities for functional improvement.

But not every problem has an engineering answer. After the easy fixes are in place, future efforts start to suffer from diminishing returns. At a certain point, it becomes incredibly difficult to enhance the functional value of a good. So how do you improve the experience without changing the reality of its performance?

You focus on the perception of its performance.

Expensive wine tastes better. Not because it is better, but because it’s perceived to be better, it actually does taste better.

It’s the reason scarcity creates value and the reason that branding works.

The same lessons apply to experience design.

Imagine two hours spent drinking wine with friends. Now imagine two hours spent on a plane flying from Atlanta to New York. The reality is that the amount of time is the same, but the time spent flying is going to be perceived much differently.

To keep flyers from becoming impatient or irritated, the engineering approach says to find ways to bring the flight time down. But it could cost billions of dollars to research and develop new technology to speed up commercial planes when it would likely be more effective to focus on making the in-flight experience more enjoyable so it’s perceived to go faster.

Some people may claim that this is trickery, but, it’s not. Our perception is our reality. Feeling faster is as good as being faster.

Sometimes simply changing the perception of an experience is as good as changing the experience itself.

Written by Adam Harrell on August 21, 2013


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Adam Harrell