Imagine yourself queuing for the cashier’s desk in a supermarket. Naturally, you have picked the wrong line, the one that does not seem to move at all. Soon, you get tired of waiting. Now, how would you feel if the cashier suddenly started to sing? Many of us would be surprised and, regardless of the cashier’s singing abilities, feel amused. The preceding story is an example of how a surprise can transform something very normal, and maybe even boring, into a more pleasant experience. Analogously, a surprise in a product can overcome the habituation effect that is due to the fact that people encounter many similar products everyday. Colin Martindale describes this effect as ‘the gradual loss of interest in repeated stimuli’.¹
A surprise reaction to a product can be beneficial to both a designer and a user. The designer benefits from a surprise reaction because it can capture attention to the product, leading to increased product recall and recognition, and increased word-ofmouth.² Or, as Jennifer Hudson puts it, the surprise element “elevates a piece beyond the banal”.³ A surprise reaction has its origin in encountering an unexpected event. The product user benefits from the surprise, because it makes the product more
interesting to interact with. In addition, it requires updating, extending or revising the knowledge the expectation was based on. This implies that a user can learn somethingnew about a product or product aspect.
Designers already use various strategies to design surprises in their products. Making use of contrast, mixing design styles or functions, using new materials or new shapes, and using humor are just a few of these. The lamp ‘Porca Miseria!’ designed by Ingo Maurer that is shown in the left part of Figure 1 consists of broken pieces of expensive porcelain tableware, making it a lamp with a unique shape. The idea that another product had to be destroyed to make this lamp may inflict feelings of 3 puzzlement and amusement on someone who sees this lamp. The perfume ‘Flowerbomb’ (right part of Figure 1) designed by fashion designers Victor & Rolf is another example. The bottle is shaped like a hand grenade and it holds a sweet smelling, soft pink liquid. By combining conflicting elements in their perfume bottle, Victor & Rolf have succeeded in creating a perfume that attracts attention amidst the dozens of perfumes that line the walls of perfumeries.