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What Makes Things Cool?

Posted July 8, 2015 in Insights & Research

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EBSCO’s User Research Group welcomed summer in style on Thursday, June 18, by hosting the second lecture in its Coffee & Cannoli series, featuring UX visionary Karen Holtzblatt, who lectured dynamically on “What Makes Things Cool” to an audience of more than 100.

The focus of Karen’s lecture was how users are attracted to designs and products with a cool factor. There is a saying, “A cool guy wears a leather jacket, but you can’t put on a leather jacket and be cool.” In terms of design, some products seem to wear a leather jacket effortlessly, some seem to try a little too hard, and others not hard enough. Karen assured the audience that, in fact, all products have the potential to be cool—and cool is a standard that all products should aspire to achieve.

Karen asked the audience a very basic question: “What is cool?” This is hard to answer! As a group we came up with a few ideas: it is something fun, popular and something that young people love and old people hate. After our suggestions, Karen provided a solid answer: cool is something that fulfills a very basic human need for joy. Quite simply, a cool product adds joy to your life.

Joy is composed of seven factors that Karen calls the 7 Concepts of Cool:

  1. Accomplishment: the product helps people accomplish goals
  2. Connection: the product provides social connection
  3. Identity: the product adds to people’s identity
  4. Sensation: the product is pleasing to the senses (sight, sound, touch, etc.)
  5. Direct into action: the product quickly gets people to where they want to go
  6. The hassle factor: the product is hassle-free (no logins, no customizations, no wires)
  7. The learning delta: the product is intuitive and requires no learning

For information on EBSCO’s Coffee & Cannoli lecture series, please email Beth Sauer, User Research Coordinator.


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