A Rose by Any Other Name

What is Fear?

Most commonly, fear appears not as fear, but rather as prudence and a measured hand.

For teams or groups, fear can take the form of caution exercised to a level that grinds progress almost entirely to a halt. They embrace checking and rechecking with a host of people, weighing feedback and input for lengthy periods, and allowing even the smallest indication of potential failure to dictate decision-making as unassailable methods of experiential design because of their perceived abilities to eliminate risk through democratization.

On an individual level, we adopt a similar approach although its demonstrable traits appear differently. Painfully thorough financial planning, endless internet searches, and conversations attempting to evaluate the pros and cons of a decision are a person\’s attempt to examine every permutation of the design of an experience in order to mitigate failure on the \”me\” level.

Whether as part of a team or by ourselves, why is it that we rarely inspect these fear-centered practices masquerading in discretion\’s garb?

Why Does Fear Guide Experiential Design?

fear guides experiential design because it produces desired feelings.

That is to say, it is actually feelings-led experiential design, just an accidental version. We take action that appears prudent, cautious, and wise leaving an underwhelming experience largely unchanged because doing so generates feelings of safety and security that we are often rewarded for. Unwittingly, a team or an individual will place the production of feelings of safety and security at the center of the design of their experience and succeed magnificently in designing experiences replete with those feelings.

Unfortunately, “success” is short-lived because neither safety nor security was the feeling the team or the individual truly aspired toward to begin with. They were unexamined, default selections. If you\’ve ever worked through a large product or service (re)design, or at an individual level, contemplated taking a \”large\” leap of faith in your personal life, you may have lived through this unconscious approach to feelings-led design.

For teams and groups, it manifests as lengthy, thorough processes begun with the fullest intention of generating something exciting, new, and vibrant but which result, often after a protracted discussion over weeks, months, or years, in the design of a new “it” that looks almost identical to its predecessor. Assuredly, feelings of security and safety abound at the conclusion of the design process, but because those were never the feelings the group truly aspired to from the beginning they feel dissatisfying at best, disheartening at worst.  Unconcious, feelings-led design centered around safety and security often incorrectly results in a group\’s resignation to the idea that \”profound change simply isn\’t possible here.\”

Later, perhaps imbued with renewed energy following the arrival of new team members or leaders, the group may begin the redesign project anew and full of high hopes, but absent a paradigm shift to a conscious approach to feelings-led design, they will arrive once more at the same conclusion; thereby reliving the exhausting cycle of cresting and crashing experiential design aspirations. Those who prize experience design centered around security and safety will remain; those who dream of fun, exhilaration, exuberance, and the like, will burn out and move on.

For individuals, it generally boils down to an examination of projects started, restarted, and abandoned, or conversations revisited endlessly but devoid of contrary action to produce different results. \”I\’d love to change careers and I could go back to school, but I\’m already 37, which means by the time I finished my degree, I would be 43 and starting over completely. Think of all that time and earning power lost. Forget it.\”

Quite by accident, a person selects security, or perhaps even acceptance, to comprise the core of the design of her experience. By foregoing the challenge of the pursuit of a new career, she designs an experience optimally suited to generate feelings of security and acceptance (by peers designing their experiences in the same way), but because she actually wanted to feel reinvigorated, thrilled, or delighted, the sentiments of security and acceptance will not provide relief for long. She will plunge headlong into a new job, a new home purchase, a new relationship, a new fill-in-the-blank, in an attempt to produce invigoration elsewhere never realizing where it\’s needed most is the one area she has unintentionally marginalized it from the design of her experience.

While it would be easy to disparage people who design by default around safety and security as feeble or uninspired, The 4D Framework, a conscious approach to feelings-led design, invites them to make a simple shift to improve what they\’re already doing substantially.

In The 4D Framework, the first step is a foundational paradigm shift from logic-led to conscious, feelings-led decision-making in experience design. When we become aware of and clear about how we want an experience to feel for ourselves and any others for whom we are designing it, we tap into a powerful method through which to assess the value of any choice we make at any point along the design journey.

Using Fear to Approach Experiential Design Differently

When teams or individuals first encounter feelings-led experiential design, many bristle. They dismiss the idea as naive or, worse still, idealistic, scoffing at the fanciful nature of an approach they deem unrealistic. They are often surprised to learn that they are, in fact, expert feelings-led experiential designers who just haven\’t ever stopped to consider which feelings they wanted to design towards.

Fear, and its associates safety and security, offer the bridge to a different, better conversation.

When those in whom fear dictates experiential design are invited to examine why they\’ve opted to prioritize safety and security in their feelings-led approach and whether those are truly the feelings they want to experience, they can undergo a radical change in their thinking. Further, once they adopt a conscious, feelings-led approach to design, they become armed with a framework with which to evaluate and respond to a host of different inflection points along the design journey.

Considering whether one of two distinct courses of action creates more feelings of safety or security, or the feelings the group or individual actually wants to feel makes space for a different conversation and stronger experiential design.

So, if you think you may have fallen victim to accidental, fear-based experiential design, or even if you don\’t, ask yourself how you actually want to feel along your design journey, at its major waypoints, and upon arrival at your perceived destination. If it\’s secure and safe, then proceed with caution and enjoy yourself.  If it\’s otherwise, then proceed wisely, leading with your desired feelings and supporting with the old stalwarts!

Want to learn to use the feelings you value to design the experiences in your life? Join The 4D Community of experiential design thinking enthusiasts for more great content and check out Define The Dream. Design the Dream.: The Course.