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“The fundamental human desire for a feeling of safety and security – even though this feeling may be only indirectly related, at best, to being more safe or secure.” From The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman.

There is a difference between feeling something and it actually being the case.

The “security theatre” we all endure at our airports help (most of) us feel safe and secure; but it may not actually contribute all that much to making flying safer. “Security is both a feeling and a reality, and they have not the same.” Bruce Schneier. the person who coined the phrase “security theatre”.

When designing processes and services, it is important to be aware of this difference between feeling and being. Some aspects of a process may be designed to create or mitigate specific feelings, while others actually engender specific ways or states of being regardless of any feelings that may arise.

Software UI examples:

  • When an application temporarily takes control away from the user to process something, it shows an animated progress bar. This is designed to create a feeling of continual activity, so as to reduce the feeling of waiting. It doesn’t actually speed up the processing.
  • When a Linux server boots, it displays a lot of status and informative minutiae. This is about being informative. How the user feels looking at the scrolling text is not important.

Service UI examples:

  • The environment in a bank (from the interior design to how the staff behaves) creates the feeling of calm, professional competency. None of these factors have a direct bearing on the actual conduct or competence of the bank. The reality behind the scenes may be a completely different story…
  • A kitchen in a classy restaurant is set up to maximise productivity and safety. Unlike the dining room, the lighting is bright and harsh. Surfaces are hard and easily washable. It is more about getting precisely made quality food out the door, and less about creating a feeling of luxury and indulgence.