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  • Writer's pictureRenate Ruby

What's it gonna take for you to be happy

The more I learn about consumer behavior and choice the more I have come to realize that there are people more likely to be happier with their choices and people unlikely to ever be satisfied. People who worry about every detail, about getting the BEST deal or the PERFECT thing are not only making life more difficult for themselves, they are never as happy as those who understand what they need and get just that.

This morning I heard a phrase on the NPR show "Hidden Brain" that gave this phenomenon a name - MAXIMIZING VS SATISFICING. I had never heard that phrase but I instantly recognized it from experience with clients over 30 years, and from my own experience trying to make good choices.

The basic premise of this principal is that if you define what you need and define the attributes of what is necessary to satisfy those needs before hand; then search for the thing that meets that criteria you are FAR more likely to be happier long term than someone who seeks to find the BEST choice to meet their needs. It's ironic that those who are seeking the best are never fully satisfied that they have found it, while people who can specifically identify their own personal needs and find something that MEETS THOSE NEEDS tend to be much happier and more satisfied with their choices.

These people don't even ever really settle on what their needs really are, seeking constantly to identify the deepest most important need to satisfy, which, of course, they will never find.

As interior designers, I believe that part of our job is not just to find beautiful solutions for our clients, but to do so in a way that they are likely to experience more happiness and satisfaction in the long term. While a part of this satisfaction has to do with the artistry of our design, I'm more and more convinced that the process we employ to get our clients to a decision about that design has an even larger impact on their long term perception of the value they received and their ability to just enjoy what they have paid for.

The first job I believe is to identify the needs our client is coming to us to fulfill. How will we know when we have succeeded? How will they know we have succeeded? Identifying a clear goal is sometimes the most crucial part of any design job. Once this is done, really make an effort to continually refer to it and resist the urge to "improve" it. The more you evolve the goals, the more likely your client is to move the finish line just when you think you have won the race.

If you haven't read the post on Decision Fatigue, now would be a good time to do that. Too many choices, it turns out, is not just bad for our clients, it's also bad for us. The more you as a designer seek to find the PERFECT detail, the less likely you are to ever be truly satified. You are much more likely to have regret over what might have been, and that regret will transfer to your client. This is proven out in the attached study where people who are driven by maximizing worry more and are not every satisfied or happy. Because are always on the lookout for something better and are always willing to change their decision if something better comes along, they experience an uneasiness and an unsettled quality that robs them and their clients of every experiencing a happy outcome.

When you and your client are seeking perfection - maximization of a choice - your client will NEVER really feel that they have gotten their money's worth. There will be sense of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) that will haunt them. These are the clients who double check every price, and keep shopping online at midnight hoping to find that thing you might have missed. They drive you and themselves bonkers and when the project is over.... they are likely to make senseless changes themselves, throwing away the balanced and nuanced work you have done.

We owe it to ourselves and our clients to understand consumer behavior - well, I prefer to call it HUMAN behavior, and how we respond to choices, perceived needs, and perceived value. You can provide a gorgeous design well under budget and provide it pithing the agreed time line, and if you don't address this tendency we all have in some way, your clients may not experience the happiness you want them too - and isn't that a shame.

Are you a Maximizer or a Satisficer?

What can you learn from this principal to improve happiness in your work?

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