Delight is the result of discovering areas in a possibility space

If I were Will Wright, I’d say that ‘Fun is the process of discovering areas in a possibility space.’ We talk so much about emergent gameplay, non-linear storytelling, or about player-centered content. They’re all ways of increasing the possibility space, making self-refreshing puzzles. Theory of Fun

In a similar vein, is it possible to say that “delight is the result of discovering areas in a possibility space?” And that to deliver experiences that delight designers need to focus on exploring ways of increasing the possibility space.

Because what delights customers today becomes ordinary and expected tomorrow. So instead of continually seeking to up the bar of operational efficiency or service, we could instead focus on expanding the possibility space for the emergence of stories.

What will I discover today?

Who will I connect with?

What will I learn?

How will I feel?

Will I leave with a story?

In designing possibility spaces for experiences I promised to share some examples of retailers who are creating stores that are more than a store to people by thinking of stores as a possibility space for experiences. Here are two examples.

We usually came away with a story  (Anthropologie)

It wasn’t efficient, but we usually came away with a story: a conversation with one of the shopkeepers, a motorbike run amok in the marketplace, a circle back to replace the Tarte Tatin devoured in the car on the way home. And, inevitably, the smells, sounds, and textures of the market seeped into our dinner, adding an intense flavor. Polly Labarre, Fast Company

Immerse yourself in the picture for a minute. What do you see, feel, imagine? What ideas for your own home spring to mind?

I picture a family in a coastal European village about to sit down to enjoy a meal together. Placing myself in the story, I wonder about experimenting with texture. I have the urge to head out on a mission to discover eclectic finds to incorporate into my own kitchen. I wonder how I could play with the design of my own kitchen in a way that better reflects my identity, my story.

When designing their stores, Anthropologie doesn’t think in terms of cookie cutter store design. According to Ron Pompei  “every store we have designed for them since has been an evolution of this insight – the stores are informal, open platforms, where the customers are co-authors of the experience.” Each store is uniquely designed as a possibility space for “transformational experiences”  designed around culture, commerce, and community as story elements with which people can construct their own stories.

In their quest for transformational experiences, Anthropologie designs for as many of the senses as possible… sound, scent, color, texture.

I think of everything as a story. A bedding story isn’t just about linens and comforters. It’s about the feeling of nighttime and a sense of place. It’s about the pictures on the wall, the soft glow of a lamp, a closet with robes and soft clothing peeking out… We try to create little environments that tell a story. The idea is to capture a customer’s attention so that she’ll explore every corner and let her imagination go. We mix up the stock in a way that gives the customer ideas — ideas about how to mix colors and textiles that she’d never think of combining or ideas about how materials like turquoise and leather can cross categories from clothing to accessories. Kristin Norris

Anthropologie doesn’t sell products. They sell experiences. They sell a sense of exploration and adventure and the thrill of a find. And the find may be anything from a new way of thinking about your home or yourself. Or a product that speaks to and reinforces your unique identity.

Every Thursday we offer a personal shopping event for the women of Charlotte to come and enjoy their morning’s over mimosa’s and strawberries, while learning about the latest trends from our personal shopper, Geri, and it creates a community of women who share common interests in fashion.  Darcy

It makes me wish there was an Anthropologie store near me that I could dive in and explore.

Bringing stories to life in my store (STORY)

Why are people going to brick and mortars at all? For the experience… Basically, we curate like a magazine, change like a gallery, and sell like a retail store. It’s storytelling through merchandising… The future of retail will be less about consumption and more about community. There’s all this energy and innovation around online communities, and that’s great, but I want an offline community revolution by bringing the stories to life in my store. Rachel Shechtman, Founder of STORY

Imagine a store that reinvents itself around a new idea every 4-6 weeks. That’s STORY’s goal. Shechtman named her store STORY to reflect her vision of telling compelling stories through merchandise and events. She creates a possibility space for exploring each idea by presenting dynamic content (she thinks of the products she sell as content) and creating community through the events she curates around the idea.

And she’s doing it through a focus on curating the customer’s shopping experience, not on product information. And so she experiments with ways of bringing content to life. “Everything here has a description next to it, explaining where it came from. It gives it personality and allows the product to become less of a thing and more of a story. We want everything here to be a story first and a thing second.”

Her goal is to engage Story’s community around an idea (startups, love, New York…) instead of a product, launching an offline community revolution formed through the events she curates. “I believe in the concept of giving people 70% of what they understand and the other 30% should be surprise and delight. So in February, when you come into “The Love Store,” the 70% might be flowers and chocolates but the 30% might be a video booth where you record a video of your first date, then we might have an event where we screen a short film of those videos.”

Everyone can contribute to the stories she curates. “If a magazine has editors and then contributing editors, our contributing editors are either our fans that make things and want to sell them in the store, or customers who come in and want to have events here. We’re trying to make it as interactive as possible.”

The first three experiences she’s curated at Story?


People don’t just want to go in and buy something, they want to hear a story, they want to learn something. So when we’re coming up with a theme or a concept like “startups,” we’re not only having an exhibit but talks, book signings, film screenings, and other events that complement the theme. Can A Startup Store Change The Retail Business?


This is a six week conversation about love, not one day of the year about pink and red roses, from Feb 1st – March 12th. Our debut story, LOVE, is about brands we love, things we love and those people we love. We have a section called love GIVING which sells from TOMS Shoes, PACT Underwear, Baking for Good, Article 22 and Charity Water. In our love SWEETS we feature Vosges chocolates, Dylans Candy bar and Fine x Raw Chocolate. Love MEMORIES is expressed with a photo booth for people to take their pictures and not only walk away with prints but email and upload them from the store IRL to Facebook. We will have a myriad of events such as a reading from TED speaker and NY Times best-selling author Chip Conley who will give a talk and launch his book Emotional Equations. PSFK

And an homage to New York.

We’re also doing a lot of different events for the “New York” story. We’re going to do skill-share classes with New York Mouth, which includes a pickling class and how to make hard candy. We’re doing other interesting events, like a dinner party hosted by Malin +Goetz here. And then we’re going to hopefully have some musical performances.  I also want it to be interactive and have community, not just be about people who necessarily buy… The other special thing we’re going to do is a lemonade and tattoo stand on the weekend, and for the first time ever we’re selling pints of ice cream from a company that is otherwise a subscription only service.


Bricks and mortar aren’t dead

Even though traditional retail is being shaken up, bricks and mortar aren’t dead. Four of the organizations which deliver unique bricks and mortar retails experiences — Apple, Urban Outfitters (Anthropologie’s parent company), Whole Foods Market, and lululemon — are in the top 20 for retail growth in North America.

For many years I’ve hated shopping. But during my last day trip to Toronto I confess I shopped. I browsed through Anthropologie. I stopped for a snack at Whole Foods Market (which made me wish we had one in Kingston). Next trip I plan on checking out Magic Pony.

I suspect we’ll be seeing some interesting experiments in retail that make shopping a lot more fun. I can’t wait to see what Amazon’s store experience is like if the rumors are true that it’s planning on launching a boutique bookstore.

Have you run across any retailers offering compelling store experiences?


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    About Joyce Hostyn

    One Response to “Delight is the result of discovering areas in a possibility space”

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    1. This is a great post Joyce: so pleased to have found you. (Through a tweet directing to your Mindful Listening Slideshare: also fabulous btw) Story is at the heart of all my work with organisations, so I love reading and seeing how it is informing and enriching design for spaces and experiences. Love your ideas. Thanks so much for taking the time to create a post with so much to think about.

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