The Little Things- Creating Happiness with Design

My cab pulled up at the airport and I hurriedly paid the fare while a bunch of cars honked behind me. I looked at the snaking line moving slowly towards the entrance gates. I was late and I was stressed. As I impatiently made my way into the airport, a row of bright blue signs guided me to the IndiGo check in counter. As I stood in line tapping my foot in frustration at the passengers in front of me, hoping desperately that I’d make it in time, a strategically positioned board promised me it would take 6 minutes to check in from that point. Ok, not so bad. The tapping stopped as the queue inched forward. It took a little over five minutes and I was done. I smiled to myself.

This was just a tiny part of the IndiGo experience. One small sign with cleverly worded copy, but essentially, a insightful design intervention. Which is what IndiGo seems to be all about. Clever, friendly tongue in cheek and incredibly reliable. When, in 2006, IndiGo entered the market, low cost travel was all about getting from point A to point B as cheaply as possible, But IndiGo turned that around. It promised that low cost did not mean a low quality experience.

Travel, although enjoyable, is often stressful. A new breed of Indians has taken to flying, something a large majority of us are under confident about. A lot of airlines seem to pay little attention to anything except on board travel, but with IndiGo, every brand touchpoint seems to put a smile on your face. You alight the aircraft walking up stairs that read ‘Here Comes the Hot Stepper.’ On board, the inflight magazine reads, “Hello 6E”, the airsickness bag, in bold white type on blue tells you to ‘Get Well Soon.’

It’s my guess that a lot of these little things are overlooked by many travellers. But as Don Norman, in his TED talk on Design and Happiness put it, sometimes, design is full of nuances that are “really simple and subtle but a lot of you haven’t noticed. But your subconscious kind of notices it and it’s pleasant” Which made me think, do pleasant things work better?  In the chaos of airports, amidst the sea of frenzied travellers, do these little things help to calm passengers down? With their intelligent use of design and a clever play on language, are people who fly IndiGo less stressed and perhaps even happier than other travellers?

It’s screamingly obvious that Wieden+ Kennedy, the agency responsible for creating the IndiGo brand put a great deal of thought into every brand touchpoint. Not afraid to do what no one else had done, they defined the modern Indian brand- fresh, smart and simple. Targeting the Great Indian Middle Class, a demographic so varied and so complicated isn’t easy and a lot of brands seem to be

afraid to take a chance with design for fear of excluding some people. IndiGo didn’t seem to worry about that. When asked about the thinking behind the IndiGo brand strategy, Sarah Jane Fotheringham of Wieden + Kennedy said, “ (The IndiGo brand) broadly targets the Indian middle class. We don’t dumb down and presume the audience is stupid. Sometimes messaging targets certain people and not everyone will get the references, and that’s ok. But those that do get it talk about it, and appreciate that the messages tap into a deeper cultural understanding.”

This strategy and the insight into the minds of the Indian middle class consumer seems to play out through every brand touchpoint supported by intelligent, well crafted design. Most of the food on sale onboard the aircraft is sold in packaging that is both beautifully designed as well as reusable. Bright coloured rectangular tins of cashew nuts (Nut Cases)  round cookie tins as well as oversized boxes with matchbox graphics make for wonderful collectables.  Great attention to detail on elements that are usually overlooked, like the sandwiches that come in boxes with different little stories printed on each face of the box show a great deal of thought. As Sarah put it, “There’s a lot of time on board  the flight where people are looking for something to do. If we can make passengers smile or help them pass time, then why not?”

With design growing in India, with more designers daring to do things differently, off late, a charming aspect of design seems to have emerged in India, one that IndiGo airlines seems to epitomise-  the power of design to put a smile on your face. And there are other brands that seem to be doing this too! The online book retailer, Flipkart, sends along a lovely bookmark with every purchase, with clever, funny ‘Reasons to Use This Bookmark’ in a drive to keep the printed book alive and popular, while at the same time, charming every book lover into loyalty towards their brand. The online clothing store Bhane, ships their products out in cylindrical boxes made of recycled material, with the garment wrapped in tissue, tied together with a beautifully designed tape measure.

Using design to make people happy seems to be a fairly substantial brand strategy. Delighting a customer is not only a good brand differentiator, it is a clever way to increase brand loyalty, something that today, with the increasing number of choices people have is harder to come by.

But that’s about brands. What about people? In stressful situations, can design that makes people smile calm them down, causing them to deal with situations better? IndiGo has proven that the strategy works at airports. What about other places where people are often stressed? Hospitals, banks…. could these sectors benefit from thoughtful, human-centric design? The question for designers should be, can their work transform not only brands and products, but the wider experience of them?


Tweets about Flipkart’s bookmarks. Clearly, people notice!

Indigo 4

Instagrammed images of Indigo’s Cookie Tins and Nut Cases

Bhane 2

A little facebook love for @Bhanelove’s packaging


This is an essay I wrote under the guidance of writer William Shaw for the publication Creating Change that was launched at Designyatra 2013. For those of you who weren’t able to get your hands on a copy, it is now available as a downloadable e-book!


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