What Makes Things Cool?
Intentional Design for Innovation
InContext | email@example.com
November + December 2011
When Apple released the i Phone
in 2007, it was a game-changing
product in ways we had not seen
for many years. Consumers were
talking about it everywhere. They
gathered around the phone to
watch the pinch and the swivel;
they were awed by the pictures,
apps, and games. The technol-
ogy industry reacted as well.
Companies expressed their frus-
tration at not being able to create
a game-changer too. Everyone
wanted to re-create the iPhone’s
impact in their own products.
and applications are part of the
natural ebb and flow of product
design. But something different
seemed to be happening with the
release of the iPhone: something
all-consuming, something related
to the overall user experience,
something more than previ-
ous technology innovations.
But what is that something? What
does it mean to design for a transformative experience? What makes
things cool? What drives the cool
user experience? [ 1] To guide design
teams, and to understand what
makes things cool, we launched the
Here we introduce the results of
the Cool Project and the key con-
structs we uncovered as core to the
user experience of cool.
The Cool Project
What is going on with people using
cool things? What impacts the experience of cool? How does the cool
experience change across the lifecycle as we age? We wanted to identify principles to guide companies in
designing cool into their offerings.
We [ 2] began by going out into the
field to understand people’s experience with their cool products. We
conducted field interviews with
nearly 70 individuals between the
ages of 15 and 60 across multiple
locations in the U.S. Using Contextual
Design [ 3], our well-known user-centered design technique, we gathered
and organized the data, producing
affinity diagrams, personas of people and devices, and activity boards
summarizing findings in key activity areas such as health and family.
Then we conducted an online survey with more than 800 people in
multiple cities across the U.S.
The analysis of all this data
revealed the themes of the cool
experience and implications for
product design. We organized these
themes into the Cool Concepts: the
Wheel of Joy and the Triangle of Design.
We introduce them below.
What Makes Things Cool?
The absolute center of cool is joy.
Joy is our autonomic response to
our encounter with the world. Joy is
pulled unknowingly and unwillingly
from within. It is the most basic of
human emotions [ 4].