An Interview with VP of Experience Design Himanshu Bharadwaj

Centime’s VP of Experience Design, Himanshu Bharadwaj, recently spoke at the World Usability Congress in Austria. In this interview, he shares parts of his talk, and opens a door to his philosophy of joyful design.

Himanshu Bharadwaj, Centime’s VP of Experience Design, was among the first hires at the company, reflecting the founder and CEO BC Krishna’s dedication to taking a design-centric approach to product development . “Great design is fundamental to creating great products. Himanshu’s deep experience helps us incorporate  the fundamentals of design into a user experience that seeks to deliver joy and delight within the context of an application domain that does not usually demand it,” Krishna said.

When exploring or engaging with our Cash Management solution, the aim is for clients and prospective clients to feel they are being led by the hand through a series of spaces that can improve how they work, enhance how they communicate and support their business’ growth.

Recently, Himanshu addressed a large audience at the World Usability Congress in Graz, Austria on the subject of joyful design. Here, he speaks about his philosophy, and how he brings others onto his journey.

Centime: You mentioned that after flying to Austria from the U.S. with an extremely carefully prepared presentation, you threw it out the night before speaking live! Why? And how did you go about making the changes to your talk?

Himanshu Bharadwaj: I decided to speak directly from the heart and removed a few slides and cut a lot of text from those slides I did choose to keep. Human-to-human communication is best when it is direct. When we can look into people's eyes, smile, expose our vulnerabilities, provide comfort and confidence from our positivity, and be more spontaneous.  

Secondly, in this talk, I wanted to discuss creating product experiences that enable user flow states. I cannot have the audience experience a flow state unless I am in a flow state myself. 

Lastly, I am not a person who likes to plan a lot in life. I want to be more impromptu. Unpredictability creates intense awareness and helps me perform better.

C: Your work and life experiences are incredibly varied. You grew up in India, received a scholarship to visit France after winning a national painting competition, immigrated to the U.S., became an advocate for other immigrants — how do you think that texture impacts your approach to work and design?

HB: When I look back and the progress I make each day, I think it is due to the collection of diverse experiences in my life. I believe to be creative, we need to be able to build connections between these trans-disciplinary memories and pollinate with a healthy dose of imagination. Learning new skills, reading diverse subjects, experiencing different geographies and cultures, and being exposed to diverse viewpoints make us cognitively more flexible and open-minded — and better human beings. 

C: If you had to describe your concept of joyful design in a sentence or two, what would you say?

HB: I have created joyful design, an operating system for designers to enhance their quality of life and infuse joy in creations by connecting feelings with features. The joyful design process combines design thinking, positive psychology, mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy to improve innovation and happiness quotient in people and designs. 

C: You speak about engaging multiple senses in design. Could you explain? It can be tricky in a digital context. Do you have thoughts or tips on how to “smell” a design that’s experienced virtually?

HB: Nature is multisensory. Human perception is multisensory. Even in a 7-star hotel room or the best offices, we seek a place by the window, however small it may be, where we can absorb nature. We long to step out of our most comfortable homes to get fresh air, even when it is cold outside, to feel the slow chill while walking on soft, slippery, powdery snow. We cup our hands and blow warm air to feel the warmth on our skin. We like to listen to the reassuring sounds of birds chirping joyfully after a day or hard work while returning to their nests. We can feel the warm rays of the sun gleaming upon its lovely child, a calm lake in a warm embrace. There is joy in living slowly. Being aware of our senses helps us reach a state of windless quietness within. 

Every digital interaction is a sensory experience. I understand practical constraints make the vision and hearing the most obvious choices for creating experiences. Designers today need to consider neurological factors beyond sight and sound and understand how perception happens, and learn about the brain and mind.

The sense of smell is the strongest, most intriguing, primitive, instinctive, sensual and uncontrollable sensation we all have. An infant recognizes its mother through smell. Smell reaches the brain's limbic area, where emotions live, faster than any other sensory stimulus.  Tapping into the sense of smell is an asset for brands because it makes experiences honest, direct, human and long-lasting in memories. We should be associating brand values with scents to awaken emotions and evoke specific memories from the subconscious in customers.

We cannot send an email with a scent or have an eCommerce site for perfumes where customers can smell them before buying. Maybe in the future metaverse, it will be possible. But today, we can borrow concepts from neuroaesthetics and use colors, shapes and materials to create sensations. For example, yellow and orange represent sour, while pink and purple can be used to create sweet or fruity scents in digital media. Studies have shown rounded or continuous lines evoke sweet smells, while pointed and angular shapes create spicy and sour sensations.

C: At the company, you’re known for encouraging us to tell each other jokes at the start of every meeting. How does your desire to spread joy impact interpersonal communication with your team and other colleagues? Is this part of your design philosophy?

HB: We generally come into a meeting carrying baggage from the previous session or anything else that may be weighing us down, making us unable to focus entirely and lose ourselves in the present moment. I have created such small rituals of joy to manage our neural predispositions, bring our wandering attention to focused attention, and connect us to our creative power quickly. Joy is contagious, and studies have shown that it increases productivity and reduces friction between people in teams.

I believe each of us can be the interior designer of the hearts and minds of other people around us. In his book, “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,” Adam Grant talks about two kinds of people in this world: givers and takers. The takers may eat better, but the givers sleep better. Serving others helps us give meaning to our life. Such small rituals are opportunities in life to become a reason for someone's smile. Whether in families, among friends or at a corporation, helping someone feel accepted and loved, and believing in goodness, is a fulfilling experience.

To watch a version of Himanshu’s talk, check out his recent appearance with Chris Kalaboukis of Ideate + Execute on YouTube, here.

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