A Perfect Petzzz toy is a fist-sized puppy or kitten that comes curled up in its own pet bed, and does nothing except sleep. Perfect Petzzz are not soft, not stuffed, and not posable; you can do nothing at all with this toy except to observe its perpetual slumber, day after day. It’s not even suitable for cuddling.
Sounds like the lamest toy ever, you say?
OK, well, hear me out – there’s two things I forgot to mention. Firstly, they are freakishly adorable, perhaps cuter than any stuffed animal i’ve seen and quite possibly cuter than the flesh-and-blood counterparts upon which they were modeled. Secondly, these little guys actually ‘breathe’. While I’m not sure how it works, some mechanism inside causes the chest of the animals to rise and fall, mimicking the rhythmic breathing pattern of a real dog or cat carelessly snoozing away.
What? It still sounds like the lamest toy ever?!?
You’re right … I, too, should think that this is the lamest toy ever. Then why the heck can’t I keep my mind off of Perfect Petzzz?!? Why do I want one so badly but can’t justify spending $30 on a toy animal that doesn’t do anything? What is it that made me stand there at the Hallmark store, yearning, transfixed, staring at a couple domestic shorthairs kittens, a Jack Russell, and a St. Bernard puppy, watching their chests gently undulating, as they dreamed their kitten and puppy dreams?
This toy only has one simple ‘feature’ (if it can be called that) — lifelike breathing action — but it is such a brilliant, thoughtful choice, and executed so elegantly, that this single feature successfully carries the product. The single characteristic of an animal they chose to exploit, breath, is something so subtle, something one takes for granted, something so ubiquitous as to be all but unnoticed. And breathing is certainly something you don’t expect to see in a stuffed animal! Celebrating this one element, and only this one element (even if it is at the expense of other more obvious characteristics such as softness or sound), makes what would be a very cute but otherwise undifferentiated product, in a word, delightful.
But there are lots of one-trick toys/dolls out there that only ‘do’ a single thing. So what makes Perfect Petzzz, in my opinion, more delightful and than dolls such as, say, “Baby Cries-a-Lot”, “Baby Poo My Pants,” or “Vile Bile Baby”?
Delight is, of course, a highly subjective emotion, which could be elicited by widely varying stimuli, depending on the context of the situation and the person. For instance, if you’re not an animal lover, then Perfect Petzzz may not appeal to you. Alternatively, if you’re not a four year old girl, then perhaps a baby that vomits on herself has zero obvious draw. But if we widen the scope a bit, looking outside the realm of breathing animal toys or urinating dolls, we can start to look at the common domain-agnostic elements that elicit delight in users or customers (the Kano Analysis method refers to these elements as delighters).
While a whole lot has been written on the topic, and this is by no means an exhaustive analysis, since I’ve got Perfect Petzzz on the brain, I’ll list those elements which I think are particularly well manifested by those adorable little snoozing furballs:
1. Abstractly alive
As a species, we’re rather vain, and thus we tend to like things that remind us of ourselves. We like when animals have have hands with fingers and walk and talk like us. The human brain’s capacity to recognizes faces from unconnected visual elements is astonishing. And on and on. To this end, design elements that seem vaguely human, or at the very least, living, generally appeal to people. There is something viscerally appealing, even calming, about the rhythm of breathing, and a toy which breathes can harness this emotion. In the world of consumer electronics (which aren’t supposed to be alive) a great example in design is the light on a Mac laptop which pulses in and out when the computer is ‘asleep.’ In the digital realm, smooth, organic movement of onscreen elements is more appealing than things that jump around the screen in jerky fits and starts.
It’s hard to appreciate something if you’re being screamed at to appreciate it. Usually, the features that delight are those that whisper instead of scream, that are undocumented and unheralded, are barely even there, and that you need to do a double-take to confirm that they actually do exist. The goal here is to achieve a high reaction / stimulus ratio – the most powerful effects on the user can come from doing more with less. Your relationship with a product should be like a relationship with a loved one … the more time you spend together, the more things you find to like about it (the product, however, should not necessarily find additional things to like about you, unless the product is a sentient robot, and that’s just creepy). The big things, including the physical design and feature set, are probably the reason you decided to buy/use it in the first place, but when this initial glow wears off, it is the smaller, more subtle elements that consistently elicit delight, which can perpetuate an emotional connection with the product.
3. Pleasantly surprising
If someone gives you a gift on your birthday, it’s nice of them (assuming the gift doesn’t suck), but expected. If someone randomly sends you a gift, and it was completely out-of-the blue, then that’s really something special (and you should remain friends with them in the hopes that the send you many more random gifts). The same goes with delighters: shower your users (subtly, of course with tiny little unsolicited gifts – a slick animation here, a barely-discernible textured surface over there, an unexpectedly amusing prompt or reminder email. I remember the first time I used the MOO.com photo printing service to make a photo sticker book, i received an email “from” the Little MOO Print Robot informing me that it’d done a “Very Bad Thing” and admitting that “I might only be a piece of software but I am embarrassed and I do feel like a bit of an idiot.” I though this was brilliant and funny, and have since forwarded that email – and recommended that service – to lots of my friends.
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